Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fetal Anomalies and Eugenic Abortions

The photo above is one of Sarah Palin and husband Todd with their fifth child Trig, who was born with Down's syndrome. Sarah admitted that she was afraid when she was diagnosed with a baby that had Down's. I love her husband's response: instead of asking why us, we should ask why not us? Some statistics show that as high as 90% of Down's syndrome babies are aborted. In fact, experts in Australia state the following:
“Australia urgently needs a national screening policy for Down syndrome ... after international research showed it could halve the number of babies born with the incurable genetic condition. Access to the four tests that help detect if a foetus has Down syndrome varies widely ... leading to stark differences in birth and termination rates...
'“Euan Wallace, professor of obstetrics at Monash University, said: ‘In Australia in 2008 every single woman should be offered and have access to state-of-the-art screening tests irrespective of age.’... "

Several articles that I read this week all dealt with the topic of fetal anomalies, abortions of those babies, and one story of someone who was a fetal anomaly and is living a highly fulfilled life.

One very disturbing story was published on two days ago; it recounts how St. Joseph's Hospital in London, Ontario has been carrying out eugenic abortions for 20 years with the permission of their ethicist, Father Michael Prieur, and with the knowledge of the bishop Ronald Fabbro. The abortions are carried out by early induction of labour, once they have diagnosed the anomaly; they are carried out after 21 weeks gestation (just in case the diagnosis is incorrect and the baby could then be cared for in the neo-natal unit); and then the baby is left to die from natural causes. As Jill Stanek, the nurse who blew the whistle on babies who survive an abortion and are left to die in a US hospital, says: death is by suffocation, these babies are like fish out of water and their lungs are not capable of breathing yet.

But Father Prieur doesn't think this is the same as abortion; in his words ""Now it's not called abortion. We're not killing the baby. We're bringing the baby out and allowing the baby to die. That's a very important distinction." Yes, Father Prieur, technically not abortion, you are committing infanticide or euthanasia. He actually told LifeSiteNews that the team of professionals meet to discuss each case, that they pray before deciding, and then they decide for early induction. Their thinking is that this is more compassionate for the mother, so that she does not have to carry a child that won't live for any longer than necessary. The sooner the defective baby is made to die, the better it will be for her, she can move on with her life and put this experience behind her. They actually think that, by changing the names of what they are doing, they will bring comfort to those in this situation.

I wonder how many women ever put an experience like that behind them. Add to the terrible tragedy of having a child that cannot survive, the fact that you took part in the hastening of that death, I think the consequences of such a decision would haunt one for life.

I think that Father Prieur needs some truth-talking and real quick; not only is he the resident ethicist for that hospital, he is also a professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology at St. Peter's Seminary, a position he's held for over thirty-five years. Which means that he has and is influencing generations of priests in the Church. May there be a tremendous hue and cry over this and may the Bishop have the courage to address this as he should and remove said priest immediately from all his duties. There is a tremendous amount of damage to be repaired in that diocese. And I wonder how many other hospitals are doing the same thing. I know that 68 babies were aborted here at the IWK Children's Hospital in 2007; babies aborted at the IWK are those with fetal anomalies, all other abortions are performed at the VG Hospital.

How many doctors think that they are doing the compassionate thing here for the baby and mother? probably the majority, they cannot see any other way of dealing with such suffering.

About a year ago, I had heard of a home run by a woman, precisely to help women get through such a pregnancy. She does whatever they need to help them deal with the emotional strains of bearing a child that won't live; she provides strong support throughout the pregnancy, she is present at the birth, and she helps the parents to grieve after the baby dies. What a commitment she makes to these women who suffer in ways we can only imagine. I couldn't remember the name of this woman, but a google search turned up several other such groups doing similar work. I searched under the title of "perinatal hospice" and that brought up quite a few sites to look at. One that impressed me was run by a doctor, Scott Stringfield, a family practice physician in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Stringfield runs a practice called Choices Medical Clinic and is located very close to the clinic of a doctor renowned for late term abortions.

Dr. Stringfield's website for Choices has as their mission statement "enabling women to avoid abortion by providing for their medical, social, spiritual and practical needs". The clinic runs commercials so that women will know that help is available for them and Dr. Stringfield even has a program for medical students so that they can choose to have an elective rotation with his clinic. I am impressed. This is what we need more of, we need places that will offer concrete help to women who find themselves so distressed by their pregnancy that they are considering killing their own child.

While the work of Dr. Stringfield's clinic focuses on all crisis pregnancies, I was very moved by his own written account of helping a couple with a child that had anencephaly, a condition in which part of the brain does not form properly and the child usually dies within hours of being born. Dr. Stringfield recounts how he was led to help this couple bond with their child during the pregnancy and how they were helped to be parents to little Brenden in the most loving way possible for all of them, even though he only lived 14 hours.

I have read other stories similar to this, and the message is the same. No one knows why such tragedies occur, but trying to end them prematurely and move on with life is not the way to handle suffering. These stories show that human beings need to be helped through their suffering, that their suffering can actually bring about bittersweet joy as they hold their child even if only for a brief time. Aborting that baby also aborts the necessary grief.

These cases put before us the mystery of suffering. But nothing is to be gained by trying to escape, in fact there really isn't an escape from such a suffering. Facing it head on, with the support of individuals who care as much as Dr. Stringfield and his staff, brings people through a process of growth that, I believe, will bear much fruit later on in life. Before such a great mystery as the death of a child with a life-threatening disability, we need to stop and be still and know that God is still God.

Years ago, I had a friend whose first child died hours after birth; he had a congenital heart defect and he struggled to survive but didn't make it past one day. Helen struggled with the grief for months afterwards, probably more than months. I recall her telling me, several years later (when she had two healthy baby boys), that all she could do at that time was cry out to God "yes". A submission of one's will to the Almighty. Who else can heal such a broken heart? who else can you go to?

Also this week, someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of an amazing young man, who was born without limbs and yet he lives a wonderful life, swimming, skydiving even, he has two degrees, and he is now a motivational speaker addressing mostly groups of young people witnessing to his joy for life. His name is Nick Vujicic and his story is amazing. Born without arms or legs, he was welcomed into a home with loving parents; his father is a Christian pastor. Nick recalls how he considered suicide at age 8, how he struggled with accepting his disability, and how he has found that God has a plan for him even if he is so physically imperfect. Everyone who is considering aborting a child with a disability should be made aware of this man's testimony.

If we continue to abort children who have defects, those in our society who are handicapped are going to feel more and more isolated. I read somewhere this week, that abortion of the disabled is, in fact, discrimination against disabilities, just as one can discriminate against race or religion. In this case, the decision is made that a disability makes one less desirable in our society, therefore those already here are put into a class of persons considered to be nothing but a burden. And it doesn't take a genius to know where that thinking will lead us. Anti-abortionists deny that there is a slippery slope from abortion to euthanasia; then how can they explain the swell of public opinion in favour of both infanticide and euthanasia?

As Peggy Noonan says of John Paul II:

John Paul ".... is saying that once you go down the road where some unfortunate people can be put to death, you won't know where the journey will end. Once you decide some lives are not worth living or not important, then you have journeyed to a new place where you decide who gets to live and who dies. This is a place that leaves you coarsened, that leaves your conscience cruder, rougher, less open to love and its appeals. Once you get there, your next stop, or the one after that, is genocide, or the careless killings that mark our age - or the gas chambers. Don't go down that road, John Paul says. Get off that road; get off that bus. It leads to no good place. "

John Paul the Great, Remembering a Spiritual Father, by Peggy Noonan

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Conferring of Personhood and other issues
The photo above is of a baby that was probably about 18-20 weeks when aborted. She (yes, it is a girl) was aborted by a prostaglandin abortion; this method involves giving the mother a dosage of hormones which induce early labour. The strength of the contractions is such that the baby is bruised by them, which accounts for the blackened areas on the baby's body. This baby could have been born alive (the state of the head seems to indicate this) and would have died from exposure shortly after delivery.

“aborted foetuses are not people… you can't prove that they are. They are potential people, just like eggs, sperm, stem cells, and potentially other types of cell like bone marrow. There is no clearly defined moment when a person is made. It's up to society to define personhood. To me, a baby does not gain separate personhood and separate rights until it's actually born. Until then, it is a part of the mother.”

