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Carson: A physician’s view on the sanctity of life

Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Several years ago, I was consulted by a young woman who was 33 weeks pregnant and was on her way to Kansas to get an abortion. I informed her of the multiple options available to her outside of abortion, and she decided to go through with the pregnancy even though the child had hydrocephalus and would require neurosurgical intervention a few weeks after birth.

She kept the baby and loves the beautiful child that has resulted.

A couple of decades ago, I came into the pediatric intensive care unit on morning rounds and was told about a 4-year-old girl who had been hit by an ice-cream truck and was comatose and exhibiting little neurological function other than reactive pupils. I tested her pupillary reflexes, and both pupils were fixed and dilated. The staff indicated to me that this was something that must have just occurred. I grabbed the bed and, with some help, transported her quickly to the operating room for an emergency craniotomy. I was met along the way by a senior neurosurgeon who told me I was wasting my time and that, at best, we would end up with someone in a vegetative state.

Nevertheless, we completed the operation, and a few days later, her pupils became reactive, and she eventually left the hospital. I saw her a few years ago walking through the hospital with her own 4-year-old little girl. She was neurologically fully intact and told me she had become somewhat of a celebrity because of the experience I just related. 

What do these two stories have in common? They both involve precious lives that easily could have been discarded.

My entire professional life has been devoted to saving and enhancing lives. Thus, the thought of abortion for the sake of convenience does not appeal to me. I personally have met several people who told me their mothers had considered abortion but happily decided against it.

Most of us instinctively want to protect helpless creatures and sometimes go to great lengths to do so. The TV commercials about abused animals are poignant, and as a society, we sometimes delay or cancel large construction projects to protect an “endangered” insect, amphibian or fish.

Yet many of us turn a blind eye to the wanton slaughter of millions of helpless human babies, who are much more sophisticated than some of the other creatures, when nothing is at stake other than the convenience of one or both parents. I am not saying we should abandon our efforts to save baby seals and a host of other animals. I am saying: Shouldn’t we consider adding human fetuses and babies to the list?

Watching the human fetus develop is awe-inspiring. In less than three months from conception, the little hands and feet are quite recognizable, and distinct facial features characterize cute but very tiny human beings. From Day One, neurons of the brain are proliferating at a rate that will yield a staggering 100 billion neurons by birth. In a matter of nine months from conception, we have a living, breathing, eating, vocal human being who just two months later is socially interactive. 

Some people oppose having pregnant women view ultrasonic pictures of their developing babies because they do not want an emotional bond to develop. Careful, unbiased contemplation, however, might yield the conclusion that such bonding is essential to the survival of mankind. Successful farmers nourish and protect their growing crops, and if conditions threaten their crops, they do what is necessary to protect them. Rather than attack the analogy, think about how much more precious a human life is than a stalk of corn.

It is important to try to understand the emotional state of young women seeking an abortion. Instead of judging and condemning them, we need to provide compassion and support. They need to be provided with easy access to adoption services and information about assistance available to them if they decide to keep the baby. I have visited many warm, inviting facilities around the country that exist solely for the purpose of helping these young women. 

It is equally, if not more, important to reach these young women before they become pregnant. Forget about those politically correct people who say all lifestyles are equal, and inform those young women about the true consequences of out-of-wedlock birth for those who are not financially independent. We need to make sure they understand that they can provide a much better life for themselves and their children when they plan ahead and value themselves appropriately.

As a society, we cannot be afraid to discuss important social and moral issues. Our heritage as a nation is built on compassion, forgiveness and understanding. Courage is also vitally important, because those who stand on godly principles and values will be attacked. Attempting to characterize love and compassion for human life as a “war on women” is deceitful and pathetic. We the people must stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those with agendas that do not include regard for the sanctity of life. 

• Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.

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