Fetal Surgery and Abortion

A moral schizophrenia afflicts our culture on the issue of abortion. There are inconsistencies both in our nation’s laws and in people’s attitudes about the moral status of the unborn. Nevertheless, too many people still seem unable to see the contradictions. A case in point appears in today’s New York Times.

Pam Belluck reports on a new study appearing in the The New England Journal of Medicine. A rigorous clinical trial has shown that fetal surgery can help babies with spina bifida to walk and experience fewer neurological problems if operated on before being born rather than afterward. Here’s a summary of the study’s findings:

“In the study, about 80 babies were randomly selected for surgery after birth; another 80 had the spinal opening surgically closed in utero, between 19 and 26 weeks of pregnancy. Two in each group died. Before surgery, babies in the prenatal group had more severe spinal lesions than the postnatal group, but more in the prenatal group had better results. … Those who received prenatal surgery were half as likely to have a shunt, and eight times as likely to have a normally positioned brainstem.”

The success of this procedure is truly amazing. Equally amazing is the fact that unborn babies are being treated as patients in these procedures. The unborn can have spinal surgery just as their born counterparts can and with greater success.

How does it make any moral or legal sense, therefore, to take heroic measures to do surgery on a 19 week old fetus while at the same time allowing the abortion of a perfectly normal 19 week old fetus? The only difference between the one and the other is that one has a mother that wants him and the other doesn’t. This inconsistency doesn’t even bear the lightest scrutiny, yet it is one that is plain to anyone who has eyes to see.

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Sources:

Pam Belluck, “Success of Spina Bifida Study Opens Fetal Surgery Door,” New York Times (February 9, 2011): section A; column 0; pg. 1 [www.nytimes.com]

Steve Calvin, “Abortion and the Practice of Medicine: 25 Years of Increasing Schizophrenia,” National Right to Life News (1998). [www.nrlc.org]

John Piper, “Father, Forgive, For We Know What We Are Doing,” Sermon at DesiringGod.org (January 22, 2002). [www.desiringgod.org]

N. Scott Adzick et al., “A Randomized Trial of Prenatal versus Postnatal Repair of Myelomeningocele,” The New England Journal of Medicine (February 9, 2011). [www.nejm.org]

11 Responses to Fetal Surgery and Abortion

  1. Lisa Ralston February 10, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    The “health of the mother” is used as a legal maneuver to commit abortion up to full term. If a doctor says that the mother would be too depressed about the baby’s disability, the baby can be terminated, on the basis that the mother’s health is at risk. Most people think that a mom’s life has to be physically threatened by her baby in order to abort, but this is not true.

  2. MatthewS February 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    It seems like one new technology after another keeps making it clearer that unborn babies are human. I can’t think of any headlines in the past few years where there was new information that blurred the line or made it grayer, such that unborn babies seemed less human.

  3. Dan Kassis February 11, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    In 1990-91 I competed on the speech & debate team at Cal State Northridge. One of my speeches was an informative on the subject of fetal surgery. The research I gathered and visual aids I used describing several procedures never failed to amaze people about what was possible with medical practice to save the lives of infants in utero. Yet even though my speech never once mentioned abortion, it still got under the skin of several people, including a few tournament judges who marked me down simply because they inferred from my speech that fetal surgery was “better” than abortion.

    Even when we benignly suggest that a baby’s life is worth the expense and risk of a surgical procedure, we will fail to satisfy the hardened hearts of those convinced abortion is not only a human right but a moral imperative.

  4. Derek February 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Great points, Don. The strong desire by many to champion abortion as “not only a right, but a moral imperitive” is remarkable indeed – and speaks to the spiritual dynamics that are operating behind the scenes – forces that call black white and white black. This can only be a force that hates and opposes God and everything He loves.

  5. Ian February 12, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    I don’t think this is as much of a contradiction as made out. The reason is given in the article, it’s as simple as “one has a mother that wants him and the other doesn’t”. Sad, but true. It’s the same as how some would see an old battered car as scrap, and another might see it as a project to fix up and restore. In this world view, an unborn baby, like a car is just a property of the mother, with no rights of its own – the above example is consistent with this view.

  6. Donald Johnson February 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    http://www.nrlc.org/News_and_Views/Feb11/nv021111.html

  7. sarah February 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    This reminds me of the outrage over the baby that was left in the toilet in the bi-lo center bathroom. Why was this situation different than an abortion? Babies at the same developmental stage as this abandoned baby are aborted. And yet the mother is facing possibly 50 years in prison while mothers who abort their babies are supported. “Moral schizophrenia”

  8. Chris February 18, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    The issue is about social and therefore government control. Currently society through the department of health and human services controls the behavior of parents towards their kids (CPS). We could vote to extend the definition of parent to say 50% of human gestation(20 weeks) and thus classify abortion as murder. However it is very hard to determine the time of conception. We could further extend our control and who is allowed to conceive or father children. In the age of population boom that would be the most logical and simple step.

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