Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Humanness of the Unborn Reconsidered

Samuel Alexander Armas (born December 2, 1999) is the child shown in a famous photograph by Michael Clancy as he seemed to grasp his surgeon's hand from a hole in his mother's uterus during open fetal surgery for spina bifida.

Prolific blogger and theologian Ben Witherington III noted in his post The Humanness of the Unborn that

During the procedure, the doctor removes the uterus via C-section and makes a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr.Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon's finger. DrBruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile.

The photograph captures this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, 'Hand of Hope.' The text explaining the picture begins, 'The tiny hand of 21-week- old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from the mother's uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the gift of life.'

I was actually amazed at the comment of BW3 that he believes the 21-week-old fetus understands enough to reach out and thank his surgeon. That the operation took place, I have no doubt.

It is the intepretation of the event I have problem with. I find it hard to believe a 21-week-old fetus can reach out of the uterus for his doctor. Can he see from inside his mother's uterus? Does he have the musculature and nervous coordination to reach out? How many muscles and brain coordination does it take to squeeze something?

The photos has circulated continously since it was published and used by many for the anti-abortion lobby. I am sure that many people has reacted emotionally to the photograph which I agree have a powerful emotional impact.

My problem is the intepretation of the event and how it was used to support certain well meaning causes. Are we still dealing with truth anymore?

from Wiki

The photograph was taken during a pioneering surgical procedure performed on August 19, 1999 to fix the spina bifida lesion of a 21-week-old fetus in the womb. The operation was performed by a surgical team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. The team, Dr. Joseph Bruner and Dr. Noel Tulipan, had been developing a technique for correcting certain fetal problems in mid-pregnancy. Their procedure involved temporarily opening the uterus, draining the amniotic fluid, partially extracting andperforming surgery on the tiny fetus, then restoring the fetus to the uterus back inside the mother...

The picture attracted a lot of attention as, when it was released, it was seized upon by opponents of abortion who asserted that that the baby reached through the womb and grabbed the doctor's hand, thus showing signs of life at the 21st week of pregnancy. Indeed the photograph and many of the texts which often accompany it seem to support this view including the account of the photographer Michael Clancy:
“ As a doctor asked me what speed of film I was using, out of the corner of my eye I saw the uterus shake, but no one's hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing. The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor's finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. I took the picture! Wow! It happened so fast that the nurse standing next to me asked, "What happened?" "The child reached out," I said. "Oh. They do that all the time," she responded.”— - Michael Clancy

However, the surgeon later stated that Samuel and his mother, Julie, were under anesthesia and could not move. "The baby did not reach out," Dr Bruner said. "The baby was anesthetized. The baby was not aware of what was going on." He also stated, “Depending on your political point of view, this is either Samuel Armas reaching out of the uterus and touching the finger of a fellow human, or it’s me pulling his hand out of the uterus … which is what I did.”



Blogger Yik Sheng said...

Hi Alex

I think the piece you quote is not written my Witherington. He merely pasted what he received and ask to reflect on it. You will find the exact piece of writing on other sites by running a search.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel Lee,

You may be right but in his post BW3 did not separate which parts are from the source and which part is his own commentary/ reflection.

3:34 AM  

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