You will no doubt have heard about the so-called miracle baby – Amillia Sonja Taylor – who was born at only 22 weeks in Miami last November. amillia190207_468×269.jpg What doctors have been able to do has been amazing and inspiring. The story is everywhere, but here is the CNN latest. The photos are just extraordinary. In case you’ve not seen them, here she is in all her glory soon after her birth. Now I am very nervous of wading in and jumping on bandwagons (but then perhaps that’s what blogging is all about). But when i see these pictures i can’t help but see a relevance for one of the most divisive ethical debates: abortion.

It is such a difficult issue and i am all too aware of the complexities involved, ethically, pastorally and even politically (especially on the other side of the Atlantic). And i have a lot of sympathy for one journalist quoted by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Andy Rooney, commentator on the 60 Minutes television show, once said, ‘I’ve decided that I’m against abortion. I think it’s murder. But i have a dilemma in that i much prefer the pro-choice to the pro-life people. I’d much rather eat dinner with a group of the former.’ It matters little who Andy Rooney dines with, but it matters a lot whether Andy Rooney misses encountering the grace of God from Christians in all their pro-life zeal.

What’s So Amazing About Grace, p230, Zondervan 1997

It’s just that (as far as I understand – please correct me if i’ve got this wrong) abortion is legal in this country up to 28 weeks. Wikipedia has a helpful summary of the situation. Sure, there are issues of viability and the necessity of medical intervention and support after such a premature birth. But this is still very much a life! No less a life in fact than an adult on extensive life-support after a car crash, surely?

An interesting story to end on for now:

A class of medical students was debating the ethics of abortion. The Consultant presented a case study: a father who had syphillis and a mother who had TB. They had 5 children – the 1st was blind, the 2nd died, the 3rd was deaf and dumb, the 4th had TB. The mother became pregnant for the 5th time. The Consultant asked, “Should this child be aborted?” Students unanimously agreed that the pregnancy should be terminated.
To which the consultant replied: “Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen – you have just murdered Beethoven!”

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hi Mark
    Terminations are legal for “social” reasons up to 24 weeks in the uk and for medical reasons (threat to mother or baby) up to term; 40wks +. Most terminations in the uk are done before 12weeks. It is unusual to do one after 17weeks on the NHS for social reasons, and very rare indeed, if not unheard of, to do one after 24weeks for medical reasons, mostly because of the advances in neonatal care. A book I found very helpful is John Wyatt’s “Matters of Life and Death”. He is a consultant neonatologist and a christian, so has a perspective which takes into account both the Bible and the clinical issues.
    Interestingly when you talk to patients about this issue, they are mostly opposed to the later terminations, as it is easy to see those as a baby, and also because the method of termination involves a mini-labour and so is perceived as more distressing. All of the parents having late terminations for medical reasons are invariably very distressed indeed and often feel that they have no choice. It is the early terminations which people seem to perceive as not human and seem to need to regard as such, although they too seem to feel they have no choice in the matter. It often distresses them to discover that the baby has a heartbeat at this stage, and most people when asked (medical students too) think that what they are aborting has no more complexity than a ball of cells. Medical staff often collude in this by not mentioning heartbeats and turning the scanner away so that patients do not see the baby on the screen. This perception makes it difficult to talk to people about contraception, as early terminations seen this way seem to be no more than an alternative form of contraception and with less hassle than contraception, such as the pill. So it is then difficult to persuade them to use contraception to avoid a termination, as the termination is seen as no big deal. This attitude is seen especially amongst teenagers, which has shocked even my very liberal pro-choice colleagues in family planning. Also there does seem to be a general acceptance that it is possible to engage in sexual activity without any consequences, and the consequences which ensue are not the patient’s problem, but the medical professional’s problem, and these problems are seen as an anomaly and not logical consequences of the behaviour. This attitude is most clearly seen in Dawkins’ new 10 commandments where he states “Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business.”
    Hope this helps and does not muddy the issue. Also I apologise if anything sounded harsh or unloving, this is a very difficult area to write about or be read dispassionately.

  2. Emma
    Thanks very much for this – a REALLY helpful contribution from someone who really knows what they are talking about – ie much more than me. Why don’t you contribute to the Wikipedia page?
    Lots to think about here – and certainly doesn’t muddy the issue.

  3. Interesting subject matter Mark. Thought provoking. I’d hesitantly like to think this through and try not to be contentious…
    I agree ( and feel educated ) by Emma’s comments on the subject. Abortion is one of those subjects we never really want to raise partly because its emotive and also because we too adopt Dawkins’ commandments – even as Christians – by preferring not to engage in discussion but whispering our understanding of the topic to like minded people. People feel judged about their decisions/actions/thoughts and we feel guilty for making them feel that way. Yet why divide the ‘us’ from ‘them’ or base it on unresolved differing scientific assumptions? I wonder if when we peel back the layers on the subject what we are actually looking at is WORTH.
    As Emma points out, a non human figure is easy to discount (perception of a ball of cells) – probably because it has no real worth to us. However, I do not believe it is contradictory to say that people who choose abortion of an early foetus do not feel significant pain in their decision, because we innately hold life as precious – but our actions are rationalised by our understanding of what that life is worth to us, or what we percieve that life is worth to others. So we justify our actions and treat the helpless accordingly. And this is not limited to abortion.
    If this is the way I view people it is incredible therefore that someone else should consider my life worth enough to them that they would die for me! Yet this is what Christ did. Is this not therefore perhaps how we should define worth that moulds our actions and drive our discussions?

  4. The interesting story you end on is interesting for one reason alone. The consultant involved either didn’t check his facts about Beethoven’s family, or deliberately changed them to make a fallacious point.

    Ludwig van Beethoven was the eldest–strictly the number two, but his elder sibling died in infancy, as was common in those days, and was not, so far as is known, blind or deaf or dumb or mentally retarded.

  5. Hi Randal
    Thanks for this – it’s a powerful story but i’d not followed up its validity. So i won’t use it again. I wonder if it is one of those stories that has got distorted over the years but is actually based on someone else. If anyone does discover this, please let me know

  6. awwww so tiny and cute awwww

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