My 2000 Voices Magazine Article: Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

This month, it was revealed that President Joe Biden “wants Congress to pass a law making abortions legal up to birth” after the US Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the Texas Heartbeat Law.

While talking to a friend about this, I remembered a 2000 Voices magazine article I wrote about why every unborn child deserves protection and she asked that I send it to her. Sadly, this magazine is no longer publishing.

This is the article I wrote that appears on my other blogsite that contains articles, op-eds, etc. that I wrote up to 2014, when I started this blog. The reflection at the end of this article was published by the National Down Syndrome Association and was-to my surprise-eventually reprinted in several other countries.

Voices Online Edition
Summer 2000
Volume XV, No. 2 – Jubilee Year

Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

by Nancy Valko, R.N.

“Of course, no one wants to adopt a defective baby. ” This was said with much emotion (and not much charm) by an older gentleman in a class at a local university where I was speaking this past April. I had been invited to discuss the legalities and effects of Roe v. Wade from a pro-life point of view to a class of senior citizens studying the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

While several of these senior citizen students defended abortion as a matter of complete privacy for the mother, their arguments centered around the “need” for legalized abortion as a solution for social problems.

Since I had told the story of my daughter Karen, born in 1982 with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, the pro-abortion students were extremely vocal about the personal and societal justifications for aborting a baby like Karen. Hence the statement about no one wanting to adopt a “defective” baby.

“Happily, sir,” I told the senior student, “You are wrong. Even back when I had Karen, I found out from the National Down Syndrome Association that there was a list of people waiting to adopt a baby with Down Syndrome. Just the night before, I added, I had found a new website for matching prospective parents with children who had chromosomal and physical defects.”

The student refused to believe that this could be true.

The effects of Roe v. Wade
Life of the mother, incest, rape and fetal defect are the four hard cases usually cited to justify what has now become abortion on demand. All of these are uncommon reasons given in the estimated 1.3 million abortions every year; but the possibility of having a child with a birth defect is a common fear nearly all expectant mothers experience and, not surprisingly, polls show that the majority of the public support abortion in this circumstance.

Although I have always been pro-life, I could understand the fear underlying these poll results — until my own daughter was born.

Just two weeks before the birth of my daughter Karen, I saw a mother trying to pry her young son with Down Syndrome away from a display case at the supermarket. She looked exhausted.

“Please, Lord,” I silently prayed, “Let this baby be ok. I can handle anything but Downs.”

When Karen was born with Down Syndrome, I was stunned. But I was quickly put in touch with mothers from the Down Syndrome Association who replaced my fears with information and realistic hope.

Then a doctor told me the truly bad news. Karen had a heart defect, one so severe that it seemed inoperable and she was not expected to live more than 2 months. That certainly put things in the proper perspective.

What “pro-choice” really means
It turned out later that Karen’s heart defect was not quite as bad as originally thought and could be corrected with one open-heart surgery, but I was shocked when the cardiologist told me he would support me 100% if I decided not to agree to the surgery and allow her to die. This was especially hard to hear because, as a nurse, I knew that the doctor would have been otherwise enthusiastic about an operation offering a 90% chance of success — if my child didn’t also have Down Syndrome. Apparently, even though Karen was now a legal person according to Roe v. Wade by the fact of her birth, this non-treatment option could act as a kind of 4th trimester abortion.

It was then that I realized what pro-choice really meant: Choice says it doesn’t really matter if a particular child lives or dies. Choice says the only thing that really matters is how I feel about this child and my circumstances. I may be “Woman Hear Me Roar” in other areas according to the militant feminists, but I was not necessarily strong enough for a child like this.

I also finally figured out that Roe v. Wade’s effects went far beyond the proverbial desperate woman determined to end her pregnancy either legally or illegally. The abortion mentality had so corrupted society that it even endangered children like my Karen after birth. Too many people, like the student in Supreme Court class, unfortunately viewed Karen as a tragedy to be prevented.

Medical progress or search and destroy?
In the late 1950s, a picture of the unborn baby using sound waves became the first technique developed to provide a window to the womb. Ultrasound in recent years has been used to save countless lives by showing women that they were carrying a living human being rather than the clump of cells often referred to in abortion clinics.

But while expectant parents now routinely and proudly show ultrasound pictures of their developing baby, there is a darker side to prenatal testing. Besides ultrasound, which can show some birth defects, blood tests like AFP testing and the Triple Screen to test for neural tube defects or Down Syndrome are now becoming a routine part of prenatal care. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are also widely available tests to detect problems in the developing baby. It seems that every year, new testing techniques are tried and older ones refined in the quest to find birth defects prenatally.

97% of the time, women receive the good news that their baby seems fine; but the tests are not foolproof, and they can only test for hundreds of the thousands of known birth defects. Relatively few such birth defects can be treated in the womb at the present time. Some women want testing so that they can prepare for a child who has a birth defect, but when the tests do show a possible problem like Down Syndrome, up to 90% of women will abort.

While some hail prenatal testing as a way to prevent birth defects, the effects of such testing has led to what author Barbara Katz Rothman calls the “tentative pregnancy” in her 1993 book of the same name. Although Rothman calls herself pro-choice, her studies of women considering amniocentesis led to her conclude that such testing has changed the normal maternal-child bonding in pregnancy and the experience of motherhood, usually for the worse.

“I might not be pregnant”
I observed this firsthand several years ago when I ran into an acquaintance and congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy. I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and apologized for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities.

On one hand, people are inspired by the stories of people who have disabilities and support organizations like the Special Olympics; but, on the other hand, many people consider it almost irresponsible to bring a child with disabilities into the world to suffer when prenatal testing and abortion are so available.

