June 14, 2013

Be Our Guest / Dr. Hans Geisler

In the life debate, hyperbole not the answer, doctor says

In its June 7 issue, The Indianapolis Star printed on its editorial page a column previously published in USA Today with the headline, “Here’s why abortion must remain legal.” It was written by Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Before making the usual pro-choice claims that we, in the pro-life community, are opposed to all rights for women, and that the pro-life laws enacted in various state legislatures recently will inevitably lead to “more women … subjected to injustices, indignities and threats to their lives,” the column starts by discussing the pregnancy and illness, namely, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) with resultant kidney problems, of a 22-year old woman by the name of Beatriz, living in El Salvador, who happened to also be carrying an anencephalic—a congenital absence of all or part of the brain—baby in her womb.

Northrup begins by blasting an opinion handed down recently by the Supreme Court of El Salvador, which would not allow Beatriz to have an abortion despite her medical problems and the fact that she was pregnant with an anencephalic infant.

She also castigates the El Salvadoran Supreme Court for correctly stating that “life begins at conception.” Despite Northup and others who hold contrary opinions, the scientific community has shown that a human being’s entire genetic code is present from the moment of conception, proving, without religious beliefs entering into it, that “life does begin at the moment of fertilization or conception” since everything that scientifically constitutes a human being is present from that time on.

Let’s return, however, to the admittedly severe autoimmune disease known commonly as “lupus,” which affects Beatriz and also to the anencephalic child she was carrying.

According to recent medical literature, easily accessed on the web, if a patient’s SLE or lupus is properly treated, even though the lupus may have caused kidney damage prior to the advent of the pregnancy, the patient should be able to conceive and carry a pregnancy.

Admittedly, it will require close cooperation on the part of the physicians managing the patient’s disease, her pregnancy and the child and mother after the delivery has taken place (C. Mok and R. Wong, Postgrad. Med. J., 2001 March; 77 (9815), 157-165: “With better understanding of the pathogenesis of SLE and the judicious use of immunosuppressive drugs, better disease control can now be achieved and SLE patients should not be deprived of the opportunity for bearing children.”)

This article, from a prominent medical peer reviewed journal, proves that lupus, even with kidney damage, does not constitute a medical necessity requiring that an abortion be performed.

Beatriz, as Northrup points out, however, had another problem. She was carrying a pregnancy with all or part of the child’s brain missing. Medical texts indicate that approximately 25 percent of anencephalic infants die in the womb prior to delivery. Those that are delivered and those deliveries, in most cases, are vaginal deliveries, die shortly after birth. A few may live several weeks.

Nonetheless, anencephaly does not require that the mother undergo an abortion (Kinsman, SL, Johnston, MV; Congenital Anomalies of the Central Nervous System, Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th edition, Philadelphia, PA. Saunders Elsevier; 2007, chapter 592).

Even with the serious malformation of anencephaly and knowing that the child has no chance to live for any prolonged period of time, I have personally seen parents love and cuddle their malformed infants and treat them with great affection while those children were alive. Although I have only personal and admittedly anecdotal evidence, the love of a parent does not generally appear diminished by a genetic defect in their child. Actually, in many cases it is enhanced.

Finally, in her last paragraph, Northrup states, “And the likelihood increases daily that more women will be subjected to the injustices, indignities and threats to their health and lives that Beatriz has suffered in El Salvador—including here in the United States.”

I believe that medical evidence proves that patients with lupus, even with kidney damage, and/or patients carrying an anencephalic infant do not need to be aborted.

Certainly, both lupus in a pregnant patient and a baby with anencephaly necessitate competent, cooperative medical care administered by knowledgeable physicians, but abortion is not the answer nor is it needed even if the mother, tragically, is burdened with both problems.

Hyperbole, on the part of the pro-choice lobby, is not the answer. Conversely, reliable, sound, comprehensive medical care is.

(Dr. Hans Geisler is a retired gynecologist-oncologist and member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. He is certified in health care ethics by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.)

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