Formed and fully human

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.

Tragedy in El Salvador

Beatriz

(The above photograph is taken from the website of Amnesty International who claim they have no official position upon when life begins. A Human Rights organisation that is unable to decide upon who is a human being. Interesting)

Sometimes a truly hard case will hit the headlines which will test the conviction of every seasoned pro-lifer such as the one in El Salvador, which will be seized upon with a ruthless and determined glee by abortion advocates, especially I suspect, the Irish hardcore contingent who seem to populate Twitter, pouncing, hounding, persecuting and generally attempting to bully and intimidate any pro-lifers with campaigns of harassment, such as the recent one which saw a Catholic pro-life GP delete his Twitter account under threats of having been reported to the GMC for having the temerity to express his views. These are the same people who will tell non-Irish to keep their noses out Ireland’s business, but are happy to report a UK GP to relevant authorities, including his employers because they are unable to accept that he should be able to express his views, alongside his identity. A country which has pro-life laws is the concern of every right-thinking global citizen, whereas one which is proposing liberal abortion laws is only the concern of its inhabitants, according to this logic.

The facts as reported by the BBC, is that a young woman (Beatriz) who is suffering from the chronic immune system disorder lupus and kidney failure has been denied permission to abort her baby which has been diagnosed as suffering from anencephaly, which means that either part or all of its brain is missing and he or she is likely to die shortly after birth. The Supreme Court has rejected her appeal to be allowed to abort, stating this:

“This court determines that the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa, and that there is an absolute bar to authorising an abortion as contrary to the constitutional protection accorded to human persons ‘from the moment of conception’.”

This is a tragic and shocking case, one cannot fail to feel sympathy for the poor woman, who must, with some justification, feel as though her country is totally lacking in care and compassion for her physical and mental wellbeing. It highlights the problem of using legal and technical language which is very precise and conveys a total lack of empathy, feelings matter, this young woman is important, her plight is desperate and some acknowledgement of that, along with reassurance is necessary. The judge may well of course have added some words to that effect in their statement, which have not been reported, but this to me highlights the importance of women, especially those hurt by abortion, those who have been in crisis pregnancies and mothers, speaking out in defence of the unborn. Whilst the legal terms and the moral theology is important, when delivered by a man, they can leave the impression of coldness, sterility and a total lack of empathy. Women and mothers intuitively understand what’s at stake in these situations.

Make no mistake, Beatriz must be going through hell and needs support. Pregnancy does put an additional strain on the body, especially in terms of the immune system and kidney function and there can be no doubt that her physical health is being severely compromised. She will probably be experiencing a great deal of physical pain and trauma, compounded by emotional distress, feeling as though she is being forced to put her life on the line or even die for a baby who is going to die anyway.

But what we see here, as in so many awful cases, is the conflation of two conditions, which go to demonstrate that hard cases make bad law. The baby’s long-term prospects should not affect the decision of whether or not one should be able to kill him or her. We do not euthanise people on the basis of a poor long-term prognosis. Anencephaly is an undeniably terrible condition, one that every pregnant mother lives in fear of, prior to scans. I know that if I had a baby diagnosed with it, I too would struggle and need a lot of support. But being one of those ‘extremists’, I treat all my children equally regardless of whether they have yet to make the journey out of the womb. I would chose for my child to have a chance of life outside of the womb, no matter how brief, and die surrounded by the warmth and love of my arms instead of being dissected by the cold hard steel of the abortionist’s instruments or poisoned in utero, because that would be no less than they deserve. It would also aid in the grieving process, so many parents who feel compelled to abort their children on the grounds of disability struggle as a result, especially as they are encouraged to hold a funeral service for the child whose life they put an end to. I’m not knocking the practice, treating remains with respect and praying for the dead is the right thing to do, but it causes severe cognitive dissonance and distress. Healing in these cases is much harder. The parents of Colin Perry are beacons of hope to parents of anencephalic children.

In many ways El Salvador is a model of equality, not allowing for the elimination of those with disabilities. The really pressing issue here is maternal health and this is what matters for Ireland and other pro-life countries. In Ireland, if the mother’s health were at severe risk, the medical code already in existence would allow for an abortion to take place in these circumstances.

It seems that Beatriz’s case is being used by various activists in an attempt to push open the door to abortion, exploiting the plight of a sick woman in an unsavoury fashion.

