Perinatal Palliative Care

Perinatal Palliative Care

By Julie Grimstad

When preborn babies are diagnosed with serious disabling and sometimes life-threatening conditions, parents routinely are pressured to choose abortion. When they refuse to have their babies killed, perinatal (meaning around the time of birth) palliative care may be offered to them. This specialized support is also available for children with disorders that are not detected until after birth. Perinatal palliative care (a.k.a. perinatal hospice) is provided from the time of diagnosis through the baby’s birth and death. Perinatal palliative care is akin to hospice services provided to older patients and their families.

An idealistic picture

The professed goal of the specialty called Hospice and Palliative Medicine is to relieve symptoms—including pain and stress. Palliative care can be initiated at any stage in a serious illness and provided in conjunction with curative or life-prolonging treatment. Hospice care is a subset of palliative care. Hospice is focused on providing comfort care when a patient no longer has curative options or has chosen to forgo treatment because the burdens of treatment outweigh the benefits.

When palliative care is provided by medical professionals who genuinely respect and protect the life of every person committed to their care, it can be a blessing that improves the quality of life for both the patient and the family. Unfortunately, not all HPM providers believe that every human life has equal worth.

Organizations that promote hospice present an idealistic picture of compassionate “end-of-life” care, but the realistic picture is that palliative care often is a pathway to imposed (intentionally caused) death for vulnerable patients who cannot protect themselves.1 Therefore, when a loved one is receiving palliative care, families must be vigilant, and that includes families of newborns with serious but not necessarily fatal conditions.

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The pros and cons of perinatal palliative care

The website Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care states: “Perinatal palliative care helps parents embrace whatever life their baby might be able to have, before and after birth.”2 Providing comfort care is compassionate and appropriate when a baby is close to death and there is no way to preserve their life. But, what if medical treatment might extend or save a baby’s life?

Families are not always told the whole truth, which may lead them to choose death for their sick or disabled child. Mary Kellett, the president and founder of Prenatal Partners for Life, explains: “Predicting the future in only a negative light is a common experience for families who receive a diagnosis. Families are told all the things their child will never do. Families are sometimes made to feel guilty for wanting to embrace the life of their child and help their child reach their full potential.”3

Sometimes, families are told their child’s condition is “incompatible with life” when timely and appropriate medical treatment could save their baby’s life. When parents then accept the offer of perinatal hospice, it is a death sentence for their baby. Perinatal hospice provides comfort care, which means pain medication and sedation, but no life-support or life-saving treatment. Although perinatal hospice providers will deny it, they often hasten their little patients’ deaths.

Sara Buscher, Esq., a member of HALO’s advisory board, provides evidence to support this assertion:

Remember when Governor Ralph Northam said a baby born alive after an abortion would be kept comfortable. Then, the doctor would discuss withholding life-sustaining treatment (i.e., food and liquids) from the baby with its parents. Recall the outrage? Everyone recognized this was infanticide. Well, Governor Northam is a pediatrician who spent 19 years as a children’s’ hospice medical director.

Judie Brown, the president of American Life League and another member of HALO’s advisory board, sums up the situation:

And so once again society is left with two choices.

Shall we choose listening to those who believe that imposed death is best or those who respect the vulnerable life of someone who may well die, but only in God’s time without outside interference?

Respect for life does not embrace exceptions.

[1] “Palliative Care: A Pathway to Imposed Death,” by Ioana Caranica and Julie Grimstad, Celebrate Life Magazine, Winter 2020.

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[2] perinatalhospice.org/list-of-programs

[3] “Lies Have No Place in Medicine,” by Mary Kellett, HALO Herald, January 21, 2020, newsletter.halovoice.org/2020/01/lies-have-no-place-in-medicine.html.