At the recent annual conference of the Catholic Medical Association, I presented a paper titled “Love and Healing.” It was most encouraging to observe the strong and courageous witness for life expressed by well over 300 participants, including many members of the medical profession.
It was also gratifying to see so many faithful Catholics in prayer, at the podium and in friendly conversation. Most came away from the conference, I believe, with renewed energy and a firmer resolve to work harder, in this darkening night, for the cause of life.
It is impossible to do justice to the depth and breadth of this gathering of committed pro-lifers in a brief column, but I would like to focus on two diametrically opposed true stories related at the conference that put the clash between the culture of life and the culture of death into sharp perspective.
Dr. E. Joanne Angelo of Tufts University School of Medicine spoke of suffering from a psychiatric perspective. One particular story she related was especially heartbreaking, but its retelling is justified because it reveals most clearly how choice alone can be a pathway to tragedy.
“Bob,” as Angelo referred to him, was married and desirous of becoming a father. When his wife became pregnant, he rejoiced. His wife, however, did not share his enthusiasm. She felt the time was not right for her to have a child.
Despite his urgings and pleas, she went ahead with her abortion. Time passed. Bob’s wife became pregnant again. The same scene played out. Bob begged his wife not to abort their child.
His wife, who firmly believed in “choice,” aborted the second child.
When Bob’s wife became pregnant a third time, he was overjoyed that his wife chose to have the child. Bob lavished the love he had for three children on this one child.
Perhaps, as Othello lamented, he “loved not wisely but too well.” A strain was placed on the marriage. Divorce followed.
Bob’s wife was granted custody of the child. He was utterly devastated. He told his therapist that he had three of his children “ripped from his heart.”
Bob could find neither solace nor relief from his pain. He ended it all by shooting himself in the head. His final act was a choice, but, like his wife’s two abortions, not a choice for life.
Abortion is never a closed and isolated act.
In writing about the effects of abortion in his novel Couples, John Updike states that “Death, once invited in, leaves his muddy bootprints everywhere.”
Bob’s suicide, his “self-abortion,” is not recorded, in any way, as a consequence of abortion. Yet the pathway from his wife’s two abortions to his own demise was paved with the same stones. If moral choice is unyoked from service of life, it will initiate a trail of death.
A happier story centers on Patrizia Durante, as told by Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk. In 2001, in Montreal, Durante was 27 weeks into her first pregnancy. Tests revealed that she had acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer.
Chemotherapy began immediately, but when she did not respond to the treatment, doctors decided to induce labor so that higher doses could be administered without harming the baby.
At 31 weeks’ gestation, a healthy Victoria Angel was born. Stem cells were collected from blood in her umbilical cord and preserved in liquid nitrogen.
Her mother, however, was now in grave danger. Dr. Pierre Laneuville decided, as a last resort, to perform the cord cell transplant. These cells from the umbilical cord replenished Durante’s bone marrow and cured her leukemia.
Victoria Angel saved her mother’s life. The ecstatic and grateful mom said: “I gave life to my daughter, and she gave life back to me.”
Good choices create a pathway to continued good. Good choices are inspired by love that is directed to life.
Loveless choices that turn on themselves as nothing more than self-justifying decisions cannot produce a culture of life.
The contrast between the tragic fate of Bob, his first two children and his marriage, on the one hand, and the joyful outcome of Patrizia Durante and her little girl, on the other, should reveal to any sane person that moral choices should always be in the service of love.
Not all choices are equal!
Life is a great gift. But in the absence of a supporting love, it becomes a withering flower.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University
and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary and Mater Ecclesiae College.