Perinatal Hospice

Sometimes it seems that the smarter and more sophisticated we grow technologically, the less able we are to handle the most fundamental issues of life and death. All too often these days, parents whose unborn child is seriously ill, perhaps even fatally ill, are treated coldly and callously by doctors who think that they should just abort the child and get it over with.

The feelings of the parents—their love and grief for their child, their struggle to discern what’s best for that child and for their family—aren’t always taken into account.

But all of that, I’m glad to say, may be changing. In the past few years, a movement called “perinatal hospice” has been gaining widespread attention. In fact, perinatal hospice programs are being formed around the country. These programs allow and even encourage parents to carry their child to term and to treat that child as the unique person that he or she is—before they have to say goodbye.

Matt Anderson of World magazine writes, “Perinatal hospice honors life. The woman carrying the disabled child receives extensive counseling and birth preparation. . . . She carries the pregnancy to its natural conclusion.”

As Anderson notes, the parents are allowed to “grieve and prepare for the short time God may grant them with their child while their baby lives inside our outside the womb.”

I can’t imagine a better way to honor the value of a single precious life, not to mention the value of a loving family. What an incredible difference from the mindset that says that since the baby is going to die anyway, the parents might as well hurry it along. Such sentiments, I believe, fail to grasp of what a miraculous gift each human life is. function fbs_click() {u=location.href.substring(0,location.href.lastIndexOf(‘/’));t=document.title;window.open(‘http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=’+encodeURIComponent(u)+’&t=’+encodeURIComponent(t),’sharer’,'toolbar=0,status=0,width=626,height=436′);return false;}

Genetic counselor Cheri Schoonveld told MSNBC, “It’s the worst news that anyone could get—that your child is going to die. These horrible feelings aren’t going to go away with a termination. But the flip side is that they’re not going to go away after a baby is born either.”

But what those involved in perinatal hospice realize is that allowing the child to live out his or her brief life, instead of persuading parents to play an active role in the child’s death, will help prevent feelings of guilt. It also underscores for parents that their child had dignity and worth. The founder of the movement, Byron Calhoun, reports “overwhelmingly positive” responses from parents, and it’s no wonder.

The website PerinatalHospice.org, a clearinghouse for information about these programs, quotes Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, who said, “You matter because you are you, and you matter until the last moment of your life.”

Parents instinctively know that this applies to their unborn child just as much as it does to a fully grown adult. The perinatal hospice movement recognizes this undeniable truth and, in providing loving support for parents and their terminally ill babies, it implicitly acknowledges God’s design for human life and for human families. This is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

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