Since our dear priests don’t frequent OB/GYN offices, my husband and I realize we have an obligation to communicate with our diocese about our experiences in Catholic hospitals. In the last eight years we’ve welcomed five children into our family and we have observed a changing attitude about genetic testing and abortion.
It wasn’t that long ago that parents were barely pressured about genetic testing, and it was really only briefly mentioned as an option. Not so with my last pregnancy in a Catholic hospital in Boston that avails itself of the newest technology for non-invasive genetic testing.
I wrote this for our diocese paper last October after a disturbing visit for an ultrasound when we took four excited little girls to see the first images of their new baby brother or sister at 12 weeks.
My husband and I are expecting the birth of a child and being open to life we have declined the DNA testing in early pregnancy reasoning that if it won’t change the outcome, we don’t need the test, especially if the test adds risk. If the test will inform us of a treatable condition to improve the child’s chance for survival, then we do need it. Noninvasive blood screenings are available now that do not add risk as an amniocentesis does, but still this last time we declined since we knew we were going to have multiple 3D ultrasounds and we loved our child already no matter what. We asked how the screening could help us help our child. “The test is just for information.” What outcome could it affect? “Well…” We were given a pamphlet to take home and urged to reconsider. Sadly, the first line read, “Every woman has many choices to make when she is pregnant.”
If “choices” means what it usually does in this context, then it’s troubling. Our four young daughters were there to view the ultrasound and during the continued urging for the test we continued the same reply. No test without a reason. We were already laughing and loving our new living family member moving on the screen in a celebration of this amazing life at 12 weeks. Three months later another doctor came to talk to me about genetic abnormalities again. She explained how, if an ultrasound indicates an anomaly, a confirmatory amniocentesis would guide care as the pregnancy approaches full term. Those children require additional monitoring before and after birth because there are elevated risks for medical complications or death. Information can save their life.
Why wasn’t this explained the first time? Is it because 92% of children who test positive for Down’s Syndrome in early pregnancy are aborted in the US, and the latter conversation doesn’t happen much? How sad a medical test isn’t primarily presented as a way to help a child to live. In Catholic hospitals, and everywhere, we have an obligation to promote Catholic virtues and to live our faith. “A diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence.” (CCC 2274) Medical technology must affirm life, hope and love. Those are the only choices that draw us nearer to God and doctors and parents are urged to live that truth in faith. Our most wonderful gifts, after all, are born of faith.
Today in the WSJ there is an article about how the non-invasive blood testing for genetic conditions are becoming more popular. The new blood tests can be done as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy and are predicted to be routine as soon as the end of this year. Further, with the cost of gene sequencing going down these blood tests will be able to routinely detect other diseases such as sickle-cell anemia or cystic fibrosis. They can also detect the gender. The first trimester blood test has enormous implications for abortion.
The gene sequencing research is reported by a pathologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong (coincidence?) and has attracted the attention of researchers in Switzerland, one molecular biologist noting that very early in pregnancy parents and doctors would “In essence, …have the entire genome of the fetus at your disposal.” I don’t think this is a good thing.
What I sense and what I fear is that parents are going to be under growing pressure to act in opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church even in our own Catholic hospitals. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that probably most of them prescribe or dispense contraception already. I’ve been advised and pressured to have an abortion by a health care professional in a Catholic hospital, which my husband and I together have reported to our diocese.
Only God knows exactly where this will go or end, but for now I know this. As a Catholic mother, I’m supposed to communicate with the clergy according to the principle of subsidiarity. Priests are not supposed to police the women’s health care facilities for me. I’m supposed to insist on Catholic ethics in a Catholic hospital, and communicate concerns up the hierarchy so that we all can work together to protect our Catholic identity.
I shudder to think how many young women may already have been led astray from Catholic teaching because a professional in a Catholic hospital advised them to do something immoral as if were actually normal and routine.
About the Author