Hospice for newborns: When birth meets death

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The Cortez Journal | April 17, 2016

The baby who would soon die arrived at 34 weeks, eyes shut, squawking. Her father cut the umbilical cord with a pair of silver scissors. A priest in blue scrubs sprinkled holy water on her forehead. A photographer circled the delivery room, capturing her last moments.

And Cathleen Warner quietly marveled: My baby is crying.

The doctor had said the infant’s lungs could never fill with air. Prenatal testing five months earlier had revealed a chromosomal abnormality called trisomy 18. “Incompatible with life,” the physician told her on the Saturday phone call. Warner had dropped to her knees in the kitchen.

Now the baby’s heartbeat was fading. But she was still breathing. Perhaps they’d have at least five minutes together, Warner thought. She kissed the newborn’s cheeks, just like she’d envisioned, and prepared to say goodbye.

This is perinatal hospice, a birth plan that revolves around death. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated diagnostics, families today can confront tragedy with advance notice – and a decision: Should they terminate a pregnancy that cannot sustain life? Or deliver a baby who won’t survive long outside the womb?

This dilemma is steadily creeping into America’s abortion debate, with some Republican lawmakers using perinatal hospice as a political tool. Over the past decade, antiabortion activists have worked with legislators to push the care model into mainstream consciousness, promoting bills they hope will steer women away from a procedure they consider murder.

Last month, Indiana became the sixth state to require doctors to…

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