Okay, this is really the heart of the debate between pro choice and pro life people. I am glad that Alyssa got right down to this so quickly. I am reminded of Obama’s answer to Rick Warren of the Saddlebrook Church when he asked Obama at what point did he think life begins? Obama answered that “it is above my pay grade”. And Father Frank Pavone’s reply was “this man who is now the US president doesn’t know the difference between serving the public and killing the public”. That is a smart retort and sassy and probably doesn’t hold up under scrutiny as some will argue that the unborn are not the public. Be that as it may, I guffawed when I heard that remark the first time.

There is no doubt scientifically that the unborn are human beings right from the moment of conception. They have their own distinct DNA and that DNA is human, not another species. I do not need to labour this point; any medical student should be able to tell you this.

What is then argued is that the unborn may be human, but he/she is not a person. So the argument is moved into the philosophical realm of what is a person. I think the pro- abortion advocates do this precisely because there are no definite answers in philosophy. One is left to pick and choose what one wants to believe. And no one can say that one side is right, while the other is wrong.

But I would say, when did you become you? When you were born, just before, slightly after? When you had your first birthday, when you said your first word, when you had your first thought? Bringing the abortion argument around to the issue of personhood and when that begins, leaves us all wide open to the slippery slope of someone else deciding whether or not we qualify as persons who deserve to live.

But first let’s back-track to the human being question. I quote from Bernard Nathanson, a former abortion doctor and co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), because how can one argue with a doctor that has such an extensive experience of abortion in the medical world?:”… let me tell you that there is a huge book called The Cumulative Index Medicus, which lists every article published in every medical journal in the world. In the 1969 edition of the Index under the heading of “fetus, physiology and anatomy of,” there were five articles in the world’s literature. As recently as that, we knew almost nothing of the fetus; when abortion on demand was unleashed in the United States, fetology essentially did not exist. In 1979, there were twenty-eight hundred articles, and by 1994 there were close to five thousand. This technology (he is referring to ultrasound) has opened a new world to us.”

If the abortion laws were repealed at a time when medical science knew so little about the developing fetus, don’t you think we should actually be looking at those laws again? New knowledge necessitates review; refusal to do so indicates an entrenched position that one will not change for whatever reasons.

As endocrinologist Dr. George W. Corner said three decades before the legalization of abortion - it is the hidden nature of human development that makes us undervalue it so tragically.

My daughter Rebecca once said to me years ago, that the unborn’s greatest problem is the fact that it is not seen. Abortion is killing that is done inside someone’s body; you can’t get any more hidden than that. Abortion is performed clandestinely; it is not shown to the public except on places like YouTube and personal blogs that feature video clips of abortions. To my knowledge, abortion has not been shown on public media of any sort. If people could see the blood and carnage of abortion, they would recoil in horror. The problem is that abortion is an abstraction that we talk about (sometimes); the reality of it is not conveyed unless one actually takes the time to look. My husband once said to me that he thought abortion was like human road kill. Imagine a stretch of highway strewn with the body parts that are the aftermath of abortion; if this is how we disposed of aborted babies, we would have miles of highway lined with the tiny carcasses of human beings, ripped apart before they see the light of day. Perhaps then people might say “enough”.

Back to personhood: when were you not you? When the egg and sperm met, then began to grow, what were they at the beginning? They had every piece of genetic material necessary to grow and develop and then be born as the baby that was given your name. So what were they (the egg and sperm) before you were called you? It was always you, it was never anything but you, it wasn’t someone else, it certainly wasn’t another organism; it was you. Then people will object that the being wasn’t developed enough to be a person; the fact is, that we are on a road of development throughout our entire lives; why do people take the birth moment as a time when a qualitative change was made? Medical developments are pushing back the age of viability all the time; so you can’t really say, the baby is a person when it is not dependent upon its mother. That age is getting younger and younger all the time; so to put a specific limit on personhood would be wide open to being changed all the time.

