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Morning Light Ministry has received many inquiries from parents about Catholic Church teaching in regards to an adverse prenatal diagnosis. We include these church documents to help clarify the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life from conception regardless of a fatal or non-fatal prenatal diagnosis. If you are a parent whose baby has received an adverse prenatal diagnosis please visit our web page We can offer you information and support in carrying your baby to term despite an adverse prenatal diagnosis.




March 25, 1995, His Holiness Pope John Paul II
the newspaper of the Holy See, Vatican, September 23, 1998
Vol.22, No. 1, Pope John Center For The Study of Ethics

the newspaper of the Holy See, Vatican, September 23, 1998
GOD'S WORD ON SUNDAY column, December 22, 2002, The Catholic Register


 
 

"Prenatal diagnosis.all too often becomes an opportunity for proposing and procuring an abortion. This is eugenic abortion, justified in public opinion on the basis of a mentality-mistakenly held to be consistent with the demands of 'therapeutic interventions'-which accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it when it is affected by any limitation, handicap or illness."

No. 14, EVANGELIUM VITAE

Statement issued by the Committee on Doctrine of the National Council of Catholic
Bishops on September 20, 1996 (United States)
Published in L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See,
Vatican, September 23, 1998
Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly Anencephaly is a congenital anomaly characterized by failure of development of the cerebral hemispheres and overlying skull and scalp, exposing the brain stem. This condition exists in varying degrees of severity. Most infants who have anencephaly do not survive for more than a few days after birth. Modern medical techniques usually can determine this condition with a high degree of certainty before birth. When anencephaly is detected, some physicians recommend that the pregnancy be terminated in order to free the mother from the psychological anxiety and possible physical complications throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.
According to the well-established teaching of the Catholic Church, the rights of a mother and her unborn child deserve equal protection because they are based on the dignity of the human person whatever the condition of that person. Consequently, it can never be morally justified directly to cause the death of an innocent person no matter the age or condition of that person.

Some have attempted to argue that anencephalic children may be prematurely delivered, even when this would be inappropriate for other children. This argument is based on the opinion that because of their apparent lack of cognitive function and in view of the probable brevity of their lives, these infants are not the subject of human rights or at least have lives of less meaning or purpose than others. Doubts about the human dignity of the anencephalic infant, however, have no solid ground, and the benefit of any doubt must be in the child's favour. As a general rule, conditions of the human body, regardless of severity, in no way compromise human dignity or human rights.

The "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services", Directive 45, states: "Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable foetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo".
The phrase sole immediate effect is further explained by Directive 47 which states: "Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child".
In other words, it is permitted to treat directly a pathology of the mother even when this has the unintended side effect of causing the death of her child, if this pathology left untreated would have life-threatening effects on both mother and child, but it is not permitted to terminate or gravely risk the child's life as a means of treating or protecting the mother.

Hence, it is clear that before "viability" it is never permitted to terminate the gestation of an anencephalic child as the means of avoiding psychological or physical risks to the mother. Nor is such termination permitted after "viability" if early delivery endangers the child's life due to complications of prematurity. In such cases it cannot reasonably be maintained that such a termination is simply a side effect of the treatment of a pathology of the mother (as described in Directive 47). Anencephaly is not a pathology of the mother, but of the child, and terminating her pregnancy cannot be a treatment of a pathology she does not have. Only if the complications of the pregnancy result in a life-threatening pathology of the mother, may the treatment of this pathology be permitted even at a risk to the child, and then only if the child's death is not a means to treating the mother.
The fact that the life of a child suffering from anencephaly will probably be brief cannot excuse directly causing death before "viability" or gravely endangering the child's life after "viability" as a result of the complications of prematurity.
The anencephalic child, during his or her probably brief life after birth, should be given the comfort and palliative care appropriate to all the dying. This failing life need not be further troubled by using extraordinary means to prolong it (see "Ethical and Religious Directives", Directives 57 and 58). It is most commendable for parents to wish to donate the organs of an anencephalic child for transplants that may assist other children, but this may never be permitted before the donor child is certainly dead.