But as the vast majority of parents who are either natural or adoptive parents of children with disabilities will attest, all children are born with both special gifts and special limitations. No child should be denied birth because of a disability or even a limited life expectancy.

Women who do abort after a diagnosis of a birth defect are also hurt. Besides depriving themselves of the special joys — which occur along with the difficulties — of loving and caring for such a child, these women often experience unresolved grief, guilt and second-guessing instead of the relief and peace they expect.

A few years ago, a local hospital which performs late-term abortions for birth defects asked a miscarriage and stillbirth counseling group to help with their distressed patients. The group declined, citing the fact that the most reassuring message they give grieving mothers is that there is nothing they did or didn’t do that caused the death of their babies. Obviously, that was not a statement they could make to mothers who abort. There is a very real difference between losing and terminating a child.

How many of these mothers knew before their abortions that, in practical terms, there has never been a better array of services and support for children with disabilities and their parents? Or that their children were dearly wanted by prospective adoptive parents? Such information might have been just the support they needed to choose life for their children.

Final thoughts
Despite the best medical care, my Karen died at the age of 5 and 1/2 months, but the impact of her life has lived on. At her funeral Mass, the priest talked about how this child who never walked or talked had transformed the lives of those who met her.

Especially mine.

After Karen died, I sat down and tried to put into words what Karen and all children with disabilities have to teach the rest of us. The following reflection was published in the National Down Syndrome Association newsletter in May, 1984.

THINGS NO TEACHER EVER TAUGHT
In 1982 my daughter, Karen, was born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect. Less than six months later she died of complications of pneumonia. Karen may have been retarded but she taught me things no teacher ever did.

Karen taught me:

That life isn’t fair — to anyone. That self-pity can be an incapacitating disease. That God is better at directing my life than I am. That there are more caring people in the world than I knew. That Down Syndrome is an inadequate description of a person. That I am not “perfect” either, just human. That asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness. That every child is truly a gift from God. That joy and pain can be equally deep. That you can never lose when you love. That every crisis contains opportunity for growth. That sometimes the victory is in trying rather than succeeding. That every person has a special purpose in life.

That I needed to worry less and celebrate more.


Sources:

1. “Prenatal Testing”, by Nancy Valko, R.N. and T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., pamphlet, Easton Publishing Co.

2. “Doctors have prenatal test for 450 genetic diseases” by Kim Painter. USA Today, 8/15/97

3. Rothman, Barbara Katz. The Tentative Pregnancy. Revised, 1993. WW Norton and Co.

4. “Advances, and Angst, in a New Era of Ultrasound”, by Randi Hutter Epstein. New York Times. May 9, 2000.

Nancy Valko, R.N., a contributing editor for Voices, is a former president of Missouri Nurses for Life who has practiced in St. Louis for more than thirty years. An expert on life issues, Mrs. Valko writes a regular column on the subject for Voices.


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What You Should Know about the New Federal Covid 19 Vaccine Mandate

In my December 17, 2020 blog “Should a Covid 19 Vaccine be Mandatory?, I wrote that “it seems unlikely that there will be a federal mandate for the Covid 19 vaccine.”

But on September 9, 2021 and in a televised speech, President Joe Biden announced a federal Covid 19 vaccination mandate affecting as many as 100 million Americans “in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.”

Calling Covid 19 “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” and that “our patience is wearing thin” with the estimated 80 million Americans who have not been vaccinated, President Biden announced new rules that:

“mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.”

and signed

“an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.”

However, it turns out that some groups of people are not required to get the Covid 19 vaccine, including the US Congress and people illegally crossing our southern border.

Even worse and back in an August, 2021, an NBC News article titled “18 percent of migrant families leaving Border Patrol custody tested positive for Covid” stated that:

“More than 18 percent of migrant families and 20 percent of unaccompanied minors who recently crossed the U.S. border tested positive for Covid on leaving Border Patrol custody over the past two to three weeks, according to a document prepared this week for a Thursday briefing with President Joe Biden. (Emphasis added)

MORE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH THE COVID 19 VACCINE MANDATE

Some hospitals are now telling healthcare workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. And in New York, there are now worries that a vaccine mandate “will exacerbate staffing shortages dogging medical facilities.”

And although some U.S. businesses welcome President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for firms with 100 or more employees, some small businesses are bristling, saying that the order “imposes yet another burden that could intensify historic worker shortages and supply-chain bottlenecks.

Already, legal challenges are looming for the covid 19 vaccine mandate.

WHY VACCINE HESITATION OR REFUSAL?

From the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, the rules seemed to keep changing: first gloves and no mask, then lockdown, mask and social distancing. Different states had different rules about opening and closing businesses and schools.

It was frustrating when the scientific data behind the changing rules was often lacking or contradictory. And some people are concerned about some of the reported rare side effects of the vaccines as well.

However, experts say that few people are medically exempt from getting the Covid 19 vaccine.

Now, there is an emphasis on providing booster Covid 19 vaccines for the fully vaccinated. However, it is concerning to now read in the Business Insider that “18 leading scientists, including 2 outgoing FDA officials, say COVID-19 booster shots lack evidence and shouldn’t yet be given to the general public”.

CONCLUSION

My husband and I received our Covid 19 vaccinations in March without any problems and recommended the vaccinations to our children with the caveat that they check with their doctors first, especially since some of our children and grandchildren have special situations.

We are open to receiving the Covid 19 vaccine booster shot but we would like to see more scientific data and hopefully a consensus among the experts.

Can You Tell “Fake News” from Real News?

In 2019, Nick Sandmann, a Catholic high school teenager in a MAGA hat from Covington, Kentucky was filmed allegedly showing the teen confronting an elderly Native American man after a big pro-life rally in Washington, D.C.

