PERINATAL HOSPICE & PALLIATIVE
CARE AT BIRTH
Compelled by the Gospel, PPL equips Presbyterians to champion human life at every stage
Perinatal Hospice Aids Parents in Honoring Life for as Much Time as God Gives
A recent article posted online at The Times Irish News described a tragic pregnancy. At twenty weeks gestation the mother received the news that her baby was dying of a chromosomal disorder. She described the period of waiting until the heartbeat stopped as "five weeks of torture". The author of the article clearly meant to use the mother's story as indication that Ireland needs to change it's restrictive abortion law to allow abortion in such cases.
Q. Are the pro life laws of Ireland responsible for this woman's experience with her pregnancy?
Pediatrician, Dr. Patricia Lee June answers the question this way:
A. How sad – not just that the baby had a lethal condition, but that the mom got no support after the diagnosis. Yes, in that the pro-life laws of Ireland would have prohibited abortion. Is it 'medically necessary" to carry the baby to term? No, though having an abortion would increase the mom's risk of breast cancer and of premature deliveries in the future and I would consider those relative contra-indications to actively killing the child (aside from the moral issues involved).
Now let's talk about what should have been done. I don't know what chromosomal abnormality she was talking about, but there are conditions, most commonly anencephaly or lack of development of the brain, that can be diagnosed prenatally and for which there is no treatment, and which will result in the death of the child shortly after birth. All diagnosis carries some uncertainty and I don't know of any that consistently result in stillbirth. I have seen one or two stillborn babies with multiple anomalies but most live about half an hour after birth. Still, the first anencephalic baby I cared for lived for 9 days and went home with his parents and died there and I have read of 1 or 2 who lived over a year. I suspect they may have had a little more brain development than most.
Q. What can a pastor or friend say to questions about anomalies like this, when they are used as ammunition to "protect" abortion?
A. You have a situation where the baby has been diagnosed with an abnormality which is expect to result in death either before or shortly after birth, for which there is no treatment. Do you artificially shorten the baby's life by either abortion or by induced premature delivery ? Or do you love the baby for however many days God gives her on earth, and (usually) have a little time after birth while she is still alive to say goodbye? Which is the more loving? Which is the easiest psychologically on the parents and siblings? Which is the most in accord with the gift God has given? I wish this mom could have been counseled to cherish and love her daughter for each of the days she had with her and to see those days as a blessing, even though they were far too few.
There is a program called Perinatal Hospice which helps the parents both grieve their loss and enjoy their child while they have her. You can find many testimonies from parents who are thankful that they did not abort their children with terminal diagnoses.
See also:Alexandra's House
Related Article: When joy of birth and pain of death are bittersweet companions