Saturday, May 28, 2016
Perinatal hospice care has been getting increasing media attention in recent months (including a Washington Post article last month). These programs provide hospice and palliative care for infants who have been born with severe, life-shortening conditions--major anomalies in the brain, kidneys, or other organs--that mean they will live a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or in some cases a few weeks. Until recently parents who received such a diagnosis prenatally were commonly advised to terminate the pregnancy so they could "start over" as soon as possible. But in the last 15 years, programs have grown up around the country, and elsewhere in the world, that provide services--mostly social and psychological services for the family, along with palliative care for the child--so that parents who determine to give birth in these circumstances can make the most of the brief time with their child. There are a little more than 200 programs in the U.S., many (but definitely not all) housed in the maternity/neonatal facilities of hospitals. You can find a remarkable video about perinatal hospice services here, and a treasure trove of information and resources at perinatalhospice.org.
This week Pope Francis commended the perinatal hospice at Gemelli Hospital in Rome, one of four such programs in Italy, in a message to a conference on perinatal care held at the hospital. According to Vatican Radio, the Pope, among other things,
expressed his hope for the continued success of the project “in the service of the person and in the progress of medical science, in constant reference to perennial human and Christian values.” He noted [the staff's] efforts in “seeking to respond in the best possible way to the poverty which is the situation of the child with grave pathologies, with the greatest possible love...."
There has been a bit of controversy, noted in the Post article, over state laws that require doctors giving a prenatal diagnosis of one of these conditions to inform the parents about perinatal hospice options. Any such controversy should not sweep in, or undercut support for, the perinatal hospice programs themselves. Their work, providing vital services to parents who decide to give birth, should appeal to both pro-life and pro-choice people.