Editor’s Note: Martin Geraghty recently shared with us the remarkable and moving letter we print below—a letter he wrote to a friend and his wife (age 35) who are expecting their third child. Worried about the possibility of Down’s Syndrome, the couple decided to have amniocentesis performed and, if the test were positive, an abortion. Before proceeding, however, the friend sought Mr. Geraghty’s advice, which resulted in the letter we share, in turn, with our readers (with names changed).
Sometimes, when I have an idea or a plan in business or otherwise, I “float” it out to people I trust to see if they can point out any holes in it that may have escaped me. I may be wrong, but I have a sense that you told me about Ellen’s and your decision to proceed with amniocentesis (and then an abortion if the results are grim) in the same spirit. You probably figured that if there are sufficient arguments against it, I would be able to offer them for your consideration. There are, Kevin, but I don’t believe I offered them. So that’s what I propose to do now.
The purely scientific reasons are compelling, if not overwhelming. Simply stated, every abortion takes a human life. Not a potential human life… not a future human life… a human life. The evidence for this comes in numerous scientific facts, but let me cite just three of them.
1) At conception, the baby is chromosomally complete. No event in his, or her, life—either in the next 90 minutes or the next 90 years—will change him in any fundamental way. His sex, eye color, adult height and weight are all determined at that point and only some extraordinary intervention—injury, disease, pre- or post-natal starvation, etc.—will change any of this. He bears exactly the same relationship to his environment that you and I bear to ours: we get nourishment, oxygen, physical protection, etc. from ours, and so does he.
2) His heartbeat begins between the 18th and 25th day after conception. I’m sure Ellen has, or could have, heard your little son or daughter’s heartbeat by now in her doctor’s office.
3) Brainwaves are discernible on today’s equipment at 40 days. Tomorrow it may be 35 days… or less!
That’s the scientific stuff. There’s a lot more if you want it, but I won’t belabor it.
One more fact. Amniocentesis itself carries risks for the healthy baby who today lives beneath Ellen’s heart. Indeed, just comparing odds, the chances are far higher that the process will injure your healthy baby than they are that your baby is in any way defective. That alone makes “amnio” a bad bet.
On a more personal basis, Kevin, Maureen and I routinely reply “Six” when we are asked how many kids we have. But we both know in our hearts, and remember each time, that we really have eight. Two of our sons, Timmy and Denis, lie waiting for us in the family plot at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston. Each baby’s name is on the plaque above him. When I die, my name will be chiseled above Denis’s on our headstone; Maureen will share her grave with Timmy.
You and Ellen have three kids, Kevin. Your boys have a baby sister (Will her name be, perhaps, Molly?) or a brother (Jonathon?) If you kill Molly, what will you do with her? Bury her? Discard her? What?
When Timmy was born, he was a “blue baby.” He lived for eight days, during which time Maureen and I rode a wild roller-coaster of soaring hope and deep despair. Occasionally the medical folks would approach us and suggest that we ought to consider whether we wanted them to employ “heroic” efforts to keep him alive. It was clear that for some of these people a brain-damaged baby was hardly worth wasting a simple, though life-saving, injection on. In fact, I’m sure we could have had Timmy “killed” if his prognosis had been “survival with reduced faculties.”
In one sense then, Kevin, we’ve been where you might find yourself before long. We agreed that if it came down to pumping blood through a brain-dead body, we’d “pull the plug.” I’d pull it myself! But we also decided that we had no right to decide that Timmy’s quality of life would be below our standard of acceptability. We’d take him in whatever condition God gave him to us. In the end God took him from us, but we wanted him and loved him and, today, cherish the memory of that little angel. His older brother visited him before he died, and the others speak easily but reverently of him and their other brother in heaven with God.
Denis was still-born at about 20 weeks of gestation, the victim of one of nature’s cruel tricks. He was perfectly healthy, but his umbilical cord got tied in a “one-in-a-million” knot, and he died. We held him for about an hour after his birth.
If your amnio is done soon, you’ll learn its results when Molly is about as far along as Denis was, so if you kill her, let me describe to you what you’ll kill. She’ll be about a foot long. Every external detail, save one, will be perfect. Ten fingers, ten toes, each with the tiniest of nails already in place. Her skin will be nearly transparent, and you’ll be able to count her ribs through it. Her mouth, each nostril, each eye and eyelid will be perfectly formed. Only her ears will remain unfinished, mere stubs growing around the little earholes in the sides of her head.
One more thing, Kevin. Whether you decide on a saline injection or prostaglandin, Molly will die a horribly painful death for you. The former method will burn her skin badly as she tries desperately to avoid ingesting the chemically-fouled amniotic fluid which she’ll become aware of. Finally the searing pain on her skin will overwhelm her, she’ll “inhale,” and she’ll die quickly then, feeling as though she’d swallowed lye. (During all of this, Ellen may even be able to feel her thrashing around.)
If you choose prostaglandin, this powerful drug will quickly bring on violent labor contractions. Molly will be ripped loose from the uterus, which serves as the conduit both for her pre-natal nourishment and oxygen. She will then be pummeled to death by the violent contractions of her mother’s own body—if she’s lucky. Depending on her gestational age and how this particular abortion has gone, she may survive this brutal treatment. If she does, she’ll be born alive. The usual response to this “mishap” is for all concerned—mother, doctor, nurses, (father, if he’s present)—simply to stand there and wait for her to die before their very eyes. They’ll offer her no help, so she’ll probably suffocate quickly on the amniotic material in her throat. If she should somehow expel it, she may even whimper and squirm for a short time, waiting for death in great distress.
In fact, Kevin, if all the results come back wrong and you do decide to proceed with an abortion, I strongly urge you to do it as humanely as possible and ask Ellen to get as “doped up” as she can. Her “painless” state will be passed through to the baby, whose final trauma will then occur in a semi-conscious state.
By now, Kevin, you’re on to me. You’ve figured out that I’m trying to shock you out of this decision. But you know me, Kevin. You know that I’m not some crazy weirdo with all kinds of bizarre hangups. I’m an ordinary guy who does his deals, tells his dirty jokes, drinks his beer, loves his kids, and cares enough about this particular issue not to want his two good friends to do something which he knows they’ll regret if they ever learn as much about it as he knows.
I’ve told you nothing but the truth here; I’ve confirmed a few facts when I was in doubt. But nearly all of this was straight out of my head; and all of it was straight from my heart. You guys are too good-hearted to look back years from now without remorse, if you do this now. I don’t want that to happen, and I especially don’t want you ever to say to me “Why didn’t you tell us?”
I will pray for you and Ellen. I know this is a trying time for you, and my prayer, as well as my expectation, is that, come February, there will be a beautiful new healthy little Wilson wreaking havoc on her parents’ sleep habits and love life.
P.S. One more thing. Despite all this, you may find that your hearts lead you to take the abortion route. I want you to know that I will know that this decision was born of love and was one you felt you had to make after giving it the most careful thought. I will think no less of you for that decision, and I will hope to see our friendship strengthen and grow afterwards. If you ever want to talk with me about it, either before or after you do what you feel you must, I will be proud and pleased that you’ve chosen again to confide in me. God bless your entire family.