Editor’s Note: In February, we inadvertently ran only half of Donald DeMarco’s column. We are publishing the article in its entirety this month.
I attended the Catholic Medical Association Conference in Springfield, Ill., last October, and presented a paper entitled, “Love and Healing.” It was most encouraging to observe the strong and courageous witness for life expressed by well over 300 participants including many members of the medical profession. Most came away from the conference, I believe, with renewed energy and a firmer resolve to work harder, in this darkening night, for the cause of life.
It is impossible to do justice to the depth and breadth of this gathering of committed pro-lifers in a brief column, but I would like to focus on two diametrically opposed true stories related at the conference that put the clash between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death in sharp perspective.
Dr. E. Joanne Angelo, M.D., from Tufts University School of Medicine, spoke of suffering from a psychiatric perspective. One particular story was especially heartbreaking, but its re-telling was justified because it revealed most clearly how choice alone can be a pathway to tragedy.
“Bob,” as Dr. Angelo referred to him, was married and desirous of becoming a father. When his wife became pregnant, he rejoiced. His wife, however, did not share his enthusiasm and felt that it was not the right time for her to have a child. Despite his urgings and pleas, she went ahead with her abortion. Time passed. Bob’s wife became pregnant again. The same scene played out. Bob begged his wife not to abort their child. His wife, who firmly believed in “choice,” aborted the second child.
When Bob’s wife became pregnant for a third time, he was overjoyed that his wife chose to have the child. Bob lavished the love he had for three children on this one child. Perhaps, as Othello lamented he “loved not wisely but too well.” A strain was placed on the marriage and led to divorce. Bob’s wife was granted custody of the child. He was utterly devastated. He told his therapist that he had three of his children “ripped from his heart.”
Bob could not find solace or relief from his pain. He ended it all by shooting himself in the head. His final act was a choice, but like his wife’s two abortions, was not a choice for life. Abortion is never a closed and isolated act. In writing about the effects of abortion in his novel, Couples, John Updike states that “Death, once invited in, leaves his muddy bootprints everywhere.”
Bob’s suicide, his “self-abortion,” is not recorded, in any way, as a consequence of abortion. Yet, the pathway from his wife’s two abortions and his own demise is paved with the same stones. If moral choice is unyoked from the service of life, it will initiate a trail of death.
A happier story centers on Patrizia Durante, as told by Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph. D. In 2001, in Montreal, Durante was 27 weeks into her first pregnancy. Tests revealed that she had acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer. Chemotherapy began immediately, but when Patrizia did not respond to the treatment, doctors decided to induce labor so that higher doses could be administered without harming the baby.
At 31 weeks gestation, a healthy Victoria Angel was born, and her umbilical cord blood stem cells were collected and preserved in liquid nitrogen. Patrizia, however, was now in grave danger. Dr. Pierre Laneuville decided, as a last resort, to perform the cord cell transplant. These cells from the umbilical cord replenished Mrs. Durante’s bone marrow and cured her leukemia. Victoria and Angel saved her mother’s life. An ecstatic and grateful mom, Patrizia said: “I gave life to my daughter, and she gave life back to me.”
Good choices create a pathway to continued good. Good choices are inspired by love that is directed to life. Loveless choices that turn on themselves as nothing more than self-justifying choices cannot produce of Culture of Life.
The contrast between the tragic fate of Bob, his first two children, and his marriage, on the one hand, and the joyful outcome of Patrizia Durante and her little girl, on the other, should reveal to any sane person that moral choices always be in the service of love. Not all choices are equal.
Life is a great gift. But in the absence of a supporting love, it becomes a withering flower.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.