The tape was shown on mainstream media outlets and the young man and his classmates were then vilified in the media.

Later, a longer version of the video instead showed that it was the Native American man who confronted the teen, chanting and banging a drum in his face.

But by July 2020, after Mr. Sandmann sued several news outlets for defamation, both CNN and the Washington Post settled the cases for undisclosed amounts.

The rush to judgment by so many of the mainstream media over such an arguably small but politically potent news item was eventually exposed as “fake news”.

What caused this and how can we tell the difference between trustworthy news and so-called “fake news”?

An advanced practice nurse friend of mine recently revealed that she had studied journalism in college for three years before dropping out in 1990s. She felt that her professors were enforcing their viewpoints on students’ writings rather than promoting non-biased news reporting. She is happy now that she changed her major to nursing but said she is sad and appalled to see the biased state of journalism now.

Getting trustworthy information from news outlets can be a daunting and time-consuming effort now with the great political and cultural divide that has been occurring in the US, especially in the last few years. Even worse, we now see the rise of an Orwellian-like “cancel culture” that is enforcing new speech codes and concepts with the threat of silencing other views and even people.

WILL THE NEWS LITERACY PROJECT HELP OR HURT?

Recently, I read about the News Literacy Project (NLP) that states it is:

“a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, provides programs and resources for educators and the public to teach, learn and share the abilities needed to be smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy. ” It declares that “The lack of news literacy is a threat to our democracy. (Emphasis added)

NLP says it plans to build:

“By 2022, a community of 20,000 news literacy practitioners who, using NLP and resources, will teach news literacy skills to 3 million middle and high school students each year. NLP will also lead efforts to increase public awareness of news literacy and to equip people of all ages with the ability to discern fact from fiction.” (emphasis added)

NLP also has a “Theory of Change” with four pillars that will:

“Pillar One: Increase the use and the measurable student impact of NLP programs and resources (Change educator behaviors),

Pillar Two: Develop a national community of news literacy practitioners as advocates of systemic change (Change general will),

Pillar Three: Raise awareness of NLP and increase news literacy among the general public. (Change public mindsets),

Pillar Four: Build the infrastructure and fiscal sustainability to realize this plan in the short term and our vision in the longer term.” (Emphasis added)

NLP also states that since its start in 2008 ,  “More than 30 news organizations across the United States, from local outlets to internationally known print and digital publications, support NLP in a variety of ways “. NLP also states that it “has a role to play assisting others around the world who are working to expand news literacy in their countries.

This was news to me and rather concerning because so many of these same news organizations have been involved in “fake news” stories like Nick Sandmann’s. If the NLP so concerned about this, why doesn’t it also work to enforce the standard of accurate, non-biased reporting with its own news outlets instead of trying to teach children and the public how to differentiate between trustworthy news and “fake news”?

MY JOURNEY AND WHY I AM SO CONCERNED

I grew up in a mixed political family. My mother was a passionate Democrat, and my father was an equally passionate Republican. Their arguments were epic, but they spurred my interest in understanding local and national news, even as a child.

I wanted to know what was true and spent lots of time reading different viewpoints in magazines, newspapers and our local library. Back in the 1960s, there was no internet.

Not surprisingly, I wound up as an independent.

My parents and teachers wanted me to go into journalism, but I chose nursing and never regretted it.

However, I began writing again when my late first husband asked me to help him write his medical research papers. I learned a lot but was shocked by the politics of publishing medical research. Certain projects and results were taboo. I learned to have a degree of skepticism when evaluating medical research and I am no longer surprised when many papers are retracted after publication.

After my daughter Karen was born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, I started researching and writing again, first in a journal and then eventually for other publications including a national newspaper.

My newspaper editor was superb, and he enforced strict journalistic principles such as reporting different viewpoints without bias and with meticulous sourcing.

I found I was not immune from occasional mistakes, but I was expected to correct them as soon as possible. Accuracy was paramount. I doubt any journalism school back then could have been better than my experience writing for that newspaper.

Today, I become immediately skeptical when I read or hear sensational news items or intense personal attacks, especially on social media sites.

And with the NLP teaching millions of students every year, I am also concerned about the power of schools and how they educate our children.

Years ago, when my children were in public high school, mandatory school sex education with the promotion of “safe sex” was a concern for many of us parents but dismissed by the school. Now, Planned Parenthood boasts it is the single largest provider of sex education in the United States.

Now, many younger parents are worried about what their children are learning and believing when their schools teach the “1619 Project” and “Critical Race Theory”.

CONCLUSION

We must and should be able to have a high amount of trust in our media, especially with the current Covid 19 pandemic, but now polls show the public’s trust in media has “hit a new low”.

“Fake news” can take many forms from bias and distortions to ignoring major news stories for political reasons. This kind of manipulation is very harmful and even dangerous to achieving a safe and well-informed society. I personally have eliminated most social media.

I also recommend keeping an open mind rather than just reading or watching news outlets with which you agree. Take the time to really try to understand and use critical thinking about contentious issues. Be skeptical when reading shocking news items and check the sources and other verification.

And just as important, we still need to stand up for what we believe and explain our positions without hostility towards those who disagree and without fear of reprisals for our convictions.

When Can We End Lockdowns for Covid 19?

When the Covid 19 pandemic hit the U.S. early last year, little was known about this new infection.

But as the highly contagious Covid 19 virus was spreading around the world, President Trump issued a proclamation on March 13, 2020 declaring a national emergency with “preventive and proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus and treat those affected” and state lockdowns began.

