Life affirming ultrasound

Ultrasound PhotoI recently had the experience of sitting in on a 19 week pregnancy scan. For my wife and I it was the first chance to see our new child and as such, we were both looking forward to it.

For many couples, the first pregnancy ultrasound is the first bonding experience they have with their new child.  Before the days of ultrasound, a mother’s first bonding to the new baby was started when she first felt the baby moving, but increasingly, the ultrasound is the first experience that mothers and fathers have with their new child.  This is recognised by medical researchers. It’s also probably been a factor in society’s increasing recognition of the humanity of the pre born child.

Forming this relationship between parents and the child is important. The strength of the bond will affect many outcomes for the child, particularly for the child’s education.

I have personally found a great deal of difference between sonographers.  I’ve had the privilege of seeing Shari Richard at work, and seen her infectious enthusiasm for the unborn child, and the positive effect it has on the child’s parents.  Few sonographers can match her enthusiasm.  I’ve seen other sonographers at work, including one working on me, although she wasn’t going to find a baby and wasn’t looking for one!  They differ greatly in the way they interact with parents about their new baby.  The most recent sonographer we had always referred to our child as ‘baby’, e.g. “This is babies head” etc.

But this isn’t always the case.  We had a scan in a previous pregnancy when the sonographer became very quiet.  Later we found out the reason – she had found a medical problem with our child.  Although it was potentially very serious, a couple of surgeries fixed the problem before it could do any serious damage, and our child now enjoys excellent health.

But why the difference in the response of the sonographer?  Our baby didn’t stop being our baby because he had a medical problem. We certainly didn’t love him any less.

But sonographers and other medical professional are influenced by abortion.  Abortion is considered a solution to many birth defects, so it’s natural for sonographers to moderate their enthusiasm for the baby during scans.

But this could affect the start of the formation of the bond between baby and parents. Crisis Pregnancy Centres have known for a long time the benefit of an expectant mother seeing her baby by ultrasound.  It encourages the bond to form between mother and child.  But ultrasound can be used in a way that doesn’t encourage this bonding.  Clinic profit motives and abortion quotas can affect the way ultrasound results are presented and interpreted.  A recent study of 15 500 women attending Planned Parenthood abortion clinics showed that viewing ultrasound images had very little effect on the mothers decision to abort her child.  It’s hard to imagine the ultrasound technicians in these abortion clinics wanted to present the humanity of the pre-born child and facilitate bonding between mother and child.

Similarly, using ultrasound as a search and destroy mission to eliminate less than perfect is not a good way to encourage bonding. It’s important for the sonographer to show the beauty and humanity of the pre-born child.  This is the start of a relationship that will last a lifetime.  It’s the most important relationship, and it deserves a good start.  Children do better when there is good bonding with their parents.  It’s here that the sensitivity to the minority that have abortions, affects the rest of us – and our children.

It is one of the ways that abortion affects us all.

 

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Decriminalisation of what?

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Decriminalising’ abortion is in the media again.  It’s not the first time it’s been in the news and it certainly will not be the last time.  This time it looks like it’s going to be an election issue, or at least there is an effort to make it an election issue.  What is being proposed this time is very familiar, and could have come from the wish list of any New Zealand pro-abortion lobby group.

The main proposal is to remove abortion from the Crimes Act.  There is also a desire to reduce the time and complication required before a woman has an abortion.  And there is a desire to keep the status quo for abortions after 20 weeks, (although pre-born children with fetal abnormalities post 20 weeks are targeted).  None of this will happen if abortion is removed from the Crimes Act, unless other legislation is changed too.  Most of the regulations for the two Certifying Consultants are not in the Crimes Act, they are in the Contraception Sterilisation, and Abortion (CSA) act 1977.  So removing abortion from Crimes Act would not streamline the consulting process. And no one has mentioned changing CSA.  Furthermore, the distinction between abortions before 20 weeks and after 20 weeks is in the Crimes Act.  So if abortion was simply removed from the Crimes Act, the likely result would be virtually abortion on demand for the full 40 weeks of pregnancy.

All of this is supposedly to benefit women having abortions and to protect them from the law.  But the Crimes Act specifically protects women from prosecution. It only has legal sanctions against doctors and others involved in preforming abortions.

So this raises the question, is removing abortion from the Crimes Act an attempt to benefit women or is it really a way to move abortion out of the public health system, and create a US style abortion industry with legal protection for doctors to exploit vulnerable women? There are some hints in the usual rhetoric of the recent policy announcement. The issue of consistency of access to abortion across New Zealand and especially in provincial areas is constantly brought up by the pro-abortion movement. People who live far away from major hospitals have a lot of issues accessing timely healthcare and paying for accommodation and travel. It’s big issue in maternity care but somehow abortion promoters forget to talk about that ‘women’s health’ issue.

