I based a previous post about Sarah Ewart based on a misconception of the severity of her baby’s condition which had been misreported in the press, with even Melanie McDonagh stating that the baby ‘had no head’. While I did not quite believe this to be true, my visualisation of the condition was something infinitely more graphic and gruesome than the reality.
Peter Saunders has sensitively and scientifically outlined the reality here, in a must-read piece for anyone wanting to know the reality of the condition. Had the case been as I believed, I still don’t believe that would have been a good enough reason to abort the baby, but I would not have been rushing to demand prosecution of someone who assisted her and would have wanted some compromise found, which did not implicitly endorse abortion, but also would offer some relief for the mother if necessary, such as early delivery at point of viability.
I still believe that pro-lifers need to exercise due care and compassion nonetheless in these situations, rushing to quote the Catechism, which is couched in philosophical and theological language at a frightened mother, who may or may not be a Catholic, is not the most pastoral, compassionate or necessarily convincing approach.
If we are to change society’s consciousness on this, then we need to reach out beyond our own religious circle. One isn’t going to convince a pagan or committed atheist as to the compelling philosophy, logic and science that supports a pro-life mindset by referencing the Bible, the Didache or Magisterium, although my experience is that very often the pro-life cause is what attracts people to re-examine, revert or convert to Catholicism as they begin to explore why it is that we are so uncompromising on this.
LIFE charity are currently running an extremely effective ‘not blinkered’ campaign, which de-bunks the whole ‘religious nut jobs on the right’ stereotype very nicely. While we cannot divert from Catholic principles, a recourse to theism is not a necessary when it comes to explaining why the most vulnerable, from the unborn, to the disabled, terminally ill and elderly should be protected from abortion, assisted dying and euthanasia.
When I discovered that our unborn baby had died, I chose to undergo a procedure similar to a medical abortion in order to deliver our baby after waiting to see whether or not matters would resolve naturally. It was one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to face and even though we knew that the baby had died, there was still some guilt in taking action that would literally force the baby out of the womb. Despite having had the diagnosis confirmed by 3 separate doctors I still needed confirmation that no heartbeat was present, before I allowed intervention to proceed.
Ending a pregnancy is a traumatic and violent affair, regardless of the method one chooses even armed with the knowledge that there is little other choice, as there was in our situation. For a while I was too physically battered by what had taken place to begin the process of grieving and it was only yesterday, following the burial of Rafael’s remains that the loss really ‘hit’ the pair of us.
I cannot imagine the trauma experienced by grieving parents who have felt compelled by a baby’s disability to take steps to end their life. Several priests have recounted heartbreaking tales of parents bringing their aborted children for funeral services, their grief compounded and complicated by the dissonant knowledge that they terminated their babies lives, often due to medical coercion, themselves.
It has not been definitively confirmed, but upon talking to the doctors and sonographers involved, the cause of death was likely to have been Downs Syndrome as many markers were present. People come out with the most ridiculous platitudes, implying that your baby’s death was ‘for the best’, ‘a blessing in disguise’ and it was probably ‘just as well’.
Downs Syndrome has an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death, though not as great as anencephaly, but as we laid our baby to rest yesterday (fully formed with limbs, fingers and toes) had we experienced stillbirth or a neo-natal death, both of us would have given anything to be able to have held our baby, even just for a short while. Which is what convinces me that Peter Saunders is right.
But at least we have the knowledge that despite being denied the privilege of holding our child, we did whatever we could to look after them, both in life and death. We accorded our baby the dignity and respect that every unborn child deserves. It was not only the right thing to do, but is already a source of enormous comfort. Being pro-life sometimes means needing to bear witness in death. Treating a baby as a human being from the moment of conception until moment of death is the compassionate, decent and humane response, for mother and baby alike.