Regular healthcare became virtually suspended as states went to lockdown with rules to shelter in place except for essential errands or work. Schools and many businesses were closed. 

On March 18, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended that hospitals cancel all elective surgeries and nonessential medical, surgical and dental procedures to prepare for the expected deluge of patients with Covid 19 and the health system complied.

Then, although it received little media notice, a May 19, 2020 letter to President Trump signed by over 600 doctors detailed the physical and mental impact of the lockdown in the US due to Covid 19, calling it a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing negative health consequences” to millions of non-COVID patients. 

The doctors’ letter stated that:

“Suicide hotline phone calls have increased 600%,” the letter said. Other silent casualties: “150,000 Americans per month who would have had new cancer detected through routine screening.”

“Patients fearful of visiting hospitals and doctors’ offices are dying because COVID-phobia is keeping them from seeking care. One patient died at home of a heart attack rather than go to an emergency room. The number of severe heart attacks being treated in nine U.S hospitals surveyed dropped by nearly 40% since March. Cardiologists are worried “a second wave of deaths” indirectly caused by the virus is likely.

“The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.

“It is impossible to overstate the short, medium, and long-term harm to people’s health with a continued shutdown,” the letter says. “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events, and the effect on a person’s health is not lessened because it also has happened to 30 million [now 38 million] other people. Keeping schools and universities closed is incalculably detrimental for children, teenagers, and young adults for decades to come.” (All emphasis added)

Then on October 4, 2020, the Great Barrington Declaration was written and released by three public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford. The Declaration was eventually signed by thousands of doctors and experts from around the world. The Declaration encouraged governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people while focusing protection measures on the elderly.

These experts surmised that this would allow COVID-19 to spread in a population where it is less likely to be deadly, encouraging widespread immunity that is not dependent on a vaccine.

The Declaration stated:

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. “

The Declaration was swiftly met with intense criticism from other medical experts who called the plan “practically impossible and highly unethical”.

As the numbers of people with Covid 19 and who died from Covid 19 went up and down over the months, various U.S. states and counties ordered different degrees of lockdown and now many states seem to be guided more by politics than science when it comes to lockdowns.

HOPE ON THE HORIZON

We now have more people with Covid 19 surviving and leaving the hospital sooner due to a better understanding of what treatments work best in comparison to what was known when the pandemic started in the US.

And although seemingly impossible at first, new vaccines have been developed for Covid 19 and began being distributed in December 2021 due to Operation Warp Speed. Despite the controversy about some Covid 19 vaccines, it is hoped that the widespread use of vaccines may help the U.S. end the lockdowns.

In addition, the FDA (food and Drug Administration) approved the use of several rapid Covid 19 tests, some that can even be done at home. This can be a gamechanger with some experts saying that the massive distribution of rapid self-tests for use in homes, schools, offices, and other public places could replace harmful sweeping lockdowns with knowledge.

CONCLUSION

Lockdowns have caused enormous economic, physical, social and mental upheaval in the US.

When lockdowns are intermittent in intensity and duration in some states without clear scientific evidence that the lockdowns are working, it seems we need a reevaluation of their usefulness as we evaluate other measures to help end the Covid 19 pandemic.

Northern Ireland Forced into Legalizing Abortion on Demand

My husband and I just returned from a long-anticipated and wonderful trip to Ireland with our friends, one of whom was born in Ireland to an unwed mother at the infamous Magdelene Laundries and adopted by a St. Louis family when she was 2 1/2 years old.

We traveled all around Ireland and Northern Ireland, enjoying the friendly people, beautiful old churches, stately castles, charming villages and great food.

We were able to see or read some news there but the topics were mainly about the Brexit deal for Ireland to leave the European Union.

Returning home, I was flabbergasted to read about the sudden legalization of abortion on demand in Northern Ireland forced by the UK that occurred October 22 when we were on our trip.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ABORTION IN IRELAND

The United Kingdom legalized abortion with the Abortion Act in 1967, years before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US. But the Abortion Act was never extended to include Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, which then only allowed abortion for “a severe and long-term physical or mental risk to the woman’s health”.

In 2016, the United Nations tried to pressure Ireland into legalizing abortion on demand and overturn Ireland’s Eighth Amendment that protected both unborn babies and their mothers equally as deserving a right to life. This made Ireland one of the safest places in the world for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies and with one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world.

But tragically in May 2018, a voter referendum to legalize abortion in Ireland passed. On January 1, 2019, the law took effect even though 95% of Irish doctors refuse to perform abortions.

And after the Irish voter referendum on abortion passed in May 2018, a poll by Amárach taken in October found that 60% of Irish residents oppose taxpayer-funded abortions, 80% say health care workers should not be forced to carry out abortions against their conscience, 79% favor a woman seeking an abortion being offered the choice of seeing an ultrasound before going through with the abortion and 69% of those surveyed believe doctors should be obliged to give babies that survive the abortion procedure proper medical care rather than leaving the babies to die alone.

But in Northern Ireland, recent rulings in the High Court in Belfast and the Supreme Court in London stated that the abortion situation in Northern Ireland was “incompatible with human rights legislation”. So now, Northern Ireland is being forced to accept abortion up to 24 weeks or beyond if “the mother’s health is threatened or if there is a substantial risk the baby will have serious disabilities”. But, as happened in Ireland, hundreds of medical professionals-including doctors, nurses and midwives-say they will not participate.

Andrew Cupples, a Northern Irish GP, said that some medical professionals have even said they will walk away from the healthcare service itself if they are forced to participate in abortion services.

Nurses&Midwives4Life Ireland  and Doctors For Life Ireland have been especially vocal and active in opposing abortion and those of us in the National Association of Pro-life Nurses have been enthusiastically supporting their efforts and encouraging others to do so as well.