Removing the oversight of the abortion referral process, and allowing more abortions to take place outside of a hospital setting is going to allow a US or Australian style for profit abortion industry to thrive in New Zealand. I don’t know if our politicians are aware of this, but I know the abortion promoters are. After all, Family Planning did bring in the US$523 616 paid CEO of the United States largest abortion provider to teach them how to bring a ‘reproductive rights’ movement into New Zealand.

And speaking of Cecile Richards, the line about ‘trusting women’ comes straight from her.  Richards’ ‘trust’ of vulnerable women has seen her organisation increase the numbers of abortions it performs during her leadership, as the total number of abortions in the US is declining.

I’ve never met a women at this Centre that I won’t trust. Abortion isn’t, and never has been about trust. Most of these women feel that they don’t have a choice. To say that they ‘trust’ women in crisis circumstances, but then to only offer abortion as a way out, is exploiting women.

It is pleasing to see there is talk of offering more assistance to pregnant women. But government agencies don’t have a great record of catering to the needs of people in crisis. From my own experience they are better at causing stress than they are in relieving it. I’m pleased to work for an organisation that provides practical help for people without them having to have a degree in paperwork. But helping isn’t always wanted by our politicians if they have political issues with us.

So removing abortion from the Crimes Act would seem to benefit doctors and business plans more than women. And removing certifying requirements would allow some of the worst excesses of the Australian and US abortion industry to happen here.

If we are going to change our laws on abortion, shouldn’t we change them to protect women and children, rather than to allow them to be exploited and killed?

The Edges of Life

Grandpa and baby

The edges of life are controversial. On one side there are the debates about contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilisation. At the end of life the debates are about euthanasia, organ transplantation, and its cousin, brain death.

Trauma surgeon Peter Rhee is rewriting the rules on brain death. Normally when we see this, it’s someone wanting to declare people dead sooner so their organs can be harvested for transplantation into other sick patients. Peter Rhee is taking the definition in the other direction.

While Dr Rhee’s name might not be that well known, some of his patients are. He was one of congresswoman Gabby Giffords doctors. Dr Rhee knows about death. He’s a trauma surgeon who has seen mass shooting patients in the United States. He’s also been to Iraq and Afghanistan to save the lives of soldiers, even going behind enemy lines to treat the injured. He’s even been selected as a personal surgeon to the president of the US on an overseas trip.

But it’s patients in the US that might be rewriting the rules on when death occurs. He’s part of a team that’s been experimenting on ‘suspended animation’, to save trauma patients. The team has permission to start human trials on trauma patients who have gone into heart failure and can’t be resuscitated by current techniques. The team will rapidly cool the patient’s body to 10°C (50°F), where metabolic activity slows almost to a stop. In this state, the heart is stopped, there is no breathing, and no detectable brain activity. This would be normally be considered clinical death. But the surgeons have 2 hours to repair their patient’s injuries before slowly warming them up and reviving them. If their prior work holds up in human trials, up to 90% of patients could survive the cooling and rewarming procedure itself.

And that 2 hours is time the surgeons wouldn’t normally have for life saving surgery. This technique will only work if they are able to apply it to the patient in the minutes after heart failure before brain damage starts to take place. Previous work has so far shown no brain damage or impaired function from the cooling and rewarming procedure. The team will be following their patients closely to see if this is also the case in the human trials.

Some of Rhee’s comments on the research and his clinical work are telling, “Every day at work I declare people dead. They have no signs of life, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I sign a piece of paper knowing in my heart that they are not actually dead. I could, right then and there, suspend them. But I have to put them in a body bag. It’s frustrating to know there’s a solution”.

Dr Rhee is saying that the current definition of death is inadequate and often premature. We often see that definitions of life and death are based on what is convenient. Some organs can only be ‘harvested’ from a ‘dead’ person where there is a heartbeat. Some of these ‘dead’ people have woken on the operating table, moments before their organs were going to be harvested.

Definitions also chip away at the other end of life too. Many medical and legal organisations now define ‘established pregnancy’ as starting at implantation, not conception (fertilisation). Once pregnancy is defined at implantation, and abortion is defined as ending a pregnancy, then emergency ‘contraception’ doesn’t cause ‘abortions’. And if you jump through the same linguistic hoops, hormonal contraceptives don’t cause abortions either. Despite the words and definitions, human embryos are still being destroyed by so called ‘contraceptives’.

