God can guide you through the most challenging decisions
5 MINUTE READ
I have often felt quite isolated as a Christian in the field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I have one foot firmly implanted in my faith, whilst the other is also firm in my convictions regarding the importance of women’s healthcare and equity in the access to health education and contraception.
What I am clear about is that despite the challenges that I have been and will continue to be faced with, God wants me here. He has made that abundantly clear over the many years that it has taken to qualify in this specialty. I do, however, live in constant fear of becoming desensitised to these incredibly important ethical issues and ‘making a mistake’ as a Christian – not following what God would ‘want’ me to do.
I often get very frustrated at the black-and-white position that many Christians hold on the issue of abortion. The unfortunate reality is that it is very rarely black-and-white; it is a spectrum of greys and it is here that I stand in my opinion.
“I often get very frustrated at the black-and-white position that many Christians hold on the issue of abortion. The unfortunate reality is that it is very rarely black-and-white; it is a spectrum of greys and it is here that I stand in my opinion”.
Every time an issue surrounding abortion rears its head in a patient’s journey, I attempt to navigate it with my focus on one thing – God. That is, of course, on top of asking myself once again why I went into this specialty as a Christian – imposter syndrome is very real! However, each time God gently leads me by the hand and makes the path clear.
There are so many real-life examples that I have encountered during my journey in this field that illustrate not only the shades of grey, but also how, in each situation, having our focus on God as health practitioners is the only way forward, not a blanket set of rules.
A lovely Christian couple came to me for routine antenatal care for their first pregnancy. On the 13 week gestational ultrasound, it was found that the baby had a severe neural tube defect called anencephaly. For those unaware of this condition, in simple terms it is when the brain doesn’t fully develop, and it is a condition that is not compatible with life. Babies either pass away in utero, during the labour process, or shortly after birth.
When I was a medical student, I remember reading an article in the paper about a Christian couple that had not terminated their pregnancy when anencephaly was diagnosed. They had carried the pregnancy to term, delivered the baby and it survived for a couple of days after the birth. I remember thinking what an amazing act of faith that was, that we can never really understand how God works and how that short little life may have existed just to teach a single person about Christ. The article really moved me and it shaped my view not to support abortion in my medical practice. This was long before I started to specialise in obstetrics.
However, the people in the article were in the newspaper, far from the reality of the coalface. Now I have a real-life couple sitting in front of me in my private consulting room, and I have to tell them at 13 weeks that their baby has anencephaly. There aren’t many words to describe how it feels to have to do this.
Of course, the couple are devastated. They are confused. They are torn between what society tells them to do in this circumstance, what their faith tells them to do and what they want to do. I spend hours in total (over a few sessions) listening, reflecting and answering their questions. We pray together. They seek the counsel of their pastor, friends and family.
What becomes clear is that the mother is struggling under the mental health burden of continuing this pregnancy. I become genuinely concerned that if they were to continue the pregnancy, she will not be able to withstand the enormous emotional toll that accompany this pregnancy and delivery.
I often reflect on the advances in medicine and ask myself the question of whether God has created technology such as ultrasound in order for conditions like these (which aren’t compatible with life) to be diagnosed early. I don’t know the answer to this question (I’ve got a list to ask God when I meet Him)… I don’t have a final opinion here, but I would encourage us as Christians to think and feel the reality of what this couple are going through, and not to judge harshly those who have had to make challenging decisions with outcomes that may differ from our own.
With the heaviest of hearts, they decide to terminate the pregnancy. It is now my decision whether to perform the procedure or to hand it over to a colleague who does feel comfortable performing abortions. As a clinician, there is a real weight to this decision, not only related to my own living faith, but also to the notion of ‘abandoning’ a patient. The ethical complexities of this are far beyond the scope of this article, however I endeavour to ask the perspective-shifting ‘What would Jesus do?’ question of each individual situation. The balance inevitably needs to be struck between not compromising our own values and ensuring that at every opportunity we are shining the light of Christ to those around us.
“In every challenging situation that I encounter on the issue of abortion in my clinical practice, I have a wonderful team of academics, ministers and wise Christians with whom I consult for their considered opinion regarding my role in the management of these situations”.
In every challenging situation that I encounter on the issue of abortion in my clinical practice, I have a wonderful team of academics, ministers and wise Christians with whom I consult for their considered opinion regarding my role in the management of these situations. In these interactions, I am not seeking the superficial response of “Well done” or “We will pray for you” (although prayer is an essential part of this process). Instead, I am seeking truth in their wisdom as Christians. I’m asking the hard questions and I want real answers. Each situation is unique and needs its own prayer, wisdom and contemplation. These are the shades of grey and I need a team to help me navigate them.
My decision regarding this couple was to carry out the termination for them. (You may not have agreed with this, and that is okay.) I held her hand and prayed with her as she went to sleep.
I then had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that led me to put the ultrasound onto her belly after she fell asleep, something I don’t usually do. There was no clinical need, other than a compulsion. The baby had already died. God had taken this burden from me and turned it into the management of a miscarriage.
“The baby had already died. God had taken this burden from me and turned it into the management of a miscarriage”.
God provides solutions to these shades of grey
It is these stories and many, many more that I could tell that clearly indicate to me that God’s hand is on each and every aspect of my work. In even the most challenging of decisions, if I look to Him and only Him, that He will guide me through the complex maze of His will, medical advances and modern society. My role is to show my patients the love of Christ, not make the decisions for them.
There are some clinical situations that if I were the patient, I honestly do not know as a Christian which path I would choose. But I do believe that when we are at the coal face, when we are faced with these situations ourselves or have to provide care for a patient, God slowly does provide the solutions to these shades of grey – if we look to Him. That is why I cannot judge a patient for making a decision regarding their care or pregnancy in these complex situations. We have not walked in their shoes or had to make these decisions ourselves, so we cannot presume to know what the ‘correct’ path is; and that path may not be the same for any of us, since no two situations are identical.
Only God knows that path.
In this I will put my trust.
Dr Amanda Ward Dr. Amanda Ward works as an Obstetrician at Monash Medical Centre, and privately at Cabrini and Jessie McPherson hospitals. Amanda is a gynaecologist at Jean Hailes in their medical clinics and also runs women's health education programs in Tanzania through the charity Medical Mission Aid.