Perinatal Hospice is a wonderful, compassionate practice that is not well-known. Consequently, from my place in the pew, I wanted to pass along information to other Catholics about this beautiful service.
Although it is not Catholic in origin, Perinatal Hospice (or Palliative Care) matches Catholic teaching concerning life issues and has been embraced by Catholic leaders.
The Church agrees with science that life begins at fertilization. Therefore, we must respect and care for life within the womb. If all goes well, the child will live a long time from “womb to tomb.”
However, sometimes pre-born children, like any other humans, can have serious medical problems that result in death, either shortly before or just after birth.
In those rare cases, it is important that we respect their humanity and provide a dignified end of life while helping the parents and family to navigate a very difficult ending to what started as joyful expectation.
A Process of Tender Understanding and Loving Closure
Perinatal Hospice provides a support system for parents who receive a terminal diagnosis for their unborn child such as a lethal heart defect, Trisomy 18, limited brain development, or other conditions. Knowing that carrying to term will not mean carrying home a baby is, of course, heartbreaking, but it can be an awesome and uplifting experience, nonetheless.
Sometimes the child will die before it is born. Other times it will live just a few minutes, hours, or days, but that precious time can be filled with profound love.
Perinatal hospice is not a place but a process. Planning starts at the diagnosis with the parents fully involved. Basically, though, whether the child is born alive or stillborn, it is bathed, wrapped in blankets, and given to the parents to hold (and perhaps other family members). The baby is made comfortable with pain medication, if needed.
The grieving process is eased if the parents have something to remember, so they can take a lock of hair and photos, make a footprint mold or sing to the child — whatever is meaningful to the family, including prayer, the presence of clergy and a baptism. Then, the baby will pass away in the arms of its parents having known only love.
There will be a birth certificate, a death certificate and a funeral to validate the child’s existence. The parents could also provide the life-giving gift of donated organs.
Abortion Fixes Nothing
Most of the time, when parents are given an “incompatible with life” diagnosis, they are advised to abort the child. The abortion mentality justifies this action by claiming that that the child will be spared suffering, and that it is emotionally too distressing for the parents to continue the pregnancy.
In truth, the emotional toll of abortion is much worse. Parents who abort are left with the guilt and grief of having killed their own child. They do not usually get to see the child because it has been dismembered (causing excruciating pain) and discarded with the medical waste.
Sometimes, in a third trimester abortion (in which the child is stabbed through the heart with a needle, injected with a poison, and delivered intact), the parents will be allowed to hold their dead baby, but that’s it. There is no birth certificate, no organ donations, no death certificate, no funeral for closure, no photos or footprints, no lock of hair, no happy memories of love and comfort, just the possibility that the mother has been harmed by the procedure.
The reality of the situation is that abortion is promoted because the more people have abortions, the more normal and acceptable it becomes, and therefore more abortions will be sold by the billion-dollar abortion industry. Who cares if parents are left bereft if abortion can get one more stat in its favor?
Compare the two outcomes between abortion and perinatal hospice and it seems obvious which is the better choice.
Unfortunately, there are only about 250 programs in U.S. hospitals, although many more allow the parents to create their own experience. Still, Catholics and all who understand the value of the palliative concept need to request or initiate Perinatal Hospice in their communities.
The following resources provide further information:
Amy Kuebelbeck is the editor of this clearinghouse of information, including a list of American and international programs. She is also the author of A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby’s Life Is Expected to Be Brief and Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby’s Brief Life.
Articles in Catholic publications concerning Perinatal Hospice: