What if a baby is disabled or won’t live for long?

It is unjust to end a person’s life because they have a disability or are terminally ill.

If we allow for abortion in the cases of babies with terminal illness the door will soon be opened, as it has been in other countries, to aborting babies with varying degrees of disability. This can be seen in the UK where 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted.

The figures are similar for babies diagnosed with Spina Bifida. It is scary to think as medicine and technology advances and more learning disabilities can be detected, abortion will be encouraged more and more.

The term “fatal foetal abnormality” is often used to describe life-limiting conditions that are diagnosed in the womb. For example, anencephaly where the baby’s brain and skull don’t develop properly, Edward Syndrome and Patau Syndrome which are genetic disorders that affect the growth of several organs.

But “fatal foetal abnormality” is a misleading term as it leads us to believe that babies with these conditions won’t make it to birth or will die shortly after. In truth, doctors have no way of knowing how long these babies will live for. Some babies diagnosed prenatally with terminal illness will only live for a few minutes, hours or days. Babies with “fatal foetal abnormalities” may have a limited life span but many survive beyond birth.

Baby Eliot Mooney was diagnosed with Edward’s Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 18, two months before his due date. He was born with an undeveloped lung, a heart with a hole in it and DNA that placed faulty information into each and every cell of his body. He lived for 99 days.

Elaine Fagan, from Co. Limerick, is known to have been the longest survivor of Edward’s Syndrome in the world. When she was born her parents were told they wouldn’t be taking her home because she would only live for one day. She surpassed all medical expectation and lived to be 25. She was able to attend a special school for children with disabilities in Limerick and was able to communicate with her family through her eyes and used to laugh and smile when she was amused.

In Ireland today there are parents who have returned home after aborting their child with a terminal illness only to find out for the first time about the existence of perinatal hospice care as an alternative to abortion. There is tremendous support with perinatal hospice care for parents who won’t have a healthy baby.

Perinatal means “around the time of birth”. Organisations like One Day More enable families to make meaningful plans for their baby’s life, birth, and death, honoring the baby as well as the baby’s family.

There have also been cases of misdiagnosis where babies previously diagnosed with a disability or terminal illness have been born perfectly healthy.