(baby gripping surgeon’s finger)
By You I have been sustained from my birth; you are He who took me from my mother’s womb; my praise is continually of You…
Surgery in Womb Tests Faith, Technology
Reference source… Handbook of phenomenology and medicine… By S. Kay Toombs
By: Robert Davis, USA TODAY 7 September 1999 page 8D
Nashville, Tennessee September 7, 1999 — In the hushed but crowded operating room where outsiders have gathered to watch a rare medical event – spinal surgery on a fetus still in the mother’s womb – a stool falls with a loud bang. “Shh,” says Joseph Bruner, the surgeon leading the operation. “You’ll wake the baby.” Waking the baby – or exciting the womb and launching the contractions associated with labor – would be fatal for the unborn child, Samuel Alexander Armas.
He has spina bifida, which means his spine did not develop properly, and part of his spinal cord was left exposed. The surgeons are going to try to close the opening to protect the spinal cord. Just 21 weeks after conception, the fetus, the size of a guinea pig, could not survive outside his mother’s womb. By slicing open the uterus, draining the amniotic fluid and operating on Samuel’s spine, the doctors are tempting labor. When they perform this kind of surgery on fetuses just a few weeks older than Samuel, the Vanderbilt University team has a neonatal crash cart warmed up and ready in the next room for such an emergency. But Samuel’s parents, Julie and Alex Armas, understand that no effort will be made to try to save their only child if something goes wrong today. Keeping a 21-week-old fetus alive outside the womb is beyond the capability of modern medicine. Any attempt to save the baby would be futile.
“This could be,” his mother says before the operation, quoting Bruner, “a very expensive miscarriage.” Samuel is one of the youngest to receive this kind of surgery, putting him at the leading edge of technology and medical ethics. The surgery is controversial because rarely in medicine do the risks – in this case, death – so far outweigh the benefits.
The delicate surgery to treat spina bifida, the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the USA, will not cure the disorder. But his doctors and his parents hope the damage will be less severe because of the early intervention. Spina bifida affects one or two of every 1,000 babies born each year. Since the spinal cord is exposed before birth, it can be damaged as the fetus kicks and rolls in the womb. And constant exposure to the amniotic fluid is thought to harm the delicate nerve pathway. Depending on where the lesion is on the spine, a baby can be left with clubbed feet, no bladder or bowel control, and brain damage.
Many babies, though nobody knows exactly how many, are aborted after spina bifida is discovered by prenatal testing. But for the Armases, a deeply religious couple, abortion was never an option!
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb…