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The inviolability of human life

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I believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life. I believe human life is a sacred gift worthy of the highest esteem.

As a nurse caring for two of the most vulnerable populations, children and the elderly, I have had the profound honor of caring for individuals and families during some of their most challenging and life-altering experiences.

These experiences have both challenged and helped shaped my beliefs.

During my last year of college, I interned in the neonatal intensive care unit at one of the nation’s premier children’s hospitals. I witnessed neonates weighing only ounces struggle to survive in spite of complex health conditions with potential lifelong consequences. I placed dying neonates in parents’ arms and witnessed the incomprehensible grief from losing one’s child. Consequently, I was forced to weigh the sanctity of human life against medical ethics and parental choice and rights.

As a pediatric critical care, oncology, home care, and hospice nurse, I have cared for children with a variety of acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses and stood at the bedside of children as they and their parents coped with life-altering illness and/or said their final “Good-bye”. In my current role as a surveyor of long-term care facilities, I interact with individuals in their final stages of life and witness the difficult decisions regarding quality versus quantity of life that they and their families are forced to consider. These experiences compel me to continuously reevaluate my belief and engage in ongoing introspection regarding the essence of the sanctity and dignity of human life.

Over fourteen years ago, I was informed that I was expecting quadruplets. The infertility specialist recommended that I “reduce” my pregnancy to a triplet or twin pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications to myself and increase the chance of survival for the remaining embryos, and the high risk obstetrician expressed his desire that we “selectively reduce” two of my impregnated embryos as well. Within the context of my belief regarding the sanctity of human life, sacrificing one or two of my children for the survival of the others was not an option. My steadfast belief was put to the test as I waited several more months until my children’s birth to see if any, some, or all of my children would survive and a few years to find out if any, some, or all of my children would experience a compromised quality of life as a result of their quadruplet birth.

Although I can honestly say that I never questioned whether or not I made the right decision, I wondered daily what the consequences of my decision would be.

My professional and personal life experiences have taught me that the inviolability of human life is a complex and multifaceted issue with different spiritual, social, and personal implications for all of us. For me, the sanctity and dignity of human life is an unassailable truth, personified daily in the faces of my children and patients.

“The Inviolability of Human Life,” Copyright © 2009 by Martha Smith. Part of the This I Believe Essay Collection found at www.thisibelieve.org, Copyright © 2005-2009, This I Believe, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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This I Believe

Based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, This I Believe® is an exciting national project that invites you to write about the core beliefs that guide your daily life. The series has enjoyed a four year run on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Visit the special "Scrubs Magazine Reader Submission Form" on the This I Believe website to contribute your own essay. Essays by Scrubs Magazine readers could be featured on both This I Believe and on Scrubs Magazine!
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