The profound and personal suffering of the parents of an anencephalic child gives us cause for concern and calls for compassionate pastoral and medical care as the parents prepare for the pain and emptiness that the certain death of their newborn child will bring. The mother who carries to term a child who will soon die deserves our every possible support. The baptism of the child assures the parents of the child's eternal happiness, and the provision of Christian burial of the deceased infant gives witness to the Church's unconditional respect for human life and the recognition that in the face of every human being is an encounter with God.
 
 

The NCCB On Anencephaly
By Peter J. Cataldo, Ph.D., Director of Research,
Pope John Center For The Study Of Ethics In Health Care
From: Ethics & Medics, Vol. 22, No. 1
January, 1997

The Human Nature Of The Anencephalic Infant

   On September 20, 1996, the NCCB Committee on Doctrine issued a statement entitled "Moral Principles Concerning Infants With Anencephaly." The statement provides helpful clarification on the ethics of caring for anencephalic infants. The condition of anencephaly, which can be diagnosed early and accurately by ultrasound imaging, is described in this way,

Anencephaly is a congenital anomaly characterized by failure of development of the cerebral hemispheres and overlying skull and scalp, exposing the brain stem. This condition exists in varying degrees of severity. Most infants who have anencephaly do not survive for more than a few days after birth. (Origins, vol. 26, no.16, p. 276. All quotations herein, unless otherwise identified, have this same reference.)
The central ethical issues pertaining to anencephalic infants are: abortion, early induction of labour, postnatal care, and donation of organs for transplantation. Any evaluation of these issues is influenced by what is presupposed about the humanity of the infant. The NCCB statement addresses this question in the language of human dignity:
Doubts about the human dignity of the anencephalic infant, however, have no solid ground, and the benefit of any doubt must be in the child's favor. As a general rule, conditions of the human body, regardless of severity, in no way compromise human dignity or human rights.
The combination of certain factors show that the anencephalic is a human being: the infant is generated from human parents, possesses the complete human genome, and functions as an integrated organism. Postnatally, the anencephalic exhibits typical newborn physical behaviors.
   Given that the anencephalic infant is an innocent human being, the commonly recommended option of elective abortion is intrinsically evil and morally unacceptable under all circumstances. The statement points out that the right to life of the infant is equal to that of the mother:
According to the well-established teaching of the Catholic Church, the rights of a mother and her unborn child deserve equal protection because they are based on the dignity of the human person whatever the condition of that person.
The options of abortion and early induction of labor for these infants are sometimes defended simply by the claim that the anencephalic is not a being for whom the concept of "viability" properly applies. "Viability" is the gestational age at which a fetus can survive outside the womb with aggressive treatment (currently around 23 to 24 weeks). The moral significance of "viability" is that the direct destruction of a previable fetus or of a viable fetus is considered an abortion. If it can be shown that "viability" does not pertain to the anencephalic infant, then it is claimed that the prohibition against abortion cannot apply.
   What is telling about this view is the basis on which it is concluded that "viability" has no moral significance for the anencephalic. The position bifurcates human existence into physiologic or organic  existence and integrated or true human existence. Since the anencephalic achieves only a limited leel of physiologic existence, "viability" as a human being is not possible. But this position is untenable. One and the same individual being cannot have two different types of existence. Human existence is one and unified; an individual is either fully human, or it is not a human being. To be fully human does not mean that all human functions must be actual, or that there must be actual physical capacities for human functions. Rather, it means that an individual by reason of being a member of the human species possesses a nature that includes the potential for actual operations, even though this potential may never be actualized due to some anomaly. Potential is a real aspect of an individual human being in addition to any actual functions and operations of the individual. It is on this unified view of the human being that the NCCB statement affirms that the anencephalic infant, despite its severely debilitated condition and brevity of postnatal life, is the subject of human rights and has a human dignity equal to all other human beings.
   It can also be concluded from the NCCB statement that the mother's womb cannot be regarded as a useless life support system that may be terminated because in general there is no moral obligation to provide useless treatment. Given the inestimable human dignity of the anencephalic child, the uterine environment in which he or she lives is not useless since it is supporting nothing other than a fully human individual.
   Since abortion is unacceptable, are any other procedures permissible that result in the death of the child? The NCCB statement quotes the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (hereafter, Directives) which pertains to the issue:
Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child. (Directive 47)
The statement makes it clear that any morally acceptable procedure that indirectly results in the death of the anencephalic child must be a direct treatment of a life-threatening maternal pathology, which, it should also be mentioned, puts the life of the child at risk as well.

