Saturday, May 26, 2007

Growing trend: burying miscarried and aborted babies

The Globe and Mail had an article today on the growing trend of burying miscarried and aborted babies.

I am glad to see this article. One of the arguments used against the sociological recognition of the personhood of the unborn child is that people don't generally hold funerals for their dead unborn babies.

While it's true that this article plays down the recognition of the humanity of the unborn child, it certainly points to a greater respect for the unborn.

Yet across Canada and in other parts of the Western world, the modern miscarriage has birthed a new and potentially incendiary brand of perinatal bereavement.

A growing number of women and their advocates, many of them staunchly pro-choice, are pushing for the formal recognition of the miscarried fetus as a symbol of their grief and loss. In some cases, they're seeking out these rites even when, for medical reasons, they have chosen to terminate the pregnancy.

But the fetal funeral could be a Pandora's Box. Some graveyards and funeral-home staff have been reluctant to bury remains for which no burial permit can be issued. Medical staff worry it may push patients to dwell on losses they would rather forget. More profoundly, holding funerals for fetuses raises implicit, uncomfortable questions about when life begins.


Indeed, the Campaign Life Coalition, the political wing of Canada's anti-abortion movement, considers the trend a sign of “society's progression.” Jim Hughes, Campaign Life's national president, recently attended two funerals for fetuses miscarried before 20 weeks. He applauds the trend, regardless of whether those involved consider themselves pro-choice. “This is their little shot at recognizing this was a human being that was a part of their family.”

The people supporting fetal funerals – some of whom are lobbying government officials to help make the rites more readily available – feel their efforts should have no impact whatsoever on the legal status of life before birth. (Tina Burden, for example, says that she is generally pro-choice.) They say that being pro-choice should include allowing women to choose how they view the potential life growing within them and how to treat its loss.

It is not a mourning of the entity, per se, but the emotional investment already made in the idea of that child and planning for that potential life and the future,” said Lise Ferguson, executive director of Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario (PBSO), a non-profit charity that has taken a lead role in educating health and funeral staff on the issue.

Wait a minute-- you spend all this money to mourn an idea? I would not want that woman having anything to do with the funeral of my unborn child. When I lost my unborn children, I did not mourn an idea, a concept, or a potential child. I mourned the loss of my child, my flesh and blood.

“Funerals are for the living,” said Ms. Colford, who even raised the issue with front-running candidates at last fall's Liberal leadership convention. “Yes, it touches on the political question of when life begins, but women deserve to be treated with kindness. … If I want to think of it as a baby, name my baby and have a burial, I should be able to do that.”

Again with the poor-choice discomfort of saying what a fetus is. The notion that you can think of it as a baby, but I don't, is philosophical relativism that is morally dangerous. Think of it: do we get the option of thinking of newborns, or people of different ethnic backgrounds as being a human being? No-- we are morally obliged to acknowledge their humanity, both intellectually and in practice.

Since most provinces do not recognize the fetus as a person until after 20 weeks gestation or 500 grams in weight, Ms. Ferguson said, hospitals and funeral officials often feel that they are not supposed to treat pregnancy losses before 20 weeks as deaths.

Nice slip. No jurisdiction recognizes the personhood of the unborn child until birth. But it's nice to think that people could make that mistake, right?

Typically, the prospective parents never see what happens to the fetus. When Valerie Diren-Lear lost her pregnancy at 19 weeks on Christmas Day, 2001, she was able to hold “a fully formed little girl” in her arms. She and her husband, Peter, were so devastated that when the nurses said they would take care of everything, she thought, “Yes, that's what I want – someone else to take care of everything,” she said.

“You don't think that means, ‘We are going to burn your baby along with the trash.' ”

But a few weeks later she learned the remains of the daughter she named Sophie Rose were incinerated with general hospital refuse, “with gallbladders and amputated toes, or whatever … and the ashes were sent somewhere up in Northern Ontario. I felt awfully guilty. … I let them do this thing to my baby.”

That should be a crime. But in fact, there is more sensitivity on the issue.

A PBSO volunteer, Ms. Diren-Lear often describes her experience to hospital staff in the hopes others will be spared the same fate. But more than that, she wants a standardized policy that would set out in writing the burial or disposal options open to women who miscarry in every Ontario health-care facility.

“But it's a difficult topic,” she acknowledged. “We met with our MPP and he didn't want to touch it because it was too close to the abortion topic.


“I'm not religious,” she stressed. “But I think it should be up to the parents to decide what to do with the life they started. … Even at two weeks, it's not ‘nothing.' It's all your hopes and dreams.”

Again with the symbolism. My baby was not a "hope and dream". He was my flesh and blood.

Besides, Mr. Richer readily agreed, “This is an opportunity for business – why would they say no?”

Cardinal Funeral Homes, for example, now supplies kits to five Toronto-area hospitals that include a brochure with burial options for couples who miscarry.

I'm more than happy to oblige the funeral industry, but I would hope that those involved would not only acknowledge the loss of the parents, but the actual death of a real human being.

Mr. Buchanan, a 25-year veteran of the industry, along with another funeral-home operator and the Regional Health Authority have made a deal to handle the “products of conception” up to 20 weeks.

Where's a barf icon when you need one?

“We're trying to meet a need that's never been met,” Mr. Buchanan said. “I think it's a realization that this product means something and in the past it was just regarded as a piece of flesh, and there's a realization that it's not a piece of flesh – it's a child to a parent, as soon as conception takes place.”

"Product" means something? What?

“We sat and talked to her and sobbed and told her that we loved her and how our lives would never be the same without her. ...

I'm telling you...It's only a matter of time before we acknowledge the personhood of the unborn child. You don't love a baby like that and not say she's not a person.

Ms. Held rejects the idea that the advent of fetus funerals could compromise the pro-choice movement: “How is this still not a matter of personal choice? If I call this a baby, you call this a baby. If I call it a fetus, you take your cues from the person who has suffered the loss. We have to separate legalese from human emotion and decisions.”

That is intellectually untenable. Human emotion and legalese do not determine what a thing is.

“It is unkind to force a woman to carry a baby that's dying.”

And so to be kind to a woman, we have to take an innocent baby's life. Nice.

Ms. Ferguson said PBSO anticipates women and couples will soon be commemorating the loss of unused embryos created at fertility clinics: “An embryo in dry ice for four or five years can be as much as a baby as a newborn is to parents,” she said. “It's not weird or bizarre to feel that grief.”

Again with the relativism.

“People can wonder how you can be concerned about embryos after only two hours,” she said. But Ms. Ferguson had planned a career change, and started a college fund for her unborn children when they were mere cells in a dish.

Nope, no recognition of their personhood whatsoever...

I am very concerned about the pro-abort bias in this article. It seems as if the fetus is being re-cast as something important, but not quite a human being. The principle of non-contradiction is repeatedly violated through relativism: what's a fetus for you can be a baby for me. That doesn't work in the real world. You can't say that's a human being for you, but not for me. We can't make humanity a relativistic proposition.

The average Canadian, who does not subscribe to post-modern gobbledygook will come to see that this. So in a way, an article like this is rather heartening. The notion that you can mourn a fetus like a baby, but that it doesn't have the same social or legal standing as a baby, will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny. This article was all heart and emotion, not analysis. Once people analyze what they read, they will understand that the conclusions about the fetus are untenable.

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