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By John-Henry Westen and Steve Jalsevac

February 24, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The LifeSiteNews.com exposé on a London Catholic hospital terminating pregnancies of babies diagnosed with severe disabilities was the subject of a full-page 2216 word article in the National Post Saturday (see https://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=1313034).  Author Charles Lewis chose to emphasize mainly one side of the argument, that of Fr. Michael Prieur of the Diocese of London Ontario, which approves at St. Joseph’s hospital use of a procedure called “early induction” on babies who are deemed to have ‘lethal fetal anomalies.’ Despite statements and claims in the Post article that appeared to contradict the LifeSiteNews report, we continue to stand by our thoroughly researched investigative report (https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/dec/08121111.html).
 
The St. Joseph’s procedure – “early induction” of unborn babies with “lethal fetal anomalies” – refers to artificially causing the child to be born prematurely at 21 weeks – earlier than any child could survive without extreme medical intervention. The ethical overseer of the procedure, Fr. Michael Prieur, confirmed to LifeSiteNews that the hospital does not provide such care for these induced children with lethal fetal anomalies once they are born.  Therefore, the Catholic hospital is, via “early induction,” directly causing the early deaths of these children.
 
Children with ‘lethal fetal anomalies’ are severely disabled, to the degree that if they survive to term they will likely die within a few months, days or even hours of being born.  However, the Catholic Church’s stand on the sanctity of life is such that no matter how disabled the person, they retain the right to life, regardless of how brief that life might be. Occasionally, these children live significantly longer than the experts’ predictions and the parents are able to treasure their presence for that extra time.
 
The St. Joseph’s Hospital and diocesan approval of the procedure is based upon the opinions of Fr. Prieur who, in addition to being the chief ethicist for the Diocese of London, is the leading bioethics consultant within the Canadian Catholic medical establishment. To confirm its findings, LifeSiteNews.com obtained and published the complete London hospital’s protocols for the procedure that were written by Fr. Prieur.  (See the 1997 version of the guidelines: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008_docs/earlyinductionIC8.pdf; See the 2006 version at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008_docs/EarlyInductionEthicalGuidelinesMay2006.pdf )
 
Moreover, LifeSiteNews.com conducted an extensive interview with Fr. Prieur for the story.  We also spoke with Catholic medical experts in the field and ethicists – all of whom disagreed with Fr. Prieur’s approach. Pro-life and anti-euthanasia leaders also condemned the practice.
 
Dr. Paul Byrne, a neonatologist and former President of the Catholic Medical Association, told us of babies diagnosed with lethal fetal anomaly: “Every time I have been contacted over the many years that I have practiced neonatology, I instruct and encourage the mother to keep the baby in the uterus. It does not help the baby or the mother to deliver early.”
 
Dr. Byrne suggests that babies in utero with a lethal fetal anomaly are “not dying, but living in the mother’s womb.” He adds that “they will die quicker if brought outside the uterus.” Dr. Byrne concluded: “Killing is killing even when the baby has an abnormality and short gestation. We must not hasten or impose death. Sometimes when the baby gets out after natural labor, they live better than predicted.”  (see coverage: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/dec/08121111.html )
 
Nearly a dozen attempts were made to contact Bishop Ronald Fabbro for his response on the matter. After delaying the story for over a week expecting some comment, we were informed by Mark Adkinson, communications director at the Diocese, that there would be no comment from the Bishop’s office.  We did interview the former Bishop of London, who originally approved the procedure twenty years ago. He would only say that he placed his trust in Fr. Prieur.  
 
After the release of the original LifeSiteNews report, another moral ethicist, this time from Rome, weighed in on the debate, condemning the practice as a form of euthanasia.  Moreover, a local Catholic ob/gyn condemned what was taking place at the Catholic hospital, calling it a form of late-term abortion (https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009/jan/09010708.html).
 
Dr. Michael Shannon, a Catholic obstetrician/gynecologist who practices in Kitchener Ontario told LifeSiteNews.com that despite the hardships, “the teaching of the Catholic Church is clear – pregnancy termination for whatever reason is just that – pregnancy termination.”
 
The guidelines from St. Joseph’s say that early induction may only be performed “after viability.” Dr. Shannon, however, says, “To wait until viability is reached (approximately 23 to 24 weeks gestation) and intervene by terminating the pregnancy for non-medical indications is still abortion (just done later in the pregnancy).”
 
