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We make amazing medical advances for babies, not for 'clumps of cells'

Conservative Review

There’s some happy news in the medical headlines today, as the Cleveland Clinic has joined other top hospitals in successfully performing prenatal surgery to repair spina bifida in utero.

A press release from the clinic details that a child who received the surgery from a team of specialists was born “near full term” earlier this month and that “mother and daughter are doing well.”

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, director of fetal surgery in the Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Center. “There are different measures of quality in determining success for fetal repairs and in this particular case, all metrics for maximum quality were achieved.”

The procedure is similar to a less invasive one recently performed in the United Kingdom, where doctors only had to make three small holes in the mother’s abdomen and womb to fix the child’s spine.

Here’s a video representation of how the surgery worked:

However, Cass also said, “Although the surgery was a success, spina bifida is never cured,” and “moving forward, the baby will require ongoing supportive care provided by a multidisciplinary team of caregivers in our Spina Bifida Clinic.”

Nevertheless, this is still wonderful news for the baby, her family, and other parents on the receiving end of a similar diagnosis. But this news also is also quite instructive for our ongoing debate about the right to life, especially for those facing life with disabilities.

Under a different set of circumstances, after all, this child could easily have been targeted for abortion because of that diagnosis. Her mother would even have found support for killing her among those who in the past few months have defended the selective abortion of people with disabilities, like the opponents of Indiana’s anti-eugenics abortion law, for example, or perhaps among those who openly wonder why a family wouldn’t want to kill a kid with a challenging diagnosis.

But joyful stories like this one remind us that we aren’t just talking about abstract clumps of cells when we discuss those still living in the womb; we’re talking about human beings with their whole lives ahead of them. We're talking about lives that matter, lives that are worth pushing the boundaries of medical science for, regardless of their circumstances.

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