“I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly, I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.”
These are words that come from the original Hippocratic Oath, which doctors from generations past have taken on the day that they graduate. While most medical students no longer recite this oath, the basis of these words is to remember that we are human, with faults, and that, as physicians, we are exposed to sacred trusts by the patients and the communities we serve.
While it is expressed in multiple ways, a physician’s goal is to promote and preserve life and go what we can, with God’s help, to improve the quality and quantity of life.
In America, we have been arguing over the right to unborn children’s life for over 40 years. Since the Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton rulings, which preserved abortion rights across state lines, two distinct camps have been developed, which argue and fight to an unfortunate draw. The goal is to change the court and change hearts to see that, what we are really doing is affecting future generations. With the conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, there is a chance that these laws might be finally struck down.
However, the United States is a representative republic with 50 state governments. And what is happening slowly and steadily should give anyone of faith reason to shudder. State governments are insulating themselves against the possible Supreme Court findings by enacting laws allowing abortion until and even after the birth of a baby.
Let’s, for a moment, think about what medical indications might exist for such a procedure. If there is a lethal genetic disease present, the baby likely will not survive the pregnancy. Prenatal hospice services exist in many hospitals, and the baby can be delivered when the time comes, and care can be received.
On the other side, most of these genetic findings are diagnosed early, during which time a couple can decide on a definitive ending. This has always been legal under currently laws.
If the baby has some sort of other concern, like hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, or cardiac problems, for example, the baby can be delivered by a cesarean section and a waiting neonatal team can be present for resuscitation and treatment.
Though the passage of the laws that allow late-term procedures have led to cheers and well-wishing by the legislatures that have passed them, they are procedures that do not have a true medical indication. There are women who don’t realize that they are pregnant until they have reached the third trimester. And, I suppose that there could be women who do not realize that they are pregnant until they go into labor. But these are not indications for termination of the pregnancy, as, in both cases, the babies could go on to live on their own after delivery.
What is frightening is that the Governor of Virginia, a pediatric neurologist, has suggested that the mother might choose to have the baby killed after birth.
Anthropologists estimate that in the time of early humans, up to 20 percent of babies were left to die by exposure so that they did not place any pressure on the food stores. This practice continued in the Roman Empire.
Early Christian teachers wrote against this practice. The Didache (the Teaching of the Apostles) states “thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born.” Most civilized communities, from the time of Constantine, have considered infanticide a crime.
But the beat goes on. Jesus stated that he came to bring “life and bring it more abundantly.” While I daily seek to follow God’s will in my practice and daily life, I cannot believe that an abundant and loving God sees what is happening and is pleased. I believe that God wept when Herod ordered the slaughter of the holy innocents. How does God see this: over 53 million abortions in the United states since 1973? Now the introduction of abortion until and through delivery is dawning across this country. Each law’s passage leads to champagne and hugs.
As Catholics, as humans, this is the number one issue for us to pray and to work against. Every social justice effort springs from the right to life. Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.