Guest Post: Honoring the Dignity of the Shortest Lives

The following is a guest post from my friend Heidi Indahl, and all photos are hers.  You can learn more about Heidi and her ministry at the end.

From Conception to Natural Death.

As Catholics, we use this phrase often.  Honoring the dignity of life from conception leads us to protest abortion laws and educate others on the nature of contraception.  The dignity of life at the point of natural death leads us to rally against assisted suicide laws and elder abuse.  To honor the space in between is to act for social justice and for the benefit of the marginalized.  Have you ever stopped to consider, however, what honoring the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death looks like when only a short time passes between the two?

Such are cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

As a church, can we do a better job of including these smallest of persons (and as an extension, their families) into our work as a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family people?

I think we can.

And more importantly, I believe we should.

I believe speaking for babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death is as hard as it is because the world has written these lives off as unpreventable losses . . . casualties of natural law and the fallen state.  Health care providers blur the line between early miscarriage and chemically induced abortion in their usage of terminology and procedures.  Celebrities grieve their miscarriage publicly one day and shout their abortion the next.  Family and friends tell women every single day to get over it because it just happens.  We all have a thousand messages a day telling us that the unborn baby is not a life that is important.  Even when we know the truth, the culture makes it easy . . . indeed, safer . . . to just stand by thinking, man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!

And yet, it does happen.

Statistics of pregnancy and infant loss remain relatively unchanged.  We might not be able to change the frequency of this death through legislation or social justice action, but we can change the reality for a forgotten group of people inside our faith communities.

All of the unborn deserve dignity in their deaths.  They deserve to be properly buried if at all possible.  They deserve to be remembered in the prayers of the Church through mass and other available rites.  Their families need the same social support and comfort that we provide to all those grieving the loss of a beloved member of their family.  We are not just supposed to bury the dead, pray for the dead, and comfort the sorrowful when it is convenient, easy, and socially acceptable.  We are supposed to do it for every single human person that it is in our control to do so for.

I regularly speak with well-catechized, every-Sunday Catholics who have no idea that the Church provides a variety of funeral and naming rites, memorial suggestions, burial sites and more** for infants who pass away before or shortly after birth.   Women whose doctors say flush the fetus and they do, because no one has ever told them there is another option.

We can do better for our friends, our family, and ourselves.

A couple facing pregnancy and infant loss should never wonder inside the walls of the Catholic Church if their child’s life was valued and important.  It was.  Our whole pro-life argument is centered around the idea that the value of a life isn’t different because the life hasn’t existed as long or hasn’t produced the same contribution to society.  That doesn’t cease to be true because a person has passed away.

Every person matters from conception to natural death, because we know God formed human beings in His image and likeness.  Not because of their contribution to society.  Not because of their age, race, gender, or hair color.  Not because of the circumstances of their conception or death.  But because in them is the image and likeness of God himself.

And in them we can find God.

**Check with your local diocese for approved options.  If they don’t know, advocate for the next family to face this grave loss by helping get something in place!
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The mother of seven living children, three miscarried babies, a stillborn daughter, and a daughter who passed away shortly after birth, Heidi Indahl is the author of Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections for Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss and 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids.   With a passion for sharing her pregnancy and infant loss journey, she does so in a way that can enrich the spiritual life of all women while also improving the way we think and talk about pregnancy and infant loss to promote a genuine culture of life, centered in the truths of our Catholic faith. 

For more information and additional pregnancy and infant loss resources, visit Heidi’s website.

 

I’m a Pro-Life Catholic and I’m with Her

A few days ago I was invited to join a secret Facebook group.  I posted what follows by way of introduction and was overwhelmed by the support, understanding, and acceptance I received, even from people whose beliefs are very different.  Because so many people wanted a way to share what I had written, I decided to post it here with some slight editing to account for the potential wider audience.

As a devout pro-life Catholic, this election season has been a very trying time for me. Never in my lifetime has there been a candidate for President who aligned perfectly with my religious beliefs, and I have dealt with this in various ways in each election.

I wrote for the local Catholic press for many years, including writing a column specifically on life issues. I was the chair of our Diocesan Respect Life Committee and have 25 years of pro-life activism to my credit. I blog about life issues frequently and post publicly about them on Facebook. And I’m the mother of five children!