The extreme view of this is held by Australian ethicist Peter Singer, and Nobel prize winning molecular biologist James Watson, who have stated that new-born infants shouldn’t be declared alive straight after birth. These frightening ideas were put forward to allow new-borns to be left to die, or even directly killed. Pro-abortion organisations have even opposed regulations that protect the life of a child born alive after abortion.

Given these developments, we should applaud the efforts of scientist and doctors where they are true to their profession and work to save lives, especially when they are able to save the life that couldn’t previously be saved.

IVF as exploitation

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I think the Catholic Church’s opposition to IVF is well known. It’s based on the principle that IVF separates intercourse from procreation. In some ways it’s like contraception, only in reverse. It’s also very costly in terms of human life at the stage of the human embryo.

But it has a very human side too. The desire for children can be very strong. And many couples find it difficult to conceive. For many of these couples, that realisation doesn’t come until the last years of their fertility, which adds a sense of urgency.

If these couples are blessed to live in a part of world where there is good fertility treatment which is morally acceptable, then they have the option for a treatment that works with a woman’s natural cycle. In other areas, there are less options, typically only IVF.

IVF is hard on the couples who go through it. The scientific literature documents cycles of anxiety which the women experience during cycles and depression after failed cycles. The hormones used to stimulate the ovaries into releasing eggs are not kind to women. The process of collecting eggs is physically painful, but this pain is described as less than the emotional pain. Each cycle of treatment brings more anticipation and anxiety.

Men feel disconnected from the whole procedure, as if they are passive observers in the creation of their own children. I’ve even heard of one father who wasn’t even present in the same country as his wife when his child was conceived.

Approximately 40% of infertility is due to male problems. Is it right that the women should be exposed to all the risk and pain of IVF to overcome the male’s infertility? And a male’s infertility can be a symptom of serious disease. The failure to fully investigate this can be the lost chance to treat a potentially serious problem.

Some centres will not accept older couples, as they have a lower chance of success. This is to improve the success rating of the treatment centre, rather than for the benefit of the couple.

The cost of the treatment is very high. Here in New Zealand there is some public funding available for those who meet the criteria. For those that don’t, it’s upwards of $10 000 per cycle, and nearly $30 000 for a typical 3 cycle treatment.  This is far more than many can afford. Is it just that only the wealthy can have children?

The heartache doesn’t stop when the treatment ends. For couples who are unsuccessful, there is no clearly defined end of treatment. Would one more cycle give them the baby they want? And often there is no reason found for their inability to have a baby.

There is immediate relief for couples who get a baby. But frequently there are ‘leftover’ embryos. Currently in excess of 10 000 in New Zealand alone. Many couples end their treatment with no intention of having more children. But frequently they correctly identify these embryos as being the siblings of the children they already have at home. They don’t want to bring them to birth, but they don’t have any morally acceptable alternatives. They see them as theirs, so they don’t want to donate them to others. And because they have some understanding of their humanity, they don’t want them destroyed by the clinic or by medical researchers. So every time the bill for cold storage arrives, there is a repeat of the anxiety. In the past many couples just paid the bill and put off making a decision. But now they will be forced to make the decision after 10 years. These dilemmas aren’t adequately considered before starting IVF.

There are new morally acceptable fertility treatments available under the banner of NaProTechnology. These treatments diagnose problems with fertility, and then treat them and work with a women’s natural cycle. The babies that result are born from an act of love, rather than a medical technique in a petri dish. For New Zealanders, the closest doctors are in Brisbane and Adelaide, Australia. But there are several practitioners in New Zealand who can start couples off with charting their fertility. That information can later be used by the overseas doctors. NaProTechnology is very successful helping couples with fertility problems to become pregnant. It also helps with many other gynaecological problems. And even for the couple who it can’t help to have a baby, at least it often tells them what the problem is with their fertility. For many, this can be a comfort. After 3 years of practising natural family planning 55% of subfertile couple conceive naturally. NaProTechnology results in even more couples having babies, and sooner.

It there is one last solution for those who wish to have children, who are infertile. It’s adoption. With the queues of people lining up for fertility treatment, how can we say that the more than 14 000 children aborted last year were “unwanted”?

St John Paul II, Pope of the family

ImageThis last weekend was historic. It has been described as the day of 4 Popes. Pope Francis canonised two of his predecessors, Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, while Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was present.

For us in the pro-life movement, the canonisation of Pope Saint John Paul II is particularly special. He was a fearless defender of human dignity, human life, and the family. And his insights into human interpersonal relations, including sexual relations was profound, and has been described as one of the Church’s best kept secrets.

