O. K. I’ll admit, this is being published after Respect Life Sunday because I missed the day. Even so, I stand by my title for this article. “Respect Life” isn’t about a day. It’s a mindset that has to be ongoing if ever our broader society is to take the message to heart. Some of you have heard the story I am about to tell. I have used it before in a Homily, but the situation, and the message it conveys are so poignant to me, that I feel the story bears repeating, particularly in this context.
My sister called me one day in the Spring of 1998 with some wonderful news. After 15 years of marriage, most of that spent actively trying to conceive a child, she was pregnant! Pat and I were thrilled. She and her husband were also thrilled. Sad to say, her Ob/Gyn doctor was considerably less than thrilled. During an early checkup visit, he delivered his opinion, and he didn’t even try to sugar coat it. “Look!” he said to Genine, “You’re nearly 40, you’re overweight, and you smoke; you really should consider ending this pregnancy.” When she recovered from the initial shock, my sister courteously but firmly told the doctor that terminating the pregnancy, in plain language, abortion, was not an option.
Several more weeks went by. Genine faithfully attended her appointments (she even tried to quit smoking, for her a monumental concession!), and things appeared to be going normally. Even the doctor’s somewhat surly nature seemed to improve, marginally. Then, at one appointment, the doctor appeared somber. He said, “I want to send you for an ‘amnio,’” referring to amniocentesis, a genetic test that detects, among other things, certain birth defects. When my sister asked why, the doctor replied, “So that you and your husband can make informed decisions.”
My sister, far more well-read than her college degree or her chosen occupation would tend to suggest, knew that the doctor was referring to the possibility of Down’s Syndrome, but she nonetheless asked, mostly rhetorically, “Decisions about what?”
The doctor went into detail about Down’s Syndrome and other genetic diseases that are more prevalent in the children conceived by middle aged and older women. At the conclusion of the conversation, my sister, a forthright and sometimes stubborn woman (perhaps a throwback to our Irish roots), said, “Look! I don’t care if the kid has three heads; you need to understand; I’m having this baby!” Not another word about abortion or “choice” came from the doctor’s mouth for the balance of the pregnancy.
The weeks drew on until week 27. Barely into her sixth month, my sister went into labor, and it was not false labor. She and Nick had a son, a son who weighed barely 3 pounds, but was otherwise completely healthy and normal. The proud parents were told that their new son would have to spend a few days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and then a couple of weeks in a “Step Down” facility a few miles away, but that he should grow up to be a healthy and happy child.
Just before Genine was discharged from the hospital, one of the nurses came to her to tell her about the doctor who delivered Colin, the same doctor who tried to convince her that abortion was best, in fact, her only realistic option. The nurse said, “What did you do? It’s the darnedest thing ! Dr. ‘Jones’ (not his real name) just kept walking up and down the hall shaking his head saying, ‘I can’t believe it; he’s perfect! I can’t believe it; he’s perfect!’” Well, even as a proud Godfather, I’d have to say that “perfect” is a stretch, but I do hope that the doctor learned a lesson that day.
Whether or not that’s the case, Colin celebrated his 13th birthday on Respect Life Sunday. He is a star Soccer player, and a star Ice Hockey player in the small Western Pennsylvania town where they live. Academically, he is a virtually “Straight ‘A’” student. What contributions he is yet to make to our family, to our world, is yet to be seen, but I shudder to think what we all might have lost had my sister not had the courage of her convictions, had she taken the “safe” path recommended by her doctor. I will always admire that courage, that faith in the goodness and providence of Almighty God. This is one testimonial to the value of life, to the reason we should respect life, from conception to natural death.
A former business associate of mine once posed to me this question. He said, “Suppose your wife became pregnant, and you knew that the baby would be born with a venereal disease and a painful congenital birth defect that would keep him from ever walking properly; suppose that the same child would be ridiculed in school, and that in his later years, he would become profoundly deaf; would you choose to terminate the pregnancy?” A few in our number said, “Of course! It’s the proper and humane thing to do,” to which my associate said, “Congratulations! You just killed Beethoven.”
I don’t know if Colin is the next Beethoven. In fact, I will be surprised if he is, but I don’t have knowledge of God’s plan. None of us do. That’s why we need to respect life, to defend life at every stage, and to nurture it wherever and whenever we are called to do so.
The next time someone talks to you about “choice,” tell them about Colin. Tell them that there is only one reasonable, rational, realistic choice. Choose life!