Newcastle: Ethics at the beginning of life – prenatal screening, IVF and abortion – Juliet Smith

One of the greatest things about CMDFA is the huge scope of knowledge and expertise brought to the table by everyone involved. United by the common faith in Jesus Christ, it places us in such a valuable and unique position to help and learn from each other in both our spiritual and professional lives.

In light of the recent political changes to abortion laws and our close contact with the issue as health professionals, we thought it would be encouraging to meet and share what the situation was like from the perspective of Christian professionals in the field. When being a Christian means going against the general population’s beliefs it can be very isolating and scary, not to mention much more difficult to hold true to God’s word. As it explains in Hebrews, this is why it is so important to gather and use our individual expertise to encourage each other to stand firm.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10: 23-25 NIV)

Selina Stewart shared how Zoe’s Place is creating a free, safe, biblical environment for mothers considering abortion to be counselled through the decision. They focus on a parenting first approach, but ultimately love, support and advocacy are given to each patient at such a vulnerable time. The goal is to give “Time to Pause” for a decision that is often pressured by dates, family, and society’s expectations. Time can be exactly what is needed in such an uncertain period.

“…beginning of life seems to be getting more complicated with all the tests and reproductive technologies that each have significant ethical issues…”

Zoe’s Place are also in the process of offering post-abortion counselling, which is particularly important in loving and supporting these women. This especially when they are likely to feel judged and rejected by the church. It was so encouraging to hear that these kinds of services are available to help women practically in these situations.

However, as technology advances, the beginning of life seems to be getting more complicated with all the tests and reproductive technologies that each have significant ethical issues. Could these also be adding to to society’s view of abortion?

Professor Craig Pennell (Professor of MFM, chair of O&G, School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, a subspecialist in Maternal Foetal Medicine at John Hunter and a principal researcher at HMRI amongst other things) shared with us advances and principles behind some of these reproductive technologies and prenatal tests. For example, first trimester screening, although famous for identifying Down syndrome risk, includes many other valuable tests that have nothing to do with chromosomal abnormalities – checking the cervix, uterus, placenta, dates, structural abnormalities, preeclampsia etc. These checks may be easily done without the chromosome screening, potentially avoiding a lot of unneeded stress and anxiety about risks and subsequent abortions.

We were also invited to consider how reproductive technologies may be contributing to infertility. When compared with trying to conceive naturally, reproductive technologies offer more rapid solutions for conception difficulties, but also allow people who otherwise would not be able to conceive children to reproduce. This could then pass on these fertility issues to the next generation, creating a dependence on these technologies.

Craig also highlighted the importance of the first discussion about pregnancy issues and abortion. The views first presented by a health professional on the matter set the trajectory for the final decision. Therefore, we should take care in our wording and provide a balanced view.

Question time and supper after the presentations allowed us to continue to discuss the issues with each other and share personal experiences. I always find these times of fellowship so encouraging – to hear how God is working in those around you and how it is possible to be faithful to God and be a good doctor. It is discussing controversial issues, like those discussed above, in a safe environment that has helped me reach a well-informed, biblical view about them, drawing on the experience and wisdom of the Christians around me.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)

Juliet Smith
Juliet is a second year medical student at the University of Newcastle. She has enjoyed attending CMDFA events. She helped organise this ethics event, finding it very rewarding with her particular interest in obstetrics and gynaecology.
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