CONCLUSION

My husband and I, as well as our friends, are very proud of our strong Irish heritage and firmly pro-life so this news about Northern Ireland was a blow.

But like the good doctors and nurses of Ireland, we will never give up.

As the abortion movement grows ever more hardened and radical, none of us must give up exposing the terrible truth about abortion as well as showing the life-affirming dedication to caring for both mother and unborn child that truly defines the pro-life movement.

 

 

 

Two Disturbing Articles about the Education of Doctors and Nurses

A September 12, 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns- At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness” exposed the problem with including politically popular courses at the expense of hard science.

This was preceded by an August 23, 2019 MedPage article titled A Radical Change to Nursing Board Exams” that exposed a “A lack of situational teaching in clinical settings has led to inadequate skills in critical thinking and decision-making on the part of novice new graduate nurses” resulting “in an epidemic of poor clinical judgment among novice nurses, preventing them from making the best decisions for their patients and incurring huge costs to the institutions where they work for longer orientation periods and malpractice lawsuits.” (Emphasis added)

It is hoped that this new nursing board exam will force nursing schools to make clinical judgment and clinical experiences a central part of nursing education.

I was shocked but not actually surprised by these two disturbing articles.

NURSING EDUCATION

I started to notice the problems some new nurses were having several years ago after the traditional 3 year nursing diploma education in hospitals was  phased out in favor of 2 year associate degree programs (ADN) and 4 year bachelor degree programs (BSN) with less clinical experience.

Many of our new nurses had trouble with decision-making and couldn’t function well in the hospital. Many were demoted to nursing assistant or left after their trial period. I tried to personally help some of these new nurses who were obviously dedicated and wanted to do their best for their patients but many froze from the fear of making a wrong decision.

These new nurses needed more continuous help than I could give so I talked to nursing supervisors but the situation did not change much.

In the meantime, my hospital announced that every nurse now must have a bachelor degree in nursing (BSN) by 2021. This started at many hospitals after a 2010 Institute of Medicine paper recommended a goal that 80% of nurses have a BSN by 2020. RN to BSN programs then proliferated, eventually even online.

Most of my fellow nurses who took these BSN courses on their own time while working full-time complained to me that these courses were not especially helpful clinically and more geared to management preparation and community education. They also complained about exhaustion and difficulty managing family, work and study. Several wound up getting sick themselves.

Although the hospital helped with the expense of the BSN degree, the hourly salary increase for a BSN only went up to 10 cents more an hour when I was there.

MEDICAL EDUCATION

In the September 12, 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns”  by Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a former associate dean of curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, highlights  another but similar problem. He asks “Why have medical schools become a target for inculcating social policy when the stated purpose of medical education since Hippocrates has been to develop individuals who know how to cure patients?”

He complains that:

“These educators focus on eliminating health disparities and ensuring that the next generation of physicians is well-equipped to deal with cultural diversity, which are worthwhile goals. But teaching these issues is coming at the expense of rigorous training in medical science. The prospect of this “new,” politicized medical education should worry all Americans.” (Emphasis added)

He also states that:

“The traditional American model first came under attack by progressive sociologists of the 1960s and ’70s, who condemned medicine as a failing enterprise because increased spending hadn’t led to breakthroughs in cancer treatment and other fields. The influential critic Ivan Illich called the medical industry an instrument of “pain, sickness, and death,” and sought to reorder the field toward an egalitarian social purpose. These ideas were long kept out of the mainstream of medical education, but the tide of recent political culture has brought them in.” (Emphasis added)

He concludes:

“Meanwhile, oncologists, cardiologists, surgeons and other medical specialists are in short supply. The specialists who are produced must master more crucial material even though less and less of their medical-school education is devoted to basic scientific knowledge. If this country needs more gun control and climate change activists, medical schools are not the right place to produce them.” (Emphasis added)

After an apparent avalanche of criticism, the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial defending Dr. Goldfarb’s op-ed stating:

“Patients want an accurate diagnosis, not a lecture on social justice or climate change. Thanks to Dr. Goldfarb for having the courage to call out the politicization of medical education that should worry all Americans.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION AND SOLUTIONS

I became an RN fifty years ago in what I now call a “golden age”.

Before we could even be admitted to nursing school, we had to submit a character reference. My fellow nursing students were as excited and dedicated as I was to become the best nurse possible for our patients. We regularly saw programs like “Marcus Welby, MD” and “Medical Center” where doctors and nurses worked tirelessly and bravely to help their patients.

When my preferred hospital changed its nursing program from a 3 year diploma program to a 2 year ADN program, I was worried but decided to trust the hospital. However, I felt somewhat unprepared after graduation and found a 1 year nursing internship program at another hospital that gave me supervised clinical experience in every area.

Not only did that increase my competency, it changed my mind from specializing in pediatrics to critical care. I think that such programs should be encouraged at every hospital for new nurses to help solve the problem of poor decision-making and clinical judgement. Nothing substitutes for actual clinical experience which is in short supply  in many ADN and BSN programs.

Also 50 years ago, rigorous ethics were an important part of our nursing education with “do no harm” to patients, report our mistakes, never lie, advocate for our patients regardless of age, socioeconomic status or condition, etc. incorporated as standard requirements. We happily took the Nightingale Pledge.