The Issue of Emotional Trauma

   The attempt to prevent physical or psychological risks to the mother when no such risks exist by terminating the life of the infant uses the death of the infant as the means for risk prevention:
Hence, it is clear that before "viability" it is never permitted to terminate the gestation of an anencephalic child as the means of avoiding psychological or physical risks to the mother. Nor is such termination permitted after "viability" if early delivery endangers the child's life due to complications of prematurity.
   The NCCB statement provides an answer to the longstanding question of whether the alleviation of a mother's emotional anguish and trauma that is sometimes associated with this sort of pregnancy is itself a proportionate reason for terminating the life of an anencephalic infant. In particular, the statement addresses directive 49 of the Directives: "For a proportionate reason, labor may be induced after the fetus is viable." The NCCB statement shows that the psychological state of the mother does not qualify as a proportionate reason for terminating the life of the infant by inducing labor either before or after viability. The emotional trauma of the mother is in response to the condition of anencephaly, but the statement shows that the act of terminating the pregnancy is in itself directed at the infant not the mother: " Anencephaly is not a pathology of the mother, but of the child, and terminating her pregnancy cannot be a treatment of a pathology she does not have."
   If emotional suffering is the condition of the mother (and father), then direct treatment ought to be given for it. The statement acknowledges this problem and calls for appropriate care:

The profound and personal suffering of the parents of an anencephalic child gives us cause for concern and calls for compassionate pastoral and medical care as the parents prepare for the pain and emptiness that the certain death of their newborn child will bring. The mother who carries to term a child who will soon die deserves our every possible support.
Parents can benefit from bereavement programs or psychological counseling. Catholic health care institutions would do well to offer these services to parents of anencephalic children. Bringing the pregnancy to term, allowing optimal opportunity for baptism, and the opportunity for the mother and father to be with the child are all important steps toward bringing closure to the ordeal of the parents.

Postnatal Issues

   The statement explains that the moral obligations regarding postnatal care for the anencephalic infant are the same as those for any patient whose death is imminent. First, the moral obligation to conserve human life must be fulfilled proportionate to the individual condition of the child:

The anencephalic child, during his or her probably brief life after birth, should be given the comfort and palliative care appropriate to all the dying. This failing life need not be further troubled by using extraordinary means to prolong it.
Second, the child must be certainly dead before any organs may be taken for transplantation. The shortage of viable pediatric organs for transplantation cannot justify their removal from a still living child. The NCCB statement addresses the issue in the following way:
It is most commendable for parents to wish to donate the organs of an anencephalic child for transplants that may assist other children, but this may never be permitted before the donor child is certainly dead.
This position is in stark contrast to the opinion held by the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs in 1995: "the value in the life of an anencephalic neonate is a value only for others" (Journal of the American Medical Association, 273:20:1615)
   The NCCB Committee on Doctrine has provided important guidance on the ethics of treating anencephalic infants. The statement of the Committee should inform any effort to develop institutional policy and protocol concerning the treatment of anencephalic infants. In particular, the statement provides decisive guidance on the issue of whether emotional trauma is a proportionate reason for inducing labor.
 