Yet none of this has stopped my being the target of vitriol from right-wing Catholics, many of whom will clearly do ANYTHING to justify the fact that they really just want to vote Republican. I’ve been talked down to, threatened with excommunication, and attacked, even as I have tried to create space for discussion on my Facebook wall and explained the Church teachings on voting and conscience which support my actions.

This year, I am voting for Hillary with a clear conscience. Despite my deep disagreement with her views on abortion it is quite clear to me that her other positions and her proposed policies are more in keeping with the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and social justice (not to mention the fact that she is way more qualified, not dangerous, and won’t bring disgrace to the office!). I am not holding my nose while I vote either–I am excited to be with Her!im_with_her

For more of my writing about Catholicism, voting, and politics, see the partial list below:

What’s a Catholic Voter to Do?

What’s a Catholic Voter to Do? (Part 2)

What’s a Catholic Voter to Do? (Part 3)

Catholic to my Toes

VOTING:  Not Toeing the Party Line

Talking to Kids about Politics

It’s Just Not Fun Anymore

Catholic Voting 101: A Guide for the Confused

Why Is This Election Different?

See Planned Parenthood Top Doctor Talk Fetal Tissue Harvest over Lunch

The video below is not for the faint of heart–although it contains no graphic images. But there’s something stomach-turning in watching a doctor discuss the harvesting of fetal body parts over lunch as she takes bites of her salad and sips her red wine.

I couldn’t help thinking about this scene from The Return of the King showing Denethor, Steward of Gondor, munching away as his son goes to fight to his (almost) death at this father’s command.

I’ve always been horrified by that scene but this is REAL LIFE, y’all.  Dr. Deborah Nucatola is Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, and she was caught on tape thanks to an undercover investigation by this organization.
If any of my pro-choice friends are still reading, what do you think about this? If you are a Planned Parenthood fan, does the possibility of their profiting by the donation of fetal tissue affect your opinion? What do you think of “doctors” who would change the way they practice medicine in order to procure the tissue that is most in demand?
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, here are some choice excerpts:
So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.
[A] lot of people want intact hearts these days, they’re looking for specific nodes. AV nodes, yesterday I was like wow, I didn’t even know, good for them. Yesterday was the first time she said people wanted lungs. And then, like I said, always as many intact livers as possible.
And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex . . .. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken . . . Under ultrasound guidance, they can just change the presentation . . . So the preparation would be exactly the same, it’s just the order of the removal of the products is different.
I don’t have the stomach to read or watch any more, but if you wish to, the links are available here.
UPDATE: America Magazine has published a balanced review of the unedited footage from which the above video came, which I would encourage you to read.  My own outrage is less over the question of the sale of the parts than over the successful dehumanization of the unborn evidenced by the doctor’s demeanor.
UPDATE 2:  While standing by my observations on the dehumanization of the unborn depicted in the video above, I am providing a link into the investigations into the allegations, many of which are complete and did not find any irregularities.  Thank you to Molly McMahon Martin for pointing this out and providing the citation.

Pro-life, or Anti-Abortion?

This is a reprint of the very first column I had published in the East Tennessee Catholic.  Although it appeared in late 2001, I had actually written it over two years before, as one of three sample columns which were rejected by the then-editor. 
What does it mean to have a “consistent life ethic?” You may remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to decide who should have the robe he was wearing.  They couldn’t split it among them because it had no seams.  Some have referred to the concept of a consistent life ethic as the “Seamless Garment.”  Life is a continuum, and we cannot pick and choose whose lives we are going to care about and protect.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God”(2319).
If we are to be consistent–constant, dependable, invariable, steady, unfailing–in what we believe and do regarding life issues, we must protect and care for all life, not just the lives of the innocent unborn.  Many people have bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming, “We vote pro-life!”  Well, I would love to vote pro-life but I can’t find a pro-life candidate.
Under the topic of “You shall not kill” in the catechism, we read the obvious: abortion, homicide, suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited.  But we also read that those who contribute to famines are liable for the deaths of the starving, that destroying whole cities in wartime is a crime, and that “the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race” (2329). The death penalty is limited to cases in which it would be necessary to protect other victims from the aggressor–something solitary confinement in a maximum security prison can certainly do.