However in the 1970s, I saw ethics slowly become “bioethics”. The tried and true Hippocratic Oath principles requiring high ethical and moral standards for doctors including prohibitions against actions such as assisting suicide and abortion gave way to “bioethics” with essentially four principles:

1. Respect for autonomy (the patient’s right to choose or refuse treatment)

2. Beneficence (the intent of doing good for the patient)

3. Non-maleficence (not causing harm)

4. Justice (“fair distribution of scarce resources, competing needs, rights and obligations, and potential conflicts with established legislation”)

Unfortunately, those principles are malleable and then used to justify actions and laws that would be unthinkable when I graduated. That bioethics mindset slowly changed not only medical and nursing education but also the principles that informed our work.

While we cannot recreate the past, we can reform our medical and nursing education and practice to return these professions-and our medical and nursing associations-to positions of trust. This is crucial not only for our professions but also for our patients and the public.

 

The National Association of Pro-life Nurses Statement Opposing the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (2019)

The National Association of Pro-life Nurses joins the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition USA and the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO) and other organizations in opposing the  Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (2019) H.R. 647, S.2080.  (HALO has issued an action alert with the contact numbers for legislators on the Senate committee considering this bill.)

As nurses, we strive to care for our seriously ill, disabled and terminally ill patients with compassion and the highest ethical standards. We applaud the medical innovations and supportive care options that can help our patients attain the highest quality of life possible.

However now many of us nurses are now seeing unethical practices such as assisted suicide, terminal sedation (with withdrawal/withholding of food, water and critical medicines), voluntary stopping of eating, drinking and even spoon feeding, etc. used to cause or hasten death but often called palliative, “comfort” or routine hospice care for such patients.

We believe that the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (2019) will allow federal funding to teach and institutionalize such unethical practices without sufficient oversight, safeguards or penalties.

For example, the Section 5 Clarifications (p. 21) against federal funding for objectionable practices “furnished for the purpose of causing, or the purpose of assisting in causing, a patient’s death, for any reason” is toothless. Such practices are already  considered acceptable by many influential hospice and palliative care doctors like Dr. Timothy Quill, a board-certified palliative care physician, 2012 president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and promoter of legalizing physician-assisted suicide and terminal sedation.

It is also disturbing the Compassion and Choice, the largest and best funded organization promoting assisted suicide and other death decisions,  has a mission statement stating:

“We employ educational training programs, media outreach and online and print publications to change healthcare practice, inform policy-makers, influence public opinion and empower individuals.”

and a “Federal Policy Agenda / 2016 & Beyond”  goal to:

Establish federal payment for palliative care consultations provided by trained palliative care professionals who will advocate for and support the values and choices of the patient….” (All emphasis added)

As nurses, we are also very concerned that the Act contains no conscience rights protection for those of us-doctors and nurses alike-who will do anything for our patients except deliberately end their lives or help them kill themselves.

Many of us have already faced threats of termination of employment for refusing to participate in unethical, life-ending practices without support from our nursing organizations like the American Nurses Association that recently dropped their traditional opposition to physician-assisted suicide and voluntary stopping of eating and drinking.

For the sake of protecting our patients, the integrity of our medical and nursing professions as well as our healthcare system, we urge the public and our congressional representatives to oppose this dangerous Act.

 

Assisted Suicide and “Failure of Unconsciousness”

As a nurse, I have seen patients assumed to be unconscious while in a coma or sedated on a ventilator later tell me about some memories and feelings during that time. This is why I always cared for such patients as if they were awake.

Now in a stunning February, 2019 Association of Anaesthetists article titled “Legal and ethical implications of defining an optimum means of achieving unconsciousness in assisted dying”, a group of international doctors explore the difficulty in ensuring unconsciousness to death in lethal injection capital punishment and assisted suicide/euthanasia. (Note: Since the authors are international, some quoted terms here are spelled differently than here in the US)

Believing that “A decision by a society to sanction assisted dying in any form should logically go hand‐in‐hand with defining the acceptable method(s)”, the authors reviewed the methods commonly used and contrast these with an analysis of capital punishment in the US. They “expected that, since a common humane aim is to achieve unconsciousness at the point of death, which then occurs rapidly without pain or distress, there might be a single technique being used.”

They were wrong.

They found that with self-administered lethal overdoses “with death resulting slowly from asphyxia due to cardiorespiratory (heartbeat and breathing) depression”, helium self-suffocation and the Dutch lethal injection that resembles US capital punishment, “there appears to be a relatively high incidence of vomiting (up to 10%), prolongation of death (up to 7 days), and re‐awakening from coma (up to 4%), constituting failure of unconsciousness.” (Emphasis added)

The authors take no position on assisted suicide and state their intention to “dispassionately examine whether the methods used to induce unconsciousness at the point of death in assisted dying achieve their objective”. With many of the authors being anesthesiologists themselves, they used the most recent research into “accidental awareness” during anesthesia to try to find an “optimal means” that could better achieve unconsciousness.

ASSISTED SUICIDE AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

It was difficult for the authors to find discussion of actual methods to cause death but the Dutch have published guidelines for both “passive participation” where the doctor prescribes a high-dose barbiturate and “active participation where the doctor administers a high dose of IV anesthetic and a neuromuscular (paralyzing) drug.

Notably, the authors found that a lethal injection is recommended by the Dutch when self-ingestion death fails to occur within 2 hours and that this is “an explicit recognition” that self-ingestion can fail.

The Dutch lethal injection resembles (except for the use of potassium to stop the heart) the US method of capital punishment so the authors looked at the US method of lethal injection capital punishment because it is “designed to be ‘humane’ and bears technical similarities” to lethal injection assisted suicide/euthanasia. The US lethal injection protocols also includes technical aspects such as drugs, dosage and monitoring of the patient.