Anencephalic Infants and Their Care
(Commentary prepared by the staff of the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. National Conference of
Catholic Bishops)
Published in L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See,
Vatican, September 23, 1998  

The Gospel of Life
The safeguarding of human life is a trust sacred to the heart of the Church. In his 1995 Encyclical Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II reaffirms this conviction by emphasizing the incomparable worth of every human person. The Pope affirms that "every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature..." (n. 3).
The Encyclical states that this proclamation is "especially pressing [today] because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless" (n. 3). The Holy Father identifies "unborn children in particular" whose fundamental right to life is being trampled upon (n. 5).
The Gospel of Life demands unwavering respect for the inherent dignity of babies born with disabilities or illnesses.

The Pope condemns the "conspiracy against life" (n. 17) which endeavours, among other things, to "eliminate malformed babies" and those with disabilities (n. 15). The Holy Father reaffirms the Church's teaching that "the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral" (n. 57), as is evidenced in "selective abortion" aimed at preventing "the birth of children affected by various types" of physiologic anomalies (n. 63). The Pope calls for the fostering of "a contemplative outlook", one which recognizes "every individual as a 'wonder'" (n. 83). We must all develop a posture which makes "unconditional respect for human life the foundation of a renewed society" (n. 77), enabling us "to see in every human face the face of Christ" (n. 81). With this outlook in mind, we "accept [life] as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image" (n. 83).
This perspective does not falter when confronted with those who are sick, suffering, marginalized or dying. Rather, we are "challenged to find meaning ... precisely in these circumstances" (n. 83) and perceive in the face of every individual an encounter with God.

The Anencephalic Infant In these critical times, we bring this Gospel of Life to the care of infants diagnosed with anencephaly. Anencephaly is defined as an incurable, fatal congenital malformation characterized by the absence of the cranial vault, with cerebral hemispheres completely missing or reduced to small masses attached to the base of the skull. In most cases, the cause of the neural defect is unknown. As a result of the neural tube defect, the anencephalic infant does not develop a functioning cerebral cortex. The degree to which this defect affects the infant's cognitive-affective functioning is in dispute.
In the United States the incidence of anencephaly is approximately 0.3 per 1,000 births. While misdiagnosis of the condition is possible, diagnosis in utero is now virtually certain, based upon the detection of elevated levels of maternal serum alpha-foetoprotein and the use of high resolution ultrasonography. While most anencephalic infants are stillborn, those infants who are born alive normally die within a few hours or days of birth. Some anencephalic infants have been known to live for months and even years.
The Gospel of Life challenges us to reverence all human life and never compromise this posture even in the difficult cases where infants sustain various types of physiologic anomalies. The Bishops of the United States have recently reaffirmed this challenge in Faithful for Life: "At the very heart of our respect for human life is a special and persistent advocacy for those who depend on others for survival itself" (p. 3).

The Church recognizes anencephalic infants as truly human and worthy of the unconditional respect and reverence befitting every person. The 1987 Vatican Instruction On Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation affirms this point: "The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every human being to life" (n. 1:1).

Moral and Pastoral Reflections
The Church's constant and unwavering moral tradition regarding the respect for life from conception to natural death provides a firm foundation on which to reflect upon the appropriate medical and pastoral care of anencephalic infants and their families. First, once the diagnosis of anencephaly has been made, the parents ought to be given the appropriate medical information to understand the diagnosis, the proposed care, "its risks, side-effects, consequences, and cost; and any reasonable and morally legitimate alternatives" in which to evaluate the situation (The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, n. 27). Compassionate and understanding care should be given especially to the mother of the infant since the risks and potential for serious complications in her pregnancy are present and labour and delivery can be very difficult. As we affirmed in Faithful for Life, "no one should be blind to the problems that women face in regard to pregnancy" (p. 10).

