The life of Katherine

God, not circumstances, is the giver of life's "worth"

Issue: "Down Syndrome = Death Sentence?," Jan. 18, 1997

The grocery store checker struck up a conversation with my wife about babies. As the clerk scanned the grocery goodies that would make up part of this past year's Christmas meal, she spoke of a friend whose baby had a congenital heart defect and died just months after birth. The hardest part, she said, was going to the funeral; it was all just too sad. Had this friend known earlier in the pregnancy about the heart defect, "she would have terminated."

That'll be $52.50. And Merry Christmas to you, too.

In situations where "paper or plastic?" is usually the only controversial issue most people face, it is an amazing testament to Roe vs. Wade's 24-year iron grip on this culture that advocating the prenatal killing of a sick or handicapped baby is not considered inappropriate grocery-aisle conversation. It might also help explain why President Clinton was able to get away politically with vetoing the partial-birth abortion legislation. After all, he was talking about the killing of children who in his mind have no chance for long-term survival, whose lives aren't worth living.

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Roy Maynard asks in this week's cover story, "Who is to say this is a life not worth living?" Although I have always opposed abortion, I confess I used to have a difficult time answering that question. That was before my daughter Katherine was born March 13, 1995.

God created Katherine with an extra chromosome-Trisomy 18, a tripling of the 18th chromosome-which caused her little system to develop abnormally. The lives of most babies like her are measured in days, weeks, and months; most can't even survive the trauma of vaginal birth. In God's providence, my wife, Arla, had developed pre-eclampsia and needed an early emergency Caesarean section, which saved both her life and Katherine's life.

Was Katherine's three-month, 16-day, 22-hour life outside the womb worth living? At her baptism in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) were both sets of grandparents, two uncles, a brother, a sister, three elders of the church, and several friends. When a friend sang "Children of the Heavenly Father" at the end of the service, I could see tears running down the faces of NICU nurses.

A life worth living? Katherine's brother, Nickolas, and sister, Kristen, got three precious months with her, getting to hold her, help feed her, bathe her, love her. My two-year-old boy loved being big brother. One night we had to go buy a gallon of distilled water to humidify Katherine's oxygen; Nickolas insisted on carrying it into the house. He tried to carry it with one hand, but the weight of the gallon jug brought him to the floor. He just got back up, picked up the jug (both hands, this time), and carried it over to Katherine. "Kat-uh-run, here's your water." We all laughed.

A life worth living? Pastors, elders, deacons, and members of our church provided meals and visits to our home after Katherine got out of the hospital. Our neighbors noticed this and were amazed at the ministry. Three neighborhood families have since visited the church for Sunday worship. For those three months at home, various home health nurses essentially lived in our house. Some of them remain close friends; all of them heard about Jesus Christ, the savior of sinners.

A life worth living? The attendance at her memorial service amazed us. Seven of her nurses attended, as did her neonatalogist, the hero of the NICU. Katherine, they heard, was in heaven not because all babies are innocent; she was in heaven because of the merit of Christ. This is assured to us through his covenant of grace with us, her parents.

Through all this joy, however, there were moments of horror-the many times we thought death was literally seconds away. One night at the hospital, Katherine stopped breathing and turned a dusky blue. She wasn't responding to any of our attempts at stimulation. The nurse resuscitated her by forcing oxygen into her lungs, but a few minutes later she went down again. The nurse and doctor left us alone with Katherine in the room. Her color was again dusky. It was all over, it seemed, but we tried the oxygen tube one last time and, at about the time of her "last gasp," she got a good noseful of oxygen. Then another and another. Finally, she had returned to pink.

After Katherine's recovery and stabilization the next day, I sent out from my laptop computer an e-mail message recounting the incidents of the past evening to several friends: "This is a great story of God's grace and love. We have no reason to believe, however, that Katherine is out of the woods. . . .The only question is how long she'll live and under what conditions."

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