Beatriz is now 26 weeks pregnant, doctors are concerned that as her pregnancy progresses further, too much strain will be put upon her body and they will be unable to treat her. That is a wholly justifiable concern. Beatriz does however, already have a toddler, it’s not clear when she was diagnosed with Lupus, but her body has already been able to tolerate giving birth at, or near to, term.

What I don’t understand about this case is why Beatriz has needed to be dragged through the courts in this fashion which can only add to her distress. Surely the most sensible, compassionate and morally licit option would have been to induce the baby at 24 weeks, the point of viability and do all that they can to provide palliative care for the child? The intention not being to abort the baby but to relieve the pressure being put upon Beatriz’s kidneys and immune system, particularly if they are showing signs of strain. Isn’t this what any conscientious doctor would do, regardless of where they stood on abortion?

Beatriz seems to have been used as a political football here, an early induction post viability is not the same as the deliberate and wilful destruction of life. This has to be the most medically and ethically astute option. Why can she not be monitored and an early induction take place at the first sign of strain upon her body? This option would not be incompatible with the ruling of the judges, and is good clinical practice. Why is this option not on the table and why is an abortion being pushed in this scenario, which would not be the most compassionate outcome, for mother and baby alike. Love them both. Let the baby be born and die in dignity, he or she and Beatriz deserve no less.

Update

According to a report in LifeSite News on 9 May, Beatriz’s condition has not required hospitalisation, she is being treated at home. This casts a wholly different complexion on claims that her life is in imminent danger.

Mourning into dancing

Joanna, Brian and Colin Perry

The Perry family from the US, have not been far from my thoughts and prayers since I stumbled across their Facebook update this morning.

And, it’s GO TIME! Jo is fully dilated and we are going to start pushing in about an hour. Going to read to Colin one last time in the womb… “The Giving Tree”.

We are READY to meet him. Excited does not even come close to what we feel. Thank you all for making us feel so loved and thank you for filling us up with prayer!

All our love,

The Perry’s

What an exciting and beautiful update – one would have to have a heart of stone to fail to feel just a glimmer of happiness at such a joyful announcement. A friend had clicked the like button and so ever curious and always overjoyed to hear about the births of new babies, I decided to have a mosey at their Facebook page and blog, whilst experiencing some vicarious mounting excitement and nervousness on behalf of the family.

Their story does not have the conventional happy ending. Their baby son Colin Patrick Perry, was diagnosed with anencephaly at 11 weeks gestation, part of his brain and skull was missing, the likely prognosis was that he would not survive beyond a few minutes.

Anencephaly is a rare neural tube defect that occurs in 1 out of every 1000 pregnancies. The neural tube at the head fails to close as usually happens between days 23 and 26 gestation, resulting in the major portion of the brain, head and scalp being missing. Babies are born without a forebrain which is responsible for co-ordination and thinking. The outcome is extremely poor – less than 5% of children live beyond 5 days, 7% die in utero, 17% during birth, 26% between 1 and 60 minutes and 27% between 1 and 5 days.

It’s one of those tragic conditions which the Abortion Act had in mind, 90% of anencephalic babies are aborted before birth and it is often quoted by proponents of abortion. I have to confess that the condition is the one that has provided the greatest challenge for me in terms of thinking about the ethics of abortion and balancing the wellbeing of the child against that of a mother. No-one should blame or vilify a mother who decided to go through a termination in those circumstances.

As I read how Jo and Brian had gone shopping to choose an outfit for their son to be buried in, how they had made arrangements for their priest to be present for the birth so Colin could be baptised, how they had prayed that he might not die instantaneously at birth in order that they might have the opportunity to let him feel how loved he was, I could not begin to imagine how it would feel to be in that situation, and I could only weep tears of sadness for them, but also gratitude as I held my beautiful 9 week old baby close. Thank God it was not me who was tested in this way. Would I be able to face the same trial with such good grace, courage and determination? Would I be able to endure 40 tough weeks of pregnancy and the trauma of giving birth, knowing that my baby would die shortly afterwards?