When LifeSiteNews called again for comment from the Bishop’s office, communications director Mark Adkinson said LSN would not be getting a comment from the Bishop.  
 
When asked if the Bishop would make comment to the Toronto Star, or another agency, Adkinson said that if “I was contacted by a legitimate news outlet, then the diocese would have a comment on it.”
 
In Saturday’s National Post report Fr. Prieur attempts to portray the procedure as being done only when a mother’s life is in danger.  However, that is not the reality of either the condition of “lethal fetal anomalies” nor of the advice he has given to mothers carrying a child with the diagnosis.
 
LSN spoke with two mothers who were carrying children diagnosed with lethal fetal anomalies whose lives were not in danger, and who were not seeking pregnancy termination, but were nevertheless advised by Fr. Prieur to go ahead with pregnancy termination via “early induction.” One of these women was advised to do so by Fr. Prieur directly, and another by her spiritual director, who consulted with Fr. Prieur and was told by Fr. Prieur that pregnancy termination was an acceptable option.
 
A lethal fetal anomaly is a medical condition of the child, not the mother.  Therefore, for the most part, such anomalies do not threaten the life of the mother. The Post story states: “One-third of the deaths of pregnant women is caused by lethal fetal anomalies.”  This is simply false according to the experts consulted by LifeSiteNews.
 
It is fully accepted in the pro-life movement that it is morally permissible to perform necessary life-saving treatment on a pregnant woman, even if that treatment would unintentionally cause the death of the unborn child she carries. This is also the position of LifeSiteNews.com.  However, that does not appear to be the issue in the London Catholic hospital controversy.
 
St. Joseph’s hospital admits to committing these inductions for psychological reasons, which clearly contravenes Catholic standards.  Even the Post article reveals that St. Joseph’s performs early inductions for psychological reasons of the mother. It is common knowledge among experienced pro-life leaders that the term “psychological reasons” is often liberally interpreted beyond all reasonableness to justify unethical medical procedures, especially when they concern the lives of unborn children.
 
This use of psychological reasons is opposed to Catholic teaching according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops committee, which dealt with the matter.  Speaking of one of the most severe cases of lethal fetal anomaly, anencephaly, the USCCB said “it is clear that before ‘viability’ it is never permitted to terminate the gestation of an anencephalic child as the means of avoiding psychological or physical risks to the mother. Nor is such termination permitted after ‘viability’ if early delivery endangers the child’s life due to complications of prematurity.” (see the document here: https://www.usccb.org/dpp/anencephaly.htm )
 
The National Post reports that 8 to 10 early inductions are performed yearly at the Catholic hospital.  It reports further the comment of Bishop Fabbro that LifeSiteNews was unable to obtain.  
 
“I know that an early induction of labour is not an abortion. There is a clear ethical distinction,” Fabbro told the Post. “If I were in doubt about that, then I would think I would have to take steps to stop the practice now. But because it has been raised and because it has raised questions, we have to look at it. [In doing early induction] there has to be an ethical judgment made because you have the health of the woman, the health of the child, and you have to balance that against the risk that you’re exposing the fetus to through the early induction of labour. Those are complex ethical things and the hospital has to satisfy the public that we are treating this very seriously.”
 
The Bishop’s opinion, as expressed in the National Post and reflecting his confidence in the advice of his chief ethicist, must be weighed against that of the National Bioethics Center, which includes a board of directors including four US Cardinals, in addition to bishops and archbishops.  (see the board members: https://www.ncbcenter.org/board.asp )
 
The bottom line for the NCBC in their statement on early induction is, “Early induction of labor before term (37 weeks) to relieve emotional distress hastens the death of the child as a means of achieving this presumed good effect and unjustifiably deprives the child of the good of gestation. Moreover, this distress is amenable to psychological support such as is offered in perinatal hospice. Lastly, induction of labor before term performed simply for the reason that the child has a lethal anomaly is direct abortion.” (see the full statement here: https://www.ncbcenter.org/04-03-11-EarlyInduction.asp )
 
In the coming days LifeSiteNews.com will be providing further evidence on this case. As Drudge Report would say: developing . . .

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