FETAL REDUCTION

by David Sisler

Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey are believers in Jesus Christ. I wonder if they have smiled at the irony of one of the Bible's most famous infertile women Hannah.

Hannah, like many women who cannot bear children, suffered from depression, directly related to her body's barrenness. One day her husband, Elkanah tried to comfort her by saying, "Why are you crying? Why won't you eat? Why are you sad? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"

The birth of Kenny and Bobbi's seven children on November 19 was of such significance that Peter Jennings and ABC News interrupted regular afternoon programming to announce the arrival of Kenneth Robert, 3 pounds, 4 ounces, Alexis May, 2 pounds, 11 ounces, Natalie Sue, 2 pounds, 10 ounces, Kelsey Ann, 2 pounds, 5 ounces, Brandon James, 3 pounds, 3 ounces, Nathaniel Roy, 2 pounds, 14 ounces, and Joel Steven, 2 pounds, 15 ounces.

I have listed the names of the babies and their birth weights so that they will be more to you than statistics, more than marvels of modern medicine, more than "things" or objects. That is important because of the way Bobbi McCaughey was introduced in a November 21 article in The Wall Street Journal.

Writer Barbara Carton said, "Bobbi McCaughey of Carlisle, Iowa, wouldn't be the center-of-the-universe that she is this week if she had done what hundreds of other multiply pregnant women in America now do. It's called fetal reduction."

The spin doctors and politically correct mavens have outdone themselves this time. The selective murder of an unborn child, can be more easily tolerated if it has a nice name fetal reduction.

Mark Sauer, chief of reproductive endocrinology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York is a critic of Katherine Hauser, the McCaugheys' fertility doctor, and the procedure she used. "Society certainly has the right to ask why did this happen and were there alternatives," Sauer said.

Roger Kempers, medical director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Birmingham said there are many ways to avoid multiple births without resorting to fetal reduction. Before the eggs are fertilized, that is correct. Drugs of different strengths can be prescribed to stimulate a woman's ovaries to produce ripe eggs in larger or smaller numbers. But after the eggs have been fertilized and implanted in the mother's body, the expectant mother has two choices allow all of the babies to be born, or choose some of them to die.

The McCaugheys told Dr. Hauser, "from the beginning, [fetal reduction] is not an option for us." Through her difficult pregnancy, requiring bed rest since the ninth week and hospitalization for the final four weeks, Bobbi's attitude was always, "They're all babies, and I'm going to have them all."

Consider the story of a woman in Detroit. She and her husband have spent $10,000 on fertility procedures and she is carrying triplets. Now to give more room in her womb, one of the long-awaited babies is going to have to die. She closes her eyes, squeezes her husband's hand and waits while the doctor looks for some imperfection, some defect in one of the babies that will make the decision "easier." Finding three healthy babies, the doctor picks the one who is easier to reach and pushes a foot-long needle through the mother's belly. He injects three cubic centimeters of potassium chloride into the baby's chest. The baby's arms and legs flail for a few seconds and then stop.

According to her doctor, the woman has increased the survival rate of her surviving twins, but when she leaves the room where her child was killed, she wipes her eyes and is unable to speak.

Maybe it would have been different if she had spoken to Nina Pippenger or Dr. Machelle Seibel, instead of Mark Evans, a pioneer of fetal reduction at Hutzel Hospital in Detroit a doctor who performs 100 fetal reductions a year.

Nina Pippenger became pregnant with quadruplets after an in-vitro procedure. She reduced to triplets. Two years later, Ms. Pippenger still struggles with her decision. "There was never a moment when it felt right," she says. "My husband and I were bawling our eyes out during the whole thing."

A physician in Boston, Machelle Seibel, says that performing a reduction on a woman who had conceived quadruplets "upset me tremendously, personally, to the point where I was seeing images. I vowed never to do it again."

Almost always fetal reduction is performed when a woman is carrying three or more babies. Many obstetricians will not reduce a twin pregnancy to one, but Dr. Evans feels otherwise: "If reducing from one to zero is acceptable in this society, then why not from two to one?"

Why not indeed! Maybe that's why the procedure is called "fetal reduction" instead of what it really is: the murder of an unborn baby.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/29/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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