However, as the authors note, “prisoners have been reported to be clearly awake and in distress during some executions”. Two death row prisoners even petitioned the US Supreme Court to consider a requirement for a physician to confirm unconsciousness before the lethal drugs are given. They argued that they “might be awake but paralysed at the point of death, making the method a ‘cruel or inhumane punishment’ which violated the US constitution’s Eighth Amendment”. (Emphasis added) The authors note that this “situation has clear parallels with the problem of ‘accidental awareness during general anesthesia’, where the patient awakens unnoticed and paralysed during surgery, which is known to be a potent cause of distress.” However, the US Supreme Court rejected this argument in 2008, “concluding that the anaesthetic doses used reliably achieved unconsciousness without any need to check that this was the case.” (All emphasis added)

As the authors state, “We now know that the Court was wrong.” (Emphasis added)

DO US ASSISTED SUICIDE LAWS GUARANTEE A PEACEFUL DEATH?

The US assisted suicide laws mandate secrecy in reporting requirements and the little yearly data available about complications is self-reported by the doctors who are not required to be with the person during the process or even afterwards to pronounce death.

However, the authors were able to use data from the Dutch protocols, and other similar methods used elsewhere and state that after taking the lethal overdose:

“patients usually lose consciousness within 5 min. However, death takes considerably longer. Although cardiopulmonary collapse occurs within 90 min in two‐thirds of cases, in a third of cases death can take up to 30 h(ours) 3133. Other complications include difficulty in swallowing the prescribed dose (in up to 9%) and vomiting thereafter (in up to 10%), both of which prevent suitable dosing, and re‐emergence from coma (in up to 2%). Each of these potentially constitutes a failure to achieve unconsciousness, with its own psychological consequences, and it would seem important explicitly to acknowledge this in suitable consent processes.” (Emphasis added

The authors also note:

“that the incidence of ‘failure of unconsciousness’ is approximately 190 times higher when it is intended that the patient is unconscious at the time of death 3133, as when it is intended they later awaken and recover after surgery (when accidental awareness is approximately 1:19,000)21, 22. (Emphasis added)

CAN TECHNOLOGY ENSURE UNCONSCIOUSNESS?

The authors discuss the limitations of just using EEGs (brain wave tests) and the isolated forearm technique (IFT) where the person can move their single, non-paralysed forearm to signal their awareness.

Instead the authors state:

“Recent lessons from anaesthesia lead us to conclude that, if we wish better to ensure unconsciousness at the point of death… then this can be achieved using: (1) continuous drug infusions at very high concentrations; (2) concomitant EEG‐based brain function monitoring, targeted to the very low, burst suppression or isoelectric values; and (3) clinical confirmation of unconsciousness by lack of response to command or to painful/arousing stimuli (and this last could include an IFT). Alternative methods that do not include these elements entail a higher, possibly unacceptable, risk of remaining conscious and so, by definition, are suboptimal.” (Emphasis added)

However, the authors acknowledge practical problems with this protocol such as the technical requirements requiring the involvement of trained practitioners like anesthetists.

And the “optimum method” for ensuring unconsciousness is so medicalized that:

“Society or individuals might prefer to retain a choice for alternative methods, even if these are suboptimal and carry a greater risk of consciousness at the point of death 54. If so, then legal frameworks and consent processes should explicitly acknowledge this choice. ” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

The assisted suicide legalization movement led by Compassion and Choices portrays assisted suicide as an easy and dignified death, even one that can be a cause of celebration.

Polls about assisted suicide like the latest Gallup poll find 65% say “yes” when asked “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living is severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?” even though assisted suicide laws don’t mention pain and state that the person must be terminally ill and expected to die within 6 months.

But how many people, especially legislators, would still say “yes” to legalizing assisted suicide after learning the truth in this article about the so-called “peaceful” assisted suicide?

And how many people would still pursue assisted suicide if they knew they might be conscious and in more distress during the process?

Unfortunately and right now, no assisted suicide law requires that kind of  explicit “informed consent”.

The obvious solution is to fight all assisted suicide laws and support all suicidal people.

 

Lessons from the Victory against Assisted Suicide in Maryland

In a dramatic end, the Maryland Senate was deadlocked in a 23-23 on their physician-assisted suicide bill when it came time for the last senator to vote on March 27, 2019.

Sen. Obie Patterson decided not to cast a vote which effectively killed the bill that needed a majority vote to pass.

Sen. Patterson told reporters that “I researched it, I talked with folks and my decision today was not to cast a vote. But I think I did my job. I did not relinquish my responsibility to thoroughly review all of the concerns I had about the bill. At the end of the day, I felt I could not cast a vote.”

This fourth attempt in Maryland to pass a physician-assisted suicide bill had just passed in the Maryland House of Delegates following “an intense and emotional debate that brought some lawmakers to tears”.

Although there was testimony on both sides with many personal stories, a Goucher College poll of people in Maryland showed 62% of those polled supported “allowing terminally ill adults to obtain medication to end their lives”. The Maryland State Medical Society that previously opposed assisted suicide bill had now changed its stance to “neutrality”.

Kim Callinan, CEO of the Compassion & Choices organization that promotes such legislation throughout the US had said that “with baby boomers beginning to reach retirement age, they are dealing with deaths of their parents and peers, causing them to rethink their views on death experiences allowing terminally ill adults to obtain medication to end their lives.”

Disability advocates were forced to wait to testify until all witnesses in favor of the bill testified, effectively blocking those advocates who had to leave.

LESSON ONE: DON’T GIVE UP EDUCATING  LEGISLATORS AND THE PUBLIC ON THE FACTS AND DANGERS OF ASSISTED SUICIDE

Although it seemed that the bill would pass in the Senate, all the efforts by disability advocates, pro-life people, medical professionals, concerned Maryland residents, etc. to write, speak and even march about the facts and dangers of physician-assisted suicide apparently had an effect.