Pope Francis in his Regina Coeli address after told the pilgrims of Bergamo and Krakow “Dear ones, honour the memory of these two holy Popes by following their teachings faithfully.”

St John Paul II’s life was remarkable.

He grew up in the town of Wadowice, Poland. A town with a large Jewish population, some of which he counted as his close friends.

It’s ironic, but the “Pope of the Family” lost all of his family by the time he was twenty. An elder sister died before he was born. His mother died when he was eight years old. His older brother when he was twelve, and finally his father died when he was twenty, leave the future Pope as the only surviving member of his family.

At the time of his father’s death, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany. He had to take manual labouring work at a mine, and then a chemical factory to avoid being deported. He is also credited with protecting many Jews from the Nazi authorities. It was at this time that he began to feel the call to the priesthood. He started his studies for the priesthood in an underground seminary and eventually had to go into hiding from the Nazi authorities until the end of the war.

As a priest he became popular with young people and as Pope he started World Youth Day, which he and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are now the patrons. As a bishop, he was involved in Vatican II, and had a role in preparing influential documents for the council. He also published his important book “Love and Responsibility”. As Archbishop he was influential in the writing of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

He was a walker, runner, kayaker and skier. As a cardinal he was asked if it was becoming for a cardinal to ski, his reply was, “It is unbecoming for a cardinal to ski badly”. He continued to run and weight train in the Vatican during the first few years of his pontificate.

His election as Pope was a surprise. He was the first non-Italian Pope in over 460 years. His energy and achievements as a Pope were outstanding. He travelled to 129 countries and fearlessly preached to all who would listen. Dictatorships fell after his visits, notably in Chile and Haiti and Paraguay. His support for the solidarity movement in Poland was the catalyst that brought down communism in Poland, which started a chain reaction in the eastern bloc countries.

St John Paul II sent out a call to defend life, faith and family before the Cairo conference on Population and Development, and as a result the attempt the make abortion a “human right” failed.

Wherever he went he attracted large crowds, as many as 5 million attended the 1995 world youth day in Manila, the Philippines. His funeral attracted 4 million to Rome, with over 250 000 within the Vatican.

Defence of life, faith and family was his personal mission. His weekly angelus audiences for the first years as Pope were devoted to the “theology of the body”. It’s a teaching that is slowly gaining popularity within the Catholic Church, and recently within other Christian Churches too.

St John Paul II was a priest, Pope, theologian, writer, poet, actor and sportsman. He wrote 14 encyclicals, beatified 1340, canonised 483 and improved relations with Judaism, Islam and other Christian denominations. He was shot and critically injured, but survived, then meet and forgave his attacker.

But he will be remembered as Pope Francis said, “the Pope of the family”.

Frozen with an expiry date

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November 22nd this year will be a bad day to be an embryonic New Zealander in vitro.

That’s the first deadline of the 2004 HART (Human Assisted Reproductive Technology) act. All embryos in New Zealand that have been frozen for 10 years or more will be destroyed on that date, unless their parents obtain specific permission by May this year. That permission to extend frozen storage must be granted from an ethics committee, not the facility storing the embryos. One chain of fertility clinics says 350 couples or women will be affected at this deadline. And with over 10 000 embryos in storage in New Zealand, it’s only the start of this issue.

So why are there so many frozen embryos?

IVF has a relatively low success rate per cycle and per embryo. This is particularly true for older women. So to achieve a birth, many embryos and several cycles of IVF may be needed. As there is the expectation that several cycles of IVF may be needed, many oocytes (eggs) are removed from the women and fertilised at once. The ‘best looking’ ones are used for the first cycle of IVF and the remaining embryos are frozen as backups if the first cycle isn’t successful, or if the couple want subsequent children.

The process of removing eggs from a women is very invasive and carries real risks for the women. So it’s not something that the medical staff want to put the woman through repeatedly. It is possible to freeze unfertilised eggs rather than embryo, but currently frozen eggs are far less successful for achieving pregnancy. Embryos survive freezing much more successfully, so the clinics fertilise the extracted eggs, both to implant into the women and to store frozen.

If a cycle results in a live birth, the remaining embryos are left in frozen storage, unless the couple wants another child, or they decide to destroy the embryos.

So it’s the inefficiency and risks of the process that results in the temptation to make ‘excess’ embryos. Most of the embryos that are created don’t survive. Some are discarded after fertilisation. Some don’t survive the freezing and thawing, and are discarded. And many that are implanted don’t survive to birth. And many just remain in storage, with their parents not knowing what to do with them.

Throughout this process, and particularly when the embryos are in frozen storage, they are considered property. And tied to this is the attitude that parents have the right to have children.

The Church considers children to be a gift, not property or something that the parents are owed (CCC 2378). She also teaches that a child’s origin should be an act of love between his or her parents. In this way the child’s interests are put first. And as the weakest party, it should always be the child’s interests that are considered first.

This doesn’t mean all infertile couples are condemned to be childless. IVF isn’t the only answer that medicine has for infertility. Originally it was to be the last resort for couples who had trouble conceiving. It has now all but replaced the more conventional approach of diagnosing the specific problem and providing a therapy for that problem, where possible.

But the result of this attitude to children is the large numbers of embryonic children are in frozen storage in New Zealand and around the world. For most of them, it’s a death sentence. The ones that survive are treated for at least some of their life as possessions of their parents. Unfortunately this feeling of entitlement to children is spreading, and was very evident in the recent marriage legislation debate.

For the sake of our children, we need to defend the right of a child to be born from an act of marital love, and to parents known to him or her.

40 Days for Life

40 days of hopeImage

I remember during my early years at university becoming friends with an exchange student from West Germany. When she left her home country, a wall divided it from the communist country of East Germany, and people had been killed for trying to cross that wall. By the time her year in New Zealand was over, Germans could freely travel across the border between the two Germanys, and official German reunification had taken place within a year.

When she came to New Zealand, the fall of the Berlin wall was a distant hope, with few people expecting it to happen within their lifetime. It seemed beyond reasonable for the wall to fall.

But it did.

The flame of resistance within the eastern bloc countries had been lit a decade before when Pope John Paul II visited his home country of Poland. His battle cry, “Be not afraid”, gave the people of Poland hope. A hope that spread throughout Eastern Europe, and contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of communism in Europe.

That same battle cry was also for the pro-life movement which was always so close to his heart. We have the Lord himself on our side. No matter how strong the opponents of the ‘Culture of Life” might be, they cannot endure. No matter how strong they seem, or how much they influence government policy, they are running on borrowed time. In fact, the war against them has already been won. It was won on the cross.

And victories are happening.

In the US, there have been a record number of pro-life laws being passed1,2, and it’s bringing abortion rates down. Spain is considering ending abortion on demard3.

So how might an end of abortion look? Especially here in New Zealand?

We have seen the numbers and rates of abortions drop here and New Zealand and in the US as well. And the greatest declines in abortion rates are in the youngest age groups. We can expect this to continue.

There are already shortages of staff willing to participate in abortion4. And this has affected abortion services5. The 40 days for life program includes prayer for medical staff involved in abortion, and has seen 88 workers leave abortion providers. This is something that could easily happen in New Zealand, and we know there are abortion staff in New Zealand who have doubts about their jobs6. They need our prayer.

I have noticed a change in public perception of the pro-life movement. We are now seen as the ones who are helping women. The opposition is still there, and they can still dominate the political process and the media. But the general public are more open to the pro-life message than ever before. I’m constantly surprised by the people who are genuinely enthusiastic about our work helping expectant mums. As in Eastern Europe during the last years of communism, hope is rising. And I can feel the change.

There is still more work to do. More prayer and pro-life work is needed. But slowly the public is seeing that abortion isn’t the solution that they thought it was. One day they will see that it isn’t a solution at all.

We need to hope. We need to pray. And we need to “Be not afraid”.

 

 

Get involved: 40 days for life

 

1.            Johnson, J. Pro-life laws and clinic closures lowered abortion rate: CDC | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews (2013). at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/abortion-laws-and-clinic-closures-lowered-abortion-rate-cdc>

2.            Johnson, J. ‘Record number’ of pro-abortion laws being introduced dwarfed by pro-life gains, legal expert says | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews (2014). at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/record-number-of-pro-abortion-laws-being-introduced-dwarfed-by-pro-life-gai>

3.            Metaxas, E. Restricting abortion, Spanish style | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/restricting-abortion-spanish-style>

4.            Board forced to bring outsiders to staff abortion facility -. CathNews N. Z. (2012). at <http://cathnews.co.nz/2012/10/16/board-forced-to-bring-outsiders-to-staff-invercargill-abortion-facility/>

5.            Hill, M. Abortion clinic opens in secrecy to protect staff. Stuff.co.nz (2012). at <http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/7813405/Abortion-clinic-opens-in-secrecy-to-protect-staff>

6.            Whelan, M. A day at the clinic. The Wireless at <http://thewireless.co.nz/themes/free/a-day-at-the-clinic>