When a child is born, where is the war? In Memory of Dr Karen Woo.

The recent deaths of ten people in Afghanistan, working for a Christian charity to promote healthcare, have shocked nations across the globe. In particular, the unfolding story about British Dr Woo’s decision to enter a war zone have revealed a raw and sobering side to the war that we have grown used to hearing the sad statistics of soldiers being killed. But what happens when a doctor goes to war to save lives?

Reactions to Dr Woo’s presence in Afghanistan have been disturbing in some sense, with grave and dispassionate comments adorning online newspaper articles. It is argued that Dr Woo should not have gone to Afghanistan.

It certainly raises the question of what are the obligations of the medical profession, or, in essence, to what extent should we push the limits of our own lives to save the lives of others. In Dr Woo’s case, she was enabling lives to enter the world. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, with 1 in 5 births resulting in death. On one of her expeditions, Dr Woo travelled on horseback to reach some of the remotest and hostile areas on earth. These are places where even time forgets to exist. Life continues, or tries to, amongst an environment around it that is changing uncontrollably with devastating consequences, and most probably, with very little purpose.

When a child is born, where is the war?

War is so often equated with death, yet life just does not cease. It fights and fights, alongside our own battles. Dr Woo offered life a chance. By doing so, her chance in life was annihilated. Dr Woo wanted to show through her actions that war is more than politics, more than anger, more than destruction. War is ultimately by humans towards humans. The humanitarian side can never be omitted from the opposition.

Dr Woo practiced medicine in exactly the same way as she died. She lived and practice through a human medicine, and died a human death. She had her story and she treated the stories of lives that war has blighted and clouded and threatened.

Her medical practice showed that saving lives, whether through treating injury or attending to births, is not merely about the heart beat of the body; it is about the heart beat of our lives, our existence, our humanity. That calls for a different kind of medicine. A medicine that does not see a body, but sees a life, and a life that must be given a chance, even if that life is a life entering a war zone and borne to the heritage of the very people who will take your own history and future. No doubt, Dr Woo will leave a legacy that will be held in the present. I know I will remember her and her work in many moments.

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