In fact, the development that we undergo in the womb far exceeds any further development in our entire life: “As early as 1971, Dr. M. Winnick recognized that the steepest slope of growth was in the first seventeen to nineteen days after fertilization: with respect to weight, protein content of the embryo. After nineteen days, growth of the organism slows because it is now dependent not so much on cell division (hyperplasia) but growth of the individual cells themselves (hypertrophy). The final phase of human growth is concerned with hypertrophy alone, and this phase persists through adolescence into adulthood. From that point on there is less hypertrophy (and no hyperplasia of any significance unless one is unfortunate enough to be incubating a tumor), and growth, to all intents and purposes, ceases….Add to this biological tumult the element of organization – that these rapidly dividing cells know exactly where to position themselves: armies of cells directed by a set of genes and enzyme systems contained within the chromosomal context of the preimplantation embryo very much akin to the Hox genes …. It is not birth, marriage or death but gastrulation which is the most important time of your life.” Gastrulation is the splitting of the embryonic mass of cells into three well-defined layers of cells from which all structures, organs, appendages, and assorted other anatomical phenomena derive, it commences at perhaps thirteen or fourteen days after conception. Preparations for the event, however, have been in progress since that momentous switch at the four- to eight-cell phase when control of genetic events passes from maternal influences to the embryo’s exclusive control.)”
Bernard Nathanson, The Hand of God: chapter The Vector of Life

I would venture to say that the more we know about the development of the human being from fertilization onwards, the more we need to reassess how we regard that being. To ignore the findings of medical science is blind ignorance.

The problem with anointing a being with personhood is that the anointing is being done by another being. Who gave them that right? I have to remind you here that Jews were not considered persons in Nazi Germany and look at what that allowed the Germans to do to them; blacks were not considered persons and they were enslaved by others as a result. In fact, it was only in 1964 that the black population of the US got their voting rights. I remember exactly what I was doing in 1964, I was attending grade ten in a high school in Sudbury, Ontario. When I discovered this fact about black voting rights only a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it. They only got their rights in my lifetime? This brought home to me how recent some inhumanities have been. Up until the mid 60’s, American blacks were deemed unfit to be members of certain clubs and organizations; “who deemed the ‘deemers’ fit?” (Bernard Nathanson, The Hand of God)

The same is true for abortion; who is deeming the unborn non-persons? Why do they have that right? Are they some privileged class of people who have some knowledge that the rest of us don’t share? Did they receive this as some absolute truth from some source that we should all respect?

Unless all human beings are granted personhood from the moment of conception, not a single one of us is safe. Because if the granting of personhood is left up to society to confer, then it is open to change and who is going to determine which change is right and which change is not? There is only one position that guarantees safety for all people and that is conferring rights on all beings, born and unborn. The very nature of rights assumes that one got to live in order to have them; letting one group of persons decide that another group doesn’t get to be born, is denying the first and fundamental right, the right to life.

That raises the question of rights: the mother’s rights versus the child’s rights. Last evening, a radio station here interviewed Joyce Arthur, a well known spokesperson for abortion rights in Canada. She kept coming back to the same point: the child’s rights are superseded by the woman’s rights. Assuring the woman of her rights necessitates that the unborn does not have them. And two beings residing in the same body cannot have the same rights. On the surface, this argument sounds pretty logical and hard to debate.
But what rights are being compared: when putting one person’s rights against another person’s rights, surely the same rights should be compared. Pregnancy does not endanger the woman’s life (at least not in the majority of cases), abortion however does. The mother’s right to life is not being threatened by the child’s right to life. Joyce Arthur is putting the mother’s rights to all sorts of things against the child’s right to life. I say that those are not equal. You have to compare equal rights, not pit the right to personal autonomy against someone else’s right to be born. They simply don’t equate. Not if you think life is important.

If a woman carries through with an unwanted pregnancy, she may face some changes in her life and she may have to make some choices that were not her first plan. But she does not lose her life in this. The baby does. Huge difference: one lives, the other dies. So either life is a value for you or it is not. You can’t say that you are choosing the woman’s life over the baby’s life, because that is simply not the case. You are choosing the woman’s right to be free of the pregnancy over the baby’s right to be born.

