Senate Hearing Explores In-Utero Surgery, "Baby Samuel" Picture

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 27, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Hearing Explores In-Utero Surgery, "Baby Samuel" Picture

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 27, 2003

Washington, DC ( — Three years ago, the picture of Samuel Armas clasping a doctor’s finger captured the attention of the nation and excited the pro-life community.

That picture, taken during an in-utero surgery at a hospital at Vanderbilt University, was the focus of attention again — this time at a Senate committee hearing exploring the scientific and medical advances of surgery on unborn children.

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing, chaired by pro-life Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), included both Armas and his parents.

"Have you seen this picture of you?" Brownback asked Samuel.

"They fixed my boo-boo," he replied.

Senator Brownback stated in his introduction, "There is little debate about whether the child in utero is alive; the debate is over whether or not the child is a life worthy of protection."

Samuel had been diagnosed with spina bifida just weeks into the pregnancy. His parents, Julie and Alex Armas, chose to try a relatively new procedure aimed at reducing the effects of spina bifida.

The operation was performed just 21 weeks after conception.

The debilitating disease damages the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis or weakness of the legs, bowel and bladder incontinence, neurological impairments and learning disabilities. Nearly all children born with spina bifida must undergo surgery to implant permanent shunts — thin tubes that remove excess fluid that could otherwise cause brain damage.

"We were told that at least half of all babies with spina bifida are aborted, but abortion was never an option for us," Julie Armas explained.

"We wanted people to know that there is an educated, professional couple out there who love and value their child even though he is ‘defective’ by society’s definition," Armas said. "No matter what Samuel’s outcome is, we know that God has allowed him to impact others with a photograph of his tiny, unborn hand."

The hearing also featured photographer Michael Clancy, who gained national attention when the picture of Armas was published.

The revolutionary new surgery is not just changing the lives of children with spina bifida or even just their parents. The photographer of Samuel’s outstretched arm said the experience has changed his life.

The Armases agreed to let Clancy, a Nashville freelance photographer, take pictures of the Aug. 19 operation. Clancy’s now-famous photo of Samuel’s hand was published in newspapers around the world.

The 43-year-old photographer, who had never before taken pictures of a surgical operation, said, "It has made a pro-lifer out of me."

Clancy said he hadn’t realized abortions could legally be performed into the fifth month of pregnancy and later. In fact, abortions are legal until a day before birth.

"It’s an amazing experience," he said.

Another hearing witness, Dr. James Thorp, told senators he has done successful surgeries on babies of just 19 weeks gestation — "even balloon angioplasty of certain valves within the fetus within the womb."

"From something so terrible to begin with, we never considered that a diagnosis like that could mean blessings," Alex said.

"But the way things have worked out, the photograph is the least of this, as far as we are concerned. Our whole reason for deciding to agree to the photograph has been fulfilled on a larger scale than we could ever have dreamed. People have found out about the surgery, and we are happy with that."

Related web sites:
Senator Brownback’s Opening Statement –
Photojournalist Michael Clancy –