To Save the Life of the Mother

The numerous medical procedures her doctors had tried in an effort to seal the tubercular cavity in the lower lobe of a 23-year-old woman’s right lung had failed. “Amazingly, she was still alive on Christmas Eve, but just barely,” Dr. J.A. MacDougall recalls, so he kept his promise to let her spend Christmas Day at home with her husband and their only child. She was grateful for that brief respite, but continued to decline. By the end of February, she was down to 80 pounds, and “new complications developed. She became nauseous – even without food in her stomach.”

Dr. MacDougall dismissed as “ridiculous” a colleague’s suggestion that his terminally ill patient might be pregnant. “Everything I knew about medicine added up to one conclusion: she was so ill, so weak, that she couldn’t possibly have conceived. Her body wasn’t up to it. Nevertheless, I ordered a pregnancy test. To my astonishment, it was positive.” The doctor and his colleagues were confronted with a moral dilemma. “Legally, medically, we could have taken the child through abortion; it imperiled a life that was already in jeopardy. But we didn’t do it,” Dr. MacDougall confides. The doctors shared the woman’s religious objections, but they also were convinced that “the operation would kill her [and that] her body would reject the child anyway.”

Somehow, the woman clung to life – her own and that of her unborn child. “And in late June, 1948, an incredible thing happened,” recounts Dr. MacDougall. “She began to eat, and to gain weight. A chest X-ray showed that the growth of the TB cavity had stopped. Not long after, another X-ray showed why: the diaphragm was pushing up against the lower lobe of her diseased lung to make room for the child she was bearing. Nature was doing exactly what we’d failed to do: it was pressing the sides of that deadly hole together. The child was saving the mother.”

Summary of an article originally published in the December 1987 issue of the Canadian magazine Family.

John Paul II’s Prayer for Life

O Mary, bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life:
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers of babies to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy.

Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life.
Amen.

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