Pastoral care personnel, with the assistance of a hospital's ethics committee, can be a supportive presence to both the family and medical community in confronting the complex emotions involved in caring for anencephalic infant. As our Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (1995) affirm, pastoral care truly "assists those in need to experience their own dignity and value, especially when these are obscured by the burdens of illness or the anxiety of imminent death" (Part II: Introduction).
Parents of an anencephalic infant often experience a sense of failure, of anger over dashed hopes, and of fear of the unknown. Within this experience of immense personal suffering, it is important that they find within the Church a ready embrace and heartfelt assurance that they did not fail in their role as parents. The death of a child is indeed one of the most difficult losses to mourn, and the Church should be sensitive to this in providing for the Christian burial of deceased anencephalic infants. Pastoral care personnel should make every effort to collaborate in the development and implementation of comprehensive prenatal and postnatal bereavement programmes that will assist families in dealing with the loss, emptiness and sorrow which are ever pervasive in these circumstances.
Second, it is to be considered a serious violation of the rights of the infant in utero to induce delivery prior to viability. Viability refers to the point in pregnancy at which the infant will be able to survive outside the womb, generally occurring at about 25 weeks of gestation. The Ethical and Religious Directives remind us that the directly intended termination of a pregnancy before viability constitutes a procured abortion and is never permitted (n. 45).

Some physicians and health-care providers advocate the delivery of previable anencephalic infants in order to eliminate the anxiety, fear and trauma especially on the part of the mother. The question must be asked, "What are we here and now purposely doing when we directly cause the delivery of an anencephalic infant before viability? What is the purpose of this action"? The Church evaluates this action as a directly intended abortion since the sole immediate effect of the act is the certain death of the foetus. The Ethical and Religious Directives are clear on this point: "Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable foetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion ..." (n. 45).
Consequently, delivery before viability of an anencephalic infant cannot be justified by the use of the principle of double effect, as the delivery of the infant in this case constitutes a direct killing of the foetus. For, as the Ethical and Religious Directives teach: "Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child" (n. 47).
Because this intervention in the pregnancy of an anencephalic infant results in a direct killing of an innocent human being, the only suitable and ethical response is to allow the infant to reach viability, to baptize the infant immediately upon birth (Ethical and Religious Directives, n. 17), and to allow the parents to hold the infant as he or she is allowed to die. Labour may be induced after the foetus is viable, for a proportionate reason (n. 49).

Third, even though the anencephalic infant often does not live beyond a few hours or days, he or she is still a member of the human family and must be assured "comfort care" such as warmth, air, sanitary conditions and bonding with the parents if they wish. Care for the dying anencephalic infant must be humane and dignified. The Declaration on Euthanasia (1980) teaches: "When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted" (n. IV).
The Ethical and Religious Directives confirm this same point: "The inherent dignity of the human person must be respected and protected regardless of the nature of the person's health problem.... The respect for human dignity extends to all persons who are served by Catholic health care" (n. 23).
In other words, the fundamental reason for limiting care (e.g., not using antibiotic therapy to combat infection) is that, for example, counteracting an infection and thus briefly prolonging the infant's life will not benefit the infant.

The Ethical and Religious Directives are instructive: "A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient's judgement do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community" (n. 57).
Finally, some attention is due here to the question of the use of anencephalic infants as organ donors. The Ethical and Religious Directives allow for the donation of organs (nn. 63-65) but warn that "such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the patient has died.... The use of tissue or organs from an infant may be permitted after death has been determined and with the informed consent of the parents or guardians".
The Holy Father likewise condemns the removal of vital organs "without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor", calling such attempts a "furtive" but real form of "euthanasia" (Evangelium vitae, n. 15). In the United States, regulations do not permit organ donation from anencephalic infants because brain death criteria are not fulfilled.
A controversy surrounds attempts to override this "brain death" criterion. Some desire to revise the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act to allow removal of organs from live patients; others want to include anencephaly as a variant of "brain dead"; while others would hope to define anencephalic infants as nonhuman. The Church evaluates these approaches as misguided and reaffirms its teaching that: "The determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria" (Ethical and Religious Directives, n. 62).