At least Naomi Wolf admits that abortion takes a human life and she challenges pro choice women to admit this and not to deny it. But she says that the real pro choice woman recognizes that abortion is killing a human being, and she decides that she can do this. This is indeed scary. This takes us to the realm of Peter Singer, the ethicist at Princeton University who now advocates infanticide. As he says, why limit the killing to within the womb? If parents decide that the child (or perhaps themselves) is better off dead after birth, then they should have a certain time frame in which they are allowed to do that. This is the logical consequence of this thinking. The argument goes like this:
It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
Abortion (infanticide) kills a human being.
Abortion (infanticide) is there wrong.

Most pro life people use this argument to put the logic of their case. They depend on the other side accepting premise #2. Peter Singer doesn’t care about premise #2, he states that he wants to throw out premise #1.

How did we ever get to this point? This was precisely the thinking that the Nuremberg trials found criminal and they hanged Nazi doctors who had acted upon this thought process. As Wesley Smith (another ethicist) states, our society has given Peter Singer a tenured philosophy position at one of the most prestigious universities in the West. As he concludes, this is insanity. What more can be said?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Human or Not?

The above photo is of Olivia Talbot who was shot to death in November 2005. Her baby, Lane Jr., was 27 weeks in utero and he died also. In Canadian law, Lane has no rights as a human being, he is simply not recognized to be a human being. How can any sane person look at this photo and say that is true?
Yet, Bill C-484, a private member's bill proposed by Ken Epp - it is called the Unborn Victims of Crime Bill, would have succeeded in making it possible to charge the person who killed the mother with the second death of her unborn child. This bill has been stopped in Parliament, and all efforts to enact such legislation have been "aborted", to borrow that nasty word. Only in Canada, the home of the "nice". Our politicians are so afraid of the pro-abortion lobby, that they will not even vote as their consciences, and in this case, their eyes, should inform them.
Alyssa has emailed me back. She was very surprised that I bothered to respond to her. I hope that she finds that heartening, that she realises not all pro life people are highly emotional and ready to just shout at those who disagree with them. But that some of us are willing to engage in rational discussion about these things. There are many people who can discuss abortion and such issues, without resorting to emotional arguments, ad hominem arguments, methods of discussion that leave both sides looking like children having tantrums.

She cuts right to the quick this time. She states that she is on the extreme side with regards to granting personhood to the unborn; in her opinion, it is up to society to define when someone becomes a person. Okay, I have a challenge before me. This is the route that people like Peter Singer have taken, the ethics professor at Princeton who actually believes that infanticide should be allowed. If a mother can kill the child in her womb, then why not the child shortly after birth, if it seems better than letting that child live?

This is where this logic takes you. If killing is alright in the womb, and that it is up to society to decide that, then what is to stop that same society from stating that other killing is alright? This is precisely where many countries have already gone since making abortion legal. In Holland, some elderly carry with them cards stating they are not to be euthanised if they have to be taken to hospital. It has been seen to be preferable to eliminate people when they become a burden, rather than expend human effort and resources on their care.

It is easy for Christian believers to be shocked by this argument and it is shocking. Our appropriate response should be disbelief and actually repulsion at this line of reasoning. However, it is becoming far too common for us to dismiss it and not deal with it rationally. Too much is at stake, if we only respond emotionally. This is the logical conclusion of the relativist morality that has taken over the minds of the majority of the population.

How did we get here? quite simply, by abandoning our first love. By putting God into a corner of our lives, rather than putting Him at the center. He cannot guide and direct us from the corner only; He has to be front and center of our lives in order for us to really live in His ways.
Western society thinks that it can retain the Judaeo-Christian morality while throwing out the two religions that brought that morality to them. Legislating the elimination of all signs of our Judaeo-Christian heritage (prayer in public places, signs with God in them, Happy Holidays replacing Merry Christmas are a few examples) is the evident manifestation that our society doesn't want religion to have any say over it any longer.

However, when you throw out what gave you your heritage to begin with, you literally throw out the baby with the bathwater. You cannot have one without the other. And there is no society on earth that has defended human rights and democracy, the value of life and death, any more that those that are Judaeo-Christian. Life is simply not respected in societies that are not Judaeo-Christian. Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, Buddhist, they do not regard life as sacred and you can see the atrocities in those cultures because of that very thinking.

Why does the western world think that it can expunge the God of the Bible from its life and yet retain the Christian values of tolerance for all men, social justice for the poor, sanctity of life?
Remove the foundation of the building and it collapses. There can be no other result.