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Thai Undertanker Jailed for Hiding Foetuses at a Buddhist Temple

Mr. Suthep Chabangbon, a 46 year old undertaker at Wat Pai Ngern, told officials of the clinic bringing the fetuses to him to destroy

 

CHAINGAI TIMES – A court in Thailand on Thursday sentenced an undertaker to 40 months in prison for helping to hide illegally aborted foetuses at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok.

Suthep Chabangbon was convicted by a district court in the capital of concealing 15 of the roughly 2,000 foetuses found last year in the temple’s mortuary rooms.

In January his colleague was jailed for 20 years over the case, which highlighted the scale of illegal abortions in a country where the procedure is banned unless delivery would harm the mother or the pregnancy results from rape.

The other suspect, a former nurse who performed illegal abortions, was in August sentenced to five years in prison.

Police have said that some of the corpses had been stored for more than a year.

They would normally have disposed of by placing them with the remains of people being cremated, but the furnaces had broken and the number of bodies had built up while repair work was carried out.

The Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights Foundation of Thailand says each year up to 400,000 Thai women undergo abortions carried by untrained people in unhygienic conditions.

 

Original Article November 20, 2010

Officials count the number of aborted foetuses contained in plastic bags found in Phai Ngern Chotanaram temple’s morgue on Nov 20, 2010

2,000 fetuses discovered on the grounds of a Bangkok Buddhist temple and believed to have been sent there from illegal abortion clinics.

Since the fetuses’ discovery, people have been placing milk, baby clothes and toys at the temple morgue, where monks performed a prayer for the dead last Friday.

The Thai public has been grappling with the implications of an admission from one of the temple’s undertakers that he had been secretly storing the fetuses in the vaults of the crematorium after the temple’s furnace broke down. When he also began burying them in a pit, the overpowering stench drew complaints from neighbors and led to the discovery of the fetuses.

Under Thai law, only abortions of pregnancies that result from incest or rape or endanger the lives of the mothers are legal. The events have reopened a debate in Thailand over the legality and morality of abortion

The undertaker and a woman who acknowledged that she had delivered the fetuses to the temple declared that they had done no wrong.

An official of the Buddhist hierarchy here said temple ceremonies were in effect ceremonies of mourning.

“We have to look at its purpose: to show compassion for the souls of the aborted fetuses and lead them to rest in peace,” said Amnart Buasiri, director of the Secretariat of the Sangha Supreme Council. “It is considered the same as the mass mourning for tsunami victims.”

Two undertakers, Suchart Phonmee, 38, and Suthep Chabangbon, 56, have been charged with crimes related to the concealing of the fetuses. They said they had had no choice but to store them because they did not want to dispose of them like rubbish.

“Actually,” Mr. Suchart, “said this condemnation should go to both the parents of the aborted babies and the ones who performed the abortions.”

Lanchakorn Janthamanas, 33, has acknowledged that she made regular deliveries of fetuses to the temple after collecting them from several illegal clinics. She has also acknowledged having performed illegal abortions.

But her mother said it was not such a simple matter to place blame. “I am proud of my daughter for her contribution to society,” said the mother, Sombat Sinotho, 60, speaking of the abortions she had performed. “Only those who have not faced the problem of an unwanted pregnancy tend to view her as evil.”

Ms. Lanchakorn said she had rescued eight fetuses that had survived the procedure and was now raising them as her own adopted children. “I commit sin every day,” she said, “so if the kids won’t die, there’s no need to kill them.”

Her mother said she had only learned from newspaper accounts that they were the survivors of abortions.

“The problem lies in society’s values which require study and fostering appropriate values among at-risk groups,” he said.

The penalty for performing an illegal abortion is as many as five years in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or about $330. The penalty increases if the abortion seriously injures the pregnant woman.

But the penalties may be higher in the spiritual realm.

“In Buddhist view, both having an abortion and performing an abortion amount to murder,” said Phramaha Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi, a leading monk who was quoted on Saturday in Post Today, a Thai-language newspaper. “It is a serious sin.” He added: “Those involved in abortions will face distress in both this life and the next because their sins will follow them.”

Commenting this month, before the stored fetuses were discovered, another famous monk, Pra Payom Kallayano, said the cleansing ritual has nothing to do with Buddhism.

“The people who organize this ritual often make money from it,” he said. “Women are sensitive, gullible and easily embrace mistaken beliefs.”

People should not believe they can remove their sins simply by performing a ritual, he said. “We should do good things,” he said. “Those who do good gain good karma. We should believe in the rule of karma, not the ritual.”

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