Conclusion The Gospel of Life calls each of us to uphold human life in all of its stages and in all of its strengths and weaknesses. The affirmation found in the Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974) is a fitting conclusion to these reflections: "The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental - the condition of all the others. It does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any form to recognize this right for some and not for others: all discrimination is evil.... It is not recognition by another that constitutes this right. This right is antecedent to its recognition; it demands recognition and it is strictly unjust to refuse it" (n. II).
© L'Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City,

Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.



 
 

MORAL PRINCIPLES CONCERNING INFANTS WITH
ANENCEPHALY
Observations on the NCCB Document
By Fr Benedict Ashley, O.P.
Published in L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See,
Vatican, September 23, 1998


This is an excellent commentary by Fr. Benedict Ashley. Due
to lack of space we are unable to include the entire
commentary. You can find the entire commentary at http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=543
If this link does not work, contact us
and we will email you the entire document.

Conclusion
Thus the statement by the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in conformity with the teaching of the Holy See on the dignity of human life and the evil of abortion and euthanasia, seeks to advocate the right to life of the child with anencephaly, grave as is the child's organic pathology, because the child is a living person. It urges parents, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. It especially urges the medical profession to give the parents of these children all needed support in this serious obligation. Ordinarily this responsibility is to see that the child has the benefit of a normal gestation before and after "viability". Only when the mother suffers from a life-threatening pathology may the child's life, even after viability, be gravely risked and then only as the indirect effect of the necessary treatment of the mother's pathology. After the child with anencephaly has been delivered alive it must be given whatever care that is to the child's benefit and which manifests respect for the child's dignity as a person. It is not obligatory, however, to give the infant with anencephaly forms of care or treatment whose benefit to the child is not proportionate to the burden to caretakers. When the child's death has certainly occurred, but only then, the child's parents or other proxies may give consent to the immediate removal of the child's organs for transplantation. The purpose of this pastoral statement from the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. National Catholic Bishops' Conference, therefore, is to apply the authoritative teaching of Pope John Paul II in The Gospel of Life, as well as other documents of the Holy See, to this sorrow-laden situation of the child with anencephaly. It joins the Holy Father in making "a vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person in the name of God: Respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!".29




RECEIVING A CHILD WITH JOY

By Archbishop T. Prendergast, S.J.

GOD'S WORD ON SUNDAY column

December 22, 2002

The Catholic Register

Feast of the Holy Family (Year B) Dec. 29 (Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; 17:3b-5, 15-16; 21:1-7 [Psalm 105]; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40)

Several years ago, I learned of the burden carried by couples that has lost a child by miscarriage. The deprivation of a baby they had eagerly awaited left them grieving. For some, their sorrow was compounded by well-meant but hurtful comments from relatives and friends. As well, the faith community seemed to have little to say to their predicament. Mostly, their anguish went unseen, unheard.

I discovered an answer to the pain such parents suffered in Morning Light Ministry, a service begun in Mississauga, Ont., by Bernadette Zambri, who had experienced a stillbirth and felt the lack of response to her situation by her church community. Its reach now extends to other forms of loss of life in the womb.

Morning Light Ministry is a Catholic outreach program offering information and support on many levels for bereaved mothers and bereaved fathers who have experienced the death of their baby through ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death up to one year old.

Recently, the ministry has begun to help parents to bring their babies to full-term despite an adverse prenatal diagnosis for such conditions as Down syndrome, Spina Bifida, Anencephaly and Trisomy 18. For many parents are pressured to "terminate the pregnancy" through "medical termination" which is another word for abortion, either through "induced abortion" or "early induction of labour". Sometimes the medical community uses other terms, such as "interruption of pregnancy" or "genetic termination".

While most Catholics understand and agree with the prohibition against elective abortions-abortions undertaken because the pregnancy is unwanted-many do not realize that a so-called selective termination of pregnancy or genetic abortion-undertaken because of the discovery of a fetal anomaly-is also a direct abortion and so prohibited according to Catholic teaching. This includes terminations undertaken for fatal conditions such as anencephaly and serious but not life-threatening conditions such as Down syndrome.