When the bill was sent to a Senate committee to evaluate before being sent to the entire Senate for final passage, members of the committee now had reservations about the assisted suicide bill itself. Committee chairman Senator Bobby Zirkin said the bill as introduced to the committee was “flawed to its core”, even though he said he didn’t want to stand in the way of terminally ill people “who are truly, truly at the end of their life and out of treatment options.”

The senate committee members “spent more than 7 hours hashing out dozens of proposed amendments to the bill” before agreeing to vote it out to the full senate with these changes requiring patients:

“Be at least 21 years old, a change from 18 in the original bill.

Have their diagnosis confirmed by their attending physician and a consulting physician. Those two physicians cannot be in the same practice or have a financial relationship

Ask for the prescription three times, including once in private with a doctor and with witnesses.

Undergo a mental health evaluation.”

The senators also set a stricter definition of who could qualify for assisted suicide, and removed the prescribing doctors’ immunity “from civil lawsuits related to prescribing the fatal drugs.”

Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion & Choices said “the new drastically revised version of this bill includes troubling amendments that we know from our experience in other states will make the bill nearly impossible for patients to access.”

But as I noted in my previous blog on the assisted suicide bill, the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition correctly noted that even with the revisions, the bill “does not offer sufficient protection of those in our system of health care who are most vulnerable to abuse” and should not be passed.

After the bill died in the senate, one senator said he would sponsor yet another assisted suicide bill sometime in the future.

LESSON TWO: REVIEW THE RESULTS

As the Baltimore Sun article on the defeat of the assisted suicide bill noted:

“Some senators who voted against the bill recalled the General Assembly’s action a few years ago to abolish the death penalty — in part on the grounds that life is precious, even the life of a convicted criminal.

Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, said that his vote in favor of keeping the death penalty has haunted him. He pledged to himself that if he ever faced a vote like that again, “I would err on the side of life.”

Others questioned the logic of allowing doctors, who they see as people who save lives, to participate in a process that leads to death.

“There are no do-overs in this type of law,” said Sen. Bryan Simonaire… “Doctors have and will continue to make mistakes and miscalculations. They are humans. Once a life is taken, it is final.” (All emphasis added)

We may not always know what resonates with a legislator charged with representing his or her district but it is an awesome responsibility to make laws involving life or death decisions. That decision should not just be based on polls or horrific fears about death.

LESSON THREE: REACH OUT TO ALL GROUPS AND PEOPLE

None of us who oppose assisted suicide has the power, money or media support that Compassion and Choices has. But when we band together and use all our personal stories as well as the moral, legal, disability and medical perspectives against assisted suicide, we can win state by state and even educate the public nationally.

Our goal should not only be about defeating assisted suicide and upholding truly ethical healthcare but also to offer hope and support to improve the lives of all people experiencing suicidal despair, whether or not they are terminally ill.

 

 

A Surprise in Maryland, Compassion and Choices is Not Happy

Last month, I joined many other people fighting the fourth attempt in Maryland  to legalize physician-assisted suicide. At that time, the Maryland “End of Life Options” bill  was in a Maryland house committee. We all were disappointed when the bill was later passed and went to the senate committee.

But then things got interesting.

According to a 3/22/19 Baltimore Sun article “Medically assisted suicide bill advances in Maryland, but with changes that frustrate advocates” , committee chairman Senator Bobby Zirkin  said the bill as introduced to the committee was “flawed to its core”, even though he admitted he didn’t want to stand in the way of terminally ill people who wanted assisted suicide.

According to the article, the senate committee members “spent more than 7 hours hashing out dozens of proposed amendments to the bill” before agreeing to vote it out to the full senate with these changes requiring patients:

“Be at least 21 years old, a change from 18 in the original bill.

Have their diagnosis confirmed by their attending physician and a consulting physician. Those two physicians cannot be in the same practice or have a financial relationship

Ask for the prescription three times, including once in private with a doctor and with witnesses.

Undergo a mental health evaluation.”

The senators also set a stricter definition of who could qualify for assisted suicide and removed the prescribing doctors’ immunity “from civil lawsuits related to prescribing the fatal drugs.”

The revised version now heads to the full Maryland Senate for a final vote, probably this week.

Compassion and Choices CEO Kim Callinan says  “The bill in its current form would create many needless hoops and roadblocks for dying patients and put doctors at risk for baseless lawsuits” and make assisted suicide “nearly impossible for patients to access.”

Compassion and Choices is urging the Maryland senate to pass a “more patient-friendly bill” that won’t erect “barrier after barrier for dying patients” including “a mandatory psychological evaluation, numerous additional witness requirements” and “preventing them (family members) from enjoying the precious time they have left with their loved one.”

However, the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition correctly notes that even with the revisions, the bill  “does not offer sufficient protection of those in our system of health care who are most vulnerable to abuse” and should not be passed.

CONCLUSION

Ironically and just last year, I wrote about the impatient calls to expand medically assisted suicide from advocates like influential lawyer Thaddeus Pope argued that the some so-called “legal safeguards” like age limits, the definition of terminal illness and the ability to ingest the lethal overdose were actually “burdensome obstacles”.

Trying to educate the public and especially legislators about the dangers of legalized assisted suicide is a daunting task, especially against extremely well-funded groups like Compassion and Choices and a mostly supportive mainstream media.

But the unexpected surprise in the progression of the Maryland assisted suicide bill and the new opposition by the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice to the death certificate falsification in that state’s proposed assisted suicide bill shows how cracks are beginning to grow in the false narrative that legalizing assisted suicide is perfectly safe and harmless to society.