Photo credit: wht_wolf96653 via Flickr

It is relatively easy to be pro-life when it comes to the slaughtering of an innocent in the womb. It’s harder to care about a serial killer. It’s pretty easy to know it’s wrong to throw a newborn in a dumpster. It’s harder to say that no one, no matter how sick he is or how much he is suffering, has a right to take his own life. It’s easy to decide to support laws which ban abortions. It’s harder to support laws requiring that tax dollars be spent to keep poor children off the street, to provide aid to mothers on welfare, to create programs for job training for unskilled workers.
Being consistent isn’t easy. All human beings are a mass of inconsistencies. Being a truly pro-life Catholic isn’t easy either, but Jesus never claimed that His was an easy road to follow.
“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to buy a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough to love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”   –Wilbur Reese
God, the Giver of life, the Creator of life, calls us to believe in life 100%. If we’re only willing to give $3.00, then we aren’t pro-life. We’re just anti-abortion.

What's in a Name?

The following is a reprint of a column that ran in The East Tennessee Catholic newspaper on August 11, 2002.  It explains the name of my former column, which is now the name of this blog.
Names are important.
Think of the time we spend choosing the names we give our children, the hours poring over baby-name books, making lists, asking opinions, only to be told years later by an unappreciative adolescent, “I hate my name!”
Now, any writer or artist will tell you that his creative product is something like “offspring” to him.  So when it was time–past time–to name this column, I agonized over the choice for days.  Then, coming up blank, I followed my usual procedure for titling my work:  I stole.
Image result for bartlett's familiar quotations
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations with its handy index is an old friend that has proved its worth to me many times.  I looked up life in the back of the book, and voila, the works of far better writers than I were at my disposal.
The phrase “life in every limb” sounded perfect at first reading, and once I investigated the source became even more so.
First, the author:  William Wordsworth, famed English poet of the Romantic Period, and as it happens, an old favorite of mine.  My first college English professor, later my advisor, is a preeminent Wordsworth scholar who spends summers at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District.  By virtue of his enthusiasm almost as much as Wordsworth’s talent, he taught us to love Wordsworth too.  This seemed like an omen.
Image result for wordsworth
Next the poem whence the line came: We Are Seven. The poem’s narrator encounters a “little maid,” who in answer to questions about her family asserts again and again that there are seven children, even though two have died.  This inclusion in the family’s number of two who are unable to speak for themselves resonated with me as I thought of the voiceless unborn and their need for similar champions.
Finally, the enire quotation:  “A simple child/That lightly draws its breath/And feels its life in every limb/What should it know of death?” I thought of the unborn child, alive in every way, in every part of its tiny body, heart beating, blood pumping, at the very beginning of its life doomed so often to a premature and violent death.
I wonder what Wordsworth might add to the abortion debate if he were with us today.  My first child’s godmother (a fellow student of the aforementioned professor) created a beautiful cross-stitch as a gift for Emily when she was born from a paraphrased Wordsworth quotation: “Children come trailing clouds of glory from God who is their home.”
This comes from his Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, in which he expounds upon his belief that children are closer to God because they remember glimpses of heaven that are more and more lost to us as we grow older.  His own heavenly visions, the “spots of time” he celebrates in his long autobiographical narrative poem The Prelude, were a continuing source of inspiration to Wordsworth.  I have a feeling that he would have viewed the killing of the innocent unborn, fresh from God’s hand, as the worst kind of sacrilege.
Moving to a different sort of literature, the phrase “life in every limb” calls to mind St. Paul‘s metaphor of 1 Corinthians 12: ” . . . [T]he body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body . . . .”  Each person, born or unborn, is a part of that body and has a unique role to fulfill.
In valuing all members of the body equally, our church espouses a consistent ethic of life.  Although abortion is the focus of this column, I plan to write about many other life issues, such as the death penalty and euthanasia.  We might think of the abortion issue as just one of the many limbs of the church’s pro-life teachings.  For we are a church that embraces and celebrates and protects all life, that of the innocent unborn equally with that of the convicted murderer, of the ill and disabled along with the healthy, of the non-Christian along with the Christian–life in every limb of the Body of Christ.