The Hippocratic Oath is perhaps the most widely known of Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear that he will uphold a number of professional ethical standards. In the oath, a physician swears:
To hold him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents, to be a partner in life with him, and to fulfill his needs when required; to look upon his offspring as equals to my own siblings, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or contract; and that by the set rules, lectures, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to students bound by this contract and having sworn this Oath to the law of medicine, but to no others.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
Sadly, we live in a day and age where that oath has become null and void for some doctors.
Consider this case … a couple with a new baby on the way are excited at the news. The baby was already 20 weeks gestation and Hannah Boland’s two toddlers were excited about the prospects of a sibling.
“Your husband isn’t with you?” The doctor looked concerned. Hannah Boland had decided to go alone for her follow-up appointment.
“I like having the husband or partner present in these sorts of situations. We detected a problem with your baby’s scan,” the doctor continued. “There seems to be a problem with his brain.”
The baby’s brain had not developed, the doctor explained. The condition could not be altered. It was unlikely he would be born alive. If he survived birth, he would have a few, short, painful moments to live.
Their baby Stephen was diagnosed with Alobar HPE at the 20 week ultrasound scan. There was continued pressure put on the family to terminate the pregnancy, for according to medical staff, Stephen’s life had no value. There was no certainty that he would be born alive, and if he was, he may live for a few moments, a few days, or even several years. In any event, he would never progress beyond the ability level of a newborn child, and would potentially suffer from major complications such as seizures, uncontrollable body temperature, feeding and sleeping difficulties and fluid on the brain, to name a few.
That news was shocking enough but Hannah says that what came next was more shocking: doctors decided that Hannah should have an abortion because the baby wouldn’t live long. Worse, one physician suggested that Hannah and her husband just let their baby starve to death.
Abortion was never an option for the Bolands. “With our first child, we went through those questions because they can do prenatal testing.” Those tests were “a waste of time,” she said. “We knew that that was not something God would want us to do…Who are we to say that that person is not worthy to live?”
Almost every doctor they met recommended an abortion. Hannah says one doctor said at a consultation, “Tell me why I am here? I don’t even know why I am here. There is no hope for your baby. No. None. There is a 99.9 percent chance of your baby dying right after he is born. It is likely that he will just gurgle a little and then die. I won’t even be present at his birth; there is no point.”
The doctors also thought there was no point in giving the baby oxygen in the event that he lived after birth. One doctor suggested simply letting the baby starve.
Prayers and tears were all the couple was left with. They loved their son and wanted what was best for him. They had to decide on their own what that would mean.
Thankfully, Hannah and her husband let their baby live.
Knowing that “every child is a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3), Hannah and Michael fought for Stephen’s well-being even up to the hour of his birth. By the grace of God, Hannah and Michael were able to enjoy 47 precious hours with their son before he passed into the presence of his heavenly father.
The birth took three days. When Stephen was born, “he stunned the theater staff with his loud, healthy cry. It was a far cry from the gurgling, dying cry they had expected to see,” Hannah recounted in a book she later published about her son.
Their son looked healthy and beautiful. Tears rolled down Michael’s cheek and family members trickled in and out to meet and cuddle the new baby. Stephen’s brother and sister were excited to meet him, but too young to fully process what was going on. They only understood that he was very sick.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of Stephen’s birth. Hannah has written an account of his life, “47 Hours with a Prince.”
“I want to help people in the way I have been helped,” she says, explaining that a Christian counselor helped her though the many months of grieving that followed the death of Stephen. She hopes to help those with emotional illness, noting, “the emotional side of us is just as prone to illness as any part of us.”
Hannah’s book, ’47 Hours with a Prince’ shares her emotional, physical and spiritual journey from the time she fell pregnant through to the birth and death of their son, and the months of grief to follow. Her book overflows with her love for Jesus and her experience of the grace of God in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. Her message to readers is that God truly is purposeful in all of his creation. She also gives advice and guidance to family and friends of those suffering in difficult circumstances, of how to best support and care for loved ones.