And then I realised that I was actually being terribly self-indulgent. There I was crying tears of sadness over something that was not only not happening to me, but was also very powerful and positive. Instead of bemoaning their situation, this beautiful and devoted young couple were taking every moment that they could to cherish the relationship and time that they had with their son, whilst they still could. Here is what Jo said last week:

So today I woke up and thought, today is my last Wednesday with Colin. It made me so sad to think that it would be the LAST Wednesday Colin would be growing inside me. By this time next week I will have an empty belly. I pray so hard every single day that Colin lives through the birth. I pray that we get time with him alive. What I ultimately pray for is that he is able to live a long life. If everything happens as statistics show none of these things will happen. So, today I tried very hard to be thankful for this last Wednesday with Colin. I am feeling very pregnant now a days, but consciously try not to complain. Today I am grateful to be pregnant, today I am thankful to have Colin alive inside of me. I want to fully appreciate these last few days I have with him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I believe Colin is capable of living a longer life than we expect. I believe God answers prayers and heals. I also don’t want to be naive and disregard all the information we have been given. I am as prepared as I can be to meet my son. I am also prepared (if anyone can really be prepared) to say goodbye. The love I have for Colin is beyond explanation. I’m sure any parent understands that. I will be forever thankful for him and how he changed me. Today I have my son! Today he is alive! Today Brian and I went shopping for an outfit to bury our son in. Today was HARD, but at least we had today with him and we tried to make the best out of today. I told Colin over and over again how much I love him. I told him how proud I am of him and how he is changing people. I told him how much I appreciate him and his love. No one knows if this was their last Wednesday with someone they love. Did you live today like it could be your last Wednesday? Did you appreciate the fact that you woke up and took a breath this Wednesday? Do the people you love know you love them today?

Now one can argue that Jo’s decision to carry Colin to term was her choice, one that should not be forced or imposed on others. Maybe so, but look at the joy and the positivity amongst the heartbreaking sadness. Abortion could not have been the right decision, even in this scenario, because Colin’s parents have taken the opportunity to really bond with their unborn son, to get to know him as best as they could, and to love him inside the uterus, no matter how brief his time outside would be. Ultimately they have the comfort of knowing that when he died, it was not a violent brutal death through their bidding at the cold hard steel of an abortionist’s instruments, but enveloped in his parents’ love, surrounded by love and prayer. Allowing Colin to be born and to die naturally, will have eased not only his suffering but theirs too, making the process of grief and healing so much gentler than the dissonance of knowing that one brought about one’s child’s death, even with the best of intentions.

The problem with moral theology in these testing situations, is that whilst it might provide us with the solution as to what should happen, it can seem lacking in compassion. If I had been in this situation and had someone parroting Aquinas at me, I think the Summa would have ended up where the sun don’t shine. Empathy must not lead us down morally dangerous paths, no matter how well intentioned, but it can go a long way to helping people to come to the right conclusions. If I were dealing with a woman in Jo’s situation, I would not be going all Magisterial on her, but helping her to see that carrying the baby to term, would be the best solution for her in the long-run, only dealing with the spiritual blessings and graces as appropriate.

Here are some more extracts from their diary. My usual loquaciousness fails me. I can’t comment beyond tears.

No ultrasound machine can show us how much love we share and we have to be very thankful the amount of time we have had together. We don’t know how much more time we have, but non of it should be wasted on what your head might look like. I know you are exactly how you’re supposed to be. I know you are beyond beautiful because you are a miracle. Your life has already touched so many. You’re only 35 weeks old and have touched more lives than Mommy and I’m 30! I love you so much Colin. Thank you for showing me what is important.

We would have never in a million years thought we would have to meet with a panel of people to talk about what organs we want to donate from our son. Our precious baby Colin. But, this is the hand we have been dealt. We don’t know exactly what God has in store for you but if he does decide to take you faster than we want we have to find a way to turn this crappy situation into something positive, something beyond ourselves. What better way to honor you? Daddy and Mommy are giving you a chance at life and now you will give others a chance at life! What an awesome dude you are! I am so proud to call you my son! I am so lucky to have been given the opportunity to carry you!

Here’s their latest update from Facebook:

October 24th, 2012 at 1:13am, Colin Patrick Perry was born and went to be with God. We are so proud of our son and love him beyond comprehension.

Thank you Joanna and Brian for your brave witness and your courage. This encapsulates the essence of parenthood for me – loving your child so much that you willingly and gratefully put yourself on the line for them, without counting the personal cost. This is what saying “yes” is all about. Mary was told that a sword would pierce her soul, she had to endure the pain of witnessing her son dying an excruciating death, but never lost her faith and trust in God.

One can see that already Joanna and Brian have allowed their suffering to transform them, to bring them closer to God and that untold blessings will emerge out of this tragedy, physically manifested in the new hope and life given to others through Colin’s organs.

Please don’t comment here, go to the Perry’s Facebook page or blog, thank them and tell them how awesome they are. (Unless you are one of the trolls, in which case fill your boots below in the usual fashion).

Colin Patrick Perry Resquiat in pace.