LIFE ISSUES: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Doctors who recommend abortion
, June 22, 2013
A common reason given for why we must have legal abortion involves the so-called hard cases. One of these concerns possible birth defects or abnormalities, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle-cell anaemia, Down’s syndrome (Mongolism), etc.
We have various tests for these conditions, such as amniocentesis. But testing is often subject to error. I know of a number of women who were told by their doctor that the baby they were carrying was at risk of some defect or abnormality, and abortion was recommended. Many of these women rejected this advice, and to their delight delivered perfectly healthy babies.
But increasingly abortion is nonetheless being used when a parent is told a child may have a physical or mental disorder. Indeed, it is already becoming a common method of sex selection. However, there are a number of questions which arise here.
One involves the idea that handicapped children are social liabilities. Who says so? Indeed, what is normal? Is a child with only one arm less than a person? Is a deaf child a social burden? Many handicapped or deformed children, along with their families, have experienced rich and rewarding lives. If we decide that society cannot accept a child with Down’s syndrome today, what will we prohibit tomorrow? Redheads? Dwarfs?
Dr C. Everett Koop, a world-renowned paediatric surgeon who served as Surgeon General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan from 1982 to 1989, spent much of his life working with “deformed” and handicapped people. He said that it was his “constant experience that disability and unhappiness do not necessarily go together”. Some of the most unhappy children he had known had “all of their physical and mental faculties and on the other hand some of the happiest youngsters have borne burdens which I myself would find very difficult to bear” (Human Life Review, Spring 1977).
Moreover, who decides who should live and who should die? Those who decide that certain handicapped children deserve to die may also decide that certain adults who are handicapped also deserve to die. Indeed, infanticide and euthanasia are logical outcomes of the arguments for abortion.
Bear in mind that before Hitler started killing the Jews, he had 275,000 handicapped people murdered.
No one has the right to decide that another human being is not fit to live. This is especially true since a doctor’s diagnosis can prove to be incorrect. As mentioned, there are many stories of a mother being counselled to have an abortion to prevent the birth of an unhealthy child. Fortunately, the doctor’s advice was ignored and a perfectly normal baby was born.
One such story appeared in the Australian press a few years ago. It told the tragic story of a young Melbourne couple who were told by their doctors that the baby being carried would die of a terminal genetic abnormality.
They aborted their son at 12 weeks, only to learn later that the diagnosis for the rare Menkes disease had been mistaken, and they had killed a perfectly healthy baby. They then sued the doctors and hospital involved (Melbourne Herald Sun, October 12, 2008).
And handicapped people certainly do not support abortion. In their 1990 book, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time, J.P. Moreland and N.L. Geisler declared that there was “not a single national organisation for parents of handicapped children that was on record as favouring abortion for the handicapped. In short, it is not the handicapped (or their parents) who want abortions for those who may be handicapped; it is those who are not handicapped. But should not the handicapped be allowed to speak for themselves?”
But the stories of women who said no to their doctors, and instead kept the baby, are the most telling here, so let me offer a few more here. One recent article from the British press told of three such cases. In each situation the doctors made it clear that abortion was the preferred option, but each of the three mothers refused, and they now have perfectly healthy and wonderful children.
Let me offer portions of each story. Kirsty was told that she had to destroy two of her triplets to ensure she’d keep one of them. The doctor “recommended that the best chance of having one healthy child was ‘selective reduction’ — terminating the identical pair….
“But how could we kill two of the babies inside me — the babies we’d watched wriggling around on the sonographer’s screen, whose hearts we’d heard beating, and who we already loved? When we met the second consultant a few days later, he spelled out the risks again, but this time focused on the fact that there was still an 80 per cent chance that if we continued with the pregnancy one or more of the babies would survive….
“The consultant wrote to our original specialist that we’d refused termination and that he’d be caring for me. From then on, the pregnancy was complication-free. We had the babies by planned caesarean at 34 weeks, each of them weighing over 5lbs. Now Austin and identical pair Ellis and Jensen are healthy 15-month-olds, all meeting their targets.
“Austin is inquisitive and energetic like his daddy, while Ellis is dramatic like me, and Jensen is the clown who likes to make people laugh. When we look at the boys, asleep in their cots at night, I can’t help lingering on how differently it might have turned out. It’s just too upsetting to think about.”
Anne Marie was pressured by her doctor not to keep her Down’s syndrome baby. She begins, “Watching Ella beam with pleasure, her piercing blue eyes sparkling as her adored big sister sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to her, it’s incomprehensible that most of the doctors I saw when I was pregnant were quite resolute in their advice: that I should abort her.”
The article continues, “How could we destroy our baby? But back at the hospital, the doctors wouldn’t let the subject of an abortion drop, even after we made our wishes clear. It felt like water torture — there was a constant drip-drip-drip of negativity at every consultation or scan. One doctor told us: ‘Your lives will never be your own.’ Another said: ‘Some people will feel you’re being selfish by having this child.’ Yet another: ‘Your other child will suffer as a result of this.’ We were made to feel very naïve….
“Ella was born on April 2, 2012, and we fell in love with her immediately. Surgery to repair her heart defect when she was four months old was a success. Now, despite being about four months behind in her development, in many ways she’s just like any other baby. She loves playing with bubbles at bathtime and listening to music.
“Our lives, although different and sometimes challenging, aren’t any less happy because of Ella. Our family and most of our friends have been amazing. The few friends who disapproved of our choice won’t feature in our lives again. Ella adores her big sister and Imogen in turn is devoted to her baby sister. None of us could imagine life without Ella. I shudder when I think how easy it would have been to give in to the pressure to terminate her.”
And, finally, Fiona was advised her baby might be disabled and she should consider aborting. “By any standards, Joshua is a high-achieving teenager. As well as running for Sheffield and South Yorkshire, he’s predicted to get As or A+s in his 12 GCSEs this summer and has just won a scholarship to study A-levels at a private school.
“Like any mum, I’m very proud of him — but particularly so considering just 11 weeks before he was due, I was asked if I wanted to end the pregnancy and warned that if I did carry him to term, he might be severely disabled…. One of the doctors asked: ‘Do you want to continue with the pregnancy?’ He didn’t explicitly use the word abortion, but it was clear that was what he meant.
“I vividly remember a feeling of profound shock as those words sunk in. ‘Did they really just offer me a termination?’ I thought. Nobody ever spelled out what an abortion at 29 weeks would have involved, though presumably I would have had to give birth to my dead baby….
“Because he was at such risk, Joshua was born by Caesarean section at 32 weeks in March 1997. He was immediately put on a ventilator in intensive care and remained in hospital for eight weeks. Yet, although his development was slightly delayed because he was a premature baby, essentially he was perfectly healthy and amazingly unscathed by what had happened to him in the womb.
“We were very fortunate. Even now I feel emotional when I think back. Given what we were being told, it would have been understandable if we’d chosen a different course of action. I feel so very grateful that we decided to follow our hearts and keep our baby.” (UK Daily Mail, June 5, 2013).
No further commentary is needed — these stories say it all.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
C. Everett Koop, “The slide to Auschwitz”, Human Life Review (New York), Spring 1977.
James P. Moreland and Norman L. Geisler, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1990), p.30.
Sue Hewitt, “Couple ‘aborted son on wrong advice from doctors’”, Herald Sun (Melbourne), October 12, 2008.
Clare Goldwin and Sadie Nicholas, “Doctors wanted to abort these children. So how did their mothers find the strength to defy them?”, Daily Mail (UK), June 5, 2013.