The "Helpful" Doctor and the Power of the Pro-Life Message

Nancy Valko
Pentecost 2013
Reproduced with Permission

In 2011, a survey study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that only 14% of practicing obstetrician/gynecologists are willing to perform abortions.1 In Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide in 1994, just a small number of physicians have been writing the majority of lethal overdose prescriptions.2

Still, many mainstream media outlets report overwhelming support for both abortion and the so-called "right to die" as politically correct and humane, while opponents are cast as unfeeling religious bigots. Those people and families damaged from abortion and assisted suicide are usually ignored, as are the majority of medical professionals who do not want to participate in either.

Shapers of public opinion - including some politicians and ethicists - have carefully constructed an unreal world of safe, celebrated abortion "rights" and "victimless" assisted death. This has had a destructive effect not only on the public but also in the attitudes of otherwise good and caring medical professionals.

Here are two recent examples from our family's life.

As many of you know from my previous article, last year we lost Noah, our precious six-year-old grandson, from complications after his successful bone marrow transplant for a rare autoimmune disease called familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).

Noah was a real fighter in his long battle against this disease. He endured multiple pneumonias, compression fractures, and extreme (but thankfully rare) body swelling that made him virtually unrecognizable. We and his doctors remained hopeful despite these setbacks.

However, a young doctor in training confronted Noah's parents one day asking how long they were going to make their son suffer. That comment came at a time when Noah's intensive care specialist was still optimistic, but it devastated Noah's parents, who then reported the doctor to his superiors. They never imagined that trying to save their son's life could ever be construed as a kind of torture.

They reported the doctor in the hope of preventing other parents from enduring such a negative "right to die" attitude. This young doctor probably meant to be helpful, but without an ethical foundation built on firm principles, he was harmful to his patients and families if left uncorrected.

Noah rallied for a while and plans were being made to take him back home for recovery and rehabilitation. Noah's parents understandably refused to let the offending doctor near their boy.

Sadly, Noah later took a final turn for the worse and it became obvious that he was truly dying. But just when we thought the situation couldn't be any harder, something else happened.

While we were all standing vigil for Noah two days before he finally died, Noah's parents received the difficult news that a special prenatal test showed that Liam, Noah's unborn brother, also had HLH. The abortion option was brought up. This happened even though little Liam himself would have an excellent chance for a bone marrow transplant cure, especially since his bone marrow transplant could be planned before he showed any sign of the disease.

I was so proud of my stepdaughter when she instantly replied to the abortion "option" with outrage. She told the doctor that it was unthinkable that she would be offered the "choice" of killing one of her children while watching another one of her children die!

The "helpful" doctor who suggested abortion probably thought that she was only being sympathetic, but, like too many people in our society, she saw abortion as an acceptable solution to a tough situation. My stepdaughter enlightened the doctor not only about the truth of abortion as killing but also about the effects on the family. So-called "therapeutic" abortion is never therapeutic for either the child or the family. How can killing a child ever prevent grief and guilt? How can anyone rationalize the very real difference between dying and being killed?

Liam Isaiah was born April 4, 2013 at 9:07 p.m., weighing in at 8 lbs. 14 oz. and 20 inches long. He is big, beautiful, and vigorous. His bone marrow transplant is planned for sometime in the near future, pending his health and a good donor marrow match. His healthy three-year-old sibling, Eli, is excited about being a big brother. We are all celebrating Liam's birth and looking forward to his future with hope.

Consequences of the "Culture of Death"

Attitudes have consequences - whether we are lay people, medical professionals, or clergy - because the "culture of death" is so insidious and powerful. Too many of us remain silent and intimidated in the face of this evil until we ourselves are confronted. This is unfortunate because moral principles really do matter and will affect us all in the end. Publicly unrefuted claims from the "culture of death" are becoming embedded in the public consciousness.

Medical professionals are not immune from these challenges - especially our young men and women who have already been steeped in a popular culture that depends on slogans and soundbites rather than thoughtful analysis. Their teachers, who are older and presumably know better, have also been shaped over time to think of life ethics in terms of legal liability and "choice." The lack of both accurate information and honest examination of issues - and the rhetoric of organizations such as Planned Parenthood - have created an atmosphere that discourages or even penalizes the pro-life students we so desperately need for a patient-safe health care system.

Many years ago, a Catholic ethicist confronted me after a "right to die" debate and demanded that I stop telling stories about my relatives, my patients, etc. He said this was unfair. I responded that Jesus Himself taught in the form of stories called parables. This encounter made it clear to me that the power of personal experiences - of real-life stories - to convey a message is far greater than dry statistics and sterile theoretical debates.

Our pro-life movement has many compelling stories that are based on unvarnished reality and promote a deeper understanding of the issues and the people involved. Some of our stories expose the frightening truth and expanding agenda of the "culture of death." Other stories are inspirational lessons on the value of true justice, compassion, and moral principles. These stories highlight what love, faith, hope, support, selflessness, and respect for life can accomplish. Such stories are all around us if we only look. By telling our stories and those of others, we are helping to push back the culture of death.

Noah's parents stood up against the culture of death twice, and although we may never know the full impact of their actions, I am certain that at least some medical minds were opened and will never forget the life lessons of little Noah and Liam.


1 "Abortion Provision Among Practicing Obstetrician - Gynecologists" by Debra B. Stulberg, MD, MAPP; Annie M. Dude, MD, PhD; Irma Dahlquist, BS; Farr A. Curlin, MD. Obstetrics & Gynecology: September 2011,118:3, 609-614. Abstract online at: [Back]

2 "Cornering the market on physician-assisted suicide" by Kenneth R. Stevens Jr. MD. Oregon Live. March 10, 2010. Online at: the_market_on_physic.html [Back]