Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Life Report #112: Responding to Severe Fetal Deformity

It's a follow-up to the aborting dad viral video I blogged about on March 8, in which a father whose baby with sirenomelia was being aborted while he scolded two prolifers standing outside with signs.

Liz felt that the guys had come off too harsh against the prolife women in that video. She felt that the efforts to be compassionate toward the dad, they were too hard on the women. Liz stressed that they're very glad that the women were there being diligent, and that they're not trying to attack them, but to equip them so that they can be more effective.

Josh then segued into the issue of responding to cases of severely affected unborn children -- cases such as anencephaly and some of the more severe trisomies, or sirenomelia.

Kyle noted that, as Josh said, these cases are so emotionally charged that it's important to first make the emotional connection. The man in the video was very emotionally devastated. His wanted child was doomed, no matter what he and his wife did. It's very important in talking to these people that we don't fear getting emotionally connected. We can very much sympathize with their anguish, without agreeing with the decision to abort the baby.

Step one, Kyle said, is to put the fact of the impending abortion aside. Connect with the person as you would with anybody else who has just gotten that devastating news. Reach out in love before doing anything else.

Josh credits Justice for All with the approach he takes. He then refers you to the story he hopes you can use to connect with people.

A woman found out at 18 weeks that her baby had Trisomy 18, a fatal condition. The medical staff virtually demanded that the couple abort. Josh notes how common this attitude is among medical providers, and I've seen (and blogged about) this myself. And roughly 90% of parents go along with this. Josh and Kyle both held that even prochoicers would likely disagree with the bully-the-parents-into-abortion approach, rather than just give them the information and let them decide. I'd like to think Josh and Kyle are right.

The woman, Josh tells us, was told to speak to a priest. Not her own priest, but a priest recommended by the medical staff who were pushing for the abortion. He then read from the mother's description of the meeting with the priest:

He sat us down and told us how hard it would be to continue a pregnancy like ours. He said, 'You know you're going to get bigger and bigger each day. It is going to be very hard to do this.' He also said that these babies are very sick. There'll be a lot of suffering. I couldn't believe my ears. I was expecting the priest to give us encouragement, support, and resources on how to do this. Instead, he told us we should pray for a miscarriage. He told us we should pray for a miscarriage and he told me how to bury my baby.

Josh added that as the father of a baby that miscarried at ten weeks he was appalled. He then returned to the woman's story:

We left his office without any resources, alone and helpless. This was truly the darkest day.

Fortunately for the parents, the obstetrician was more supportive, but the parents had to train the staff on how to deliver and care for a baby with Trisomy 18. The hospital had never delivered one before, because all the other parents had opted to abort. (Which is hardly a wonder, considering the pressure on them to do so.)

The baby, Grace, was delivered alive via c-section. Her heart condition was not as bad as the doctors had anticipated. Her parents learned to care for her and love her until she died on her 2-month birthday. And the mother told of how much she treasured her two months with her little girl.

So Josh encourages us to share stories like that, and then suggests questions to ask the person.

1. "Isn't it better to treat the unborn as a patient, since she is a human being?" And if the person responds that she's not a human being you can talk about that.

2. "If a child has a fatal deformity, is dismemberment really the most humane treatment we can give?" Josh thinks one of the women in the video was trying to ask this. "We give hospice care to the elderly when they're dying. Can't we give the same kind of care to the unborn whose death is imminent? Can't we love both the parents and the suffering child who is dying?" And it all leads into the question of "How should we treat disabled people?"

He then encourages you to compare the sick baby to an equally sick toddler.

He gives responses to likely prochoice questions:

Q. Should we force parents to give birth to a deformed child?
A. Should we force parents to care for a deformed 2-year-old? Or should we kill it? Is it right to kill somebody because she is deformed? Or, Liz adds, because they are going to die.

Kyle points out that he and Liz have a niece that was born at 27 weeks. She had what was believed to be a fatal blood infection. She lived a little over two days. And the child's parents, while they still suffered, looked on those two days as a time of joy in being with their daughter.

Kyle then moves on to the idea that the dad in the video, and his wife, likely didn't see their unborn baby as a baby yet, therefore aborting him wasn't killing so much as preventing somebody who would suffer from coming into existence. (I might disagree there. I think they likely saw their baby as a baby, but either because of outside expectations, their own shock and fear, whatever, went into "fight or flight" mode and did both -- fled from the reality of their child by getting rid of him before they'd have to confront him, and fought against their child's condition, unfortunately by killing the child.)

Q. Shouldn't we have mercy on the child and save him from pain while we can?
A. How would we handle a toddler?

Liz brought up the question of what you'd do with a child with leukemia, or children at St. Jude's for whom there is no cure. We don't just put them out of their misery; we see them as children and try to help them as much as we can.

Josh said that when he gets into a discussion with prochoicers and they stand firm on fetal deformity abortions, he asks, "If I granted you abortion for these cases, would you join me in ending abortion for the other 97% of cases?"

(Now's the time to add, the 3% of abortions for "fetal indications" aren't even necessarily for known and diagnosed illnesses or disabilities. I've blogged elsewhere about this. But we'll set that aside for now.)

Kyle says his approach is to start with how exciting it is that medical science is offering us better and better options all the time, to start with compassion and hope. Kyle also noted that it's important to point out that these situations we're talking about are a tiny percentage of all abortions, so that disagreement on "health of the mother" or "fetal deformity" or "rape and incest" abortions doesn't mean disagreement on the vast majority of abortions. And Josh stressed not to use this as "duck and cover" to avoid talking about "hard cases". By all means, talk about them. There are thousands of women every year facing these situations. Go ahead and talk about how best to help them. But also don't let it negate the reality of the vast majority of abortions that do not involve "hard cases".

Josh pointed out that there's room for common ground when you tell a story like that of Baby Grace, asking prochoicers if there ought not to be resources for these parents. Perhaps the prochoicer will still hold out abortion as a valid option, but will often agree that parents who want to reject abortion ought not to be abandoned and left with no resources.

Here are some of the very needed resources:

  • Be Not Afraid
  • Perinatal Hospice

    A fatal prenatal diagnosis is devastating. There's no getting around that. But bullying parents into an abortion -- where their only memory of their child will be of having him or her put to death in a way the Humane Society won't let shelters euthanize sick dogs -- can't be the most compassionate thing we have to offer.

    Even if the baby is stillborn, the parents can still look back with the knowledge that they gave their baby nothing but love.

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