Some Catholics-including clergy-seem to treat genetic terminations as regrettable but permissible, but they are wrong to teach this. This is a major issue of pastoral concern because the pressure to abort once an anomaly has been detected is enormous. It is essential, for the sake of the child and for the parents, that priests and others, to whom they may turn at such a terrible time, be clear about Catholic teaching on this point and supportive of it.

This year's celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph occurs on the day after the church observes the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when several dioceses honour those involved in activities that favour life and try to foster a culture of life.

In light of the complex challenges now facing family life, the readings for this year's Solemnity of the Holy Family invite disciples to reflect on the sacredness of life from the moment of conception to that of natural death. They tell of the joy of welcoming new life in a child.

Taken from several chapters of Genesis, the first reading introduces the elderly couple Abraham and Sarah whose life appeared to be meaningless because they were childless. God entered the scene and renewed the promise that they would have offspring as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

In the Gospel, an elderly couple encounters the Child Jesus in the Temple. We see in the meeting of Simeon with Jesus and His parents, the meeting of two generations, one declining, the other rising. Simeon represents the Israelite covenant that welcomes the coming new covenant.

Simeon summarizes his life and the expectations of faithful Israel in his prayer, known as the Nunc dimittis (from the first words of the Latin version) prayed every evening at Compline.

Simeon's prayer is a swan song, that melodious sound which antiquity attributed to the swan as it prepared to die. For a fleeting moment Jesus brought deep joy and consolation into the hearts of many who heard of the happening, but especially to the seniors Simeon and Anna who had shared in the joyous moment.

Though Simeon foresees suffering in the futures of Mary and Jesus, the Holy Spirit also moves him to foretell the glory of Jesus' resurrection, which overcomes the shame of the cross, of loss. Anna, modelling hopes that God's promises would be fulfilled, shows that once the Child Jesus has been encountered one can't help but tell others.



NCBC STATEMENT ON EARLY INDUCTION OF LABOR
March 11, 2004

BOSTON, MA- The National Catholic Bioethics Center wishes to assist individuals and institutions working
with the ethical issue of early induction of labor. The following is the NCBC position regarding the application
of Catholic moral teaching and tradition to the issue.

The application of Catholic moral teaching and tradition to this issue is directed toward two specific ends: (1)
complete avoidance of direct abortion, and (2) preservation of the lives of both mother and child to the extent
possible under the circumstances. Based upon these ends, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic
Health Care Services provides directives which set the parameters for the treatment of mother and unborn
child in cases of high-risk pregnancies:

47. Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately
serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed
until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.

49. For a proportionate reason, labor may be induced after the fetus is viable.

The principle of the double effect is at work in each of these two directives. Actions that might result in the
death of a child are morally permitted only if all of the following conditions are met: (1) treatment is directly
therapeutic in response to a serious pathology of the mother or child; (2) the good effect of curing the
disease is intended and the bad effect foreseen but unintended; (3) the death of the child is not the means
by which the good effect is achieved; and (4) the good of curing the disease is proportionate to the risk of
 the bad effect. Fulfillment of all four conditions precludes any act that directly hastens the death of a child.

Early induction of labor for chorioamnionitis, preeclampsia, and H.E.L.L.P. syndrome, for example, can be
morally licit under the conditions just described because it directly cures a pathology by evacuating the
infected membranes in the case of chorioamnionitis, or the diseased placenta in the other cases, and cannot
be safely postponed. However, early induction of an anencephalic child when there is no serious pathology
of the mother which is being directly treated is not morally licit, emotional distress notwithstanding. Early
induction of labor before term (37 weeks) to relieve emotional distress hastens the death of the child as a
means of achieving this presumed good effect and unjustifiably deprives the child of the good of gestation.
Moreover, this distress is amenable to psychological support such as is offered in perinatal hospice. Lastly,
induction of labor before term performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct
abortion.


 

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