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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I wonder how many millions watched the TV show "HOUSE" last night, saw the tiny human hand of the unborn baby ("FETUS!" as the character Gregory House kept hissing up till that point) reach out during its fetal surgery to firmly and lengthily grasp House's rubber-gloved finger, and thought to themselves, "Oh, that would never happen in real life!"

I was jumping out of my chair with joy when I saw the scene! It really did happen in real life! That's where they got the scene idea from! They didn't make it up, they ripped it right from the (pro-life) headlines:
the actual photo of Baby Samuel Armas grasping his surgeon's finger (scroll down the post a bit). [We displayed this photo by Michael Clancy, - with permission for this site only; read Michael's comments to us here]
Read the story of how Samuel reacted to the brush of the surgeon's finger by grabbing it in his fist.

You can see Samuel at age 3 and a half in this photo here.

The House character was mesmerized by the completely human movement of the baby's hand, by its grip, by its life, and stood there transfixed for at least a minute, even gently pressing his thumb to the tiny fist in a sort of handshake. After that, House began calling the "fetus" a baby and seemed to regret having advised the mom to abort even though her own life was in danger.

The show ended with House returning home, alone as usual, sitting down and contemplating the truth of what he had experienced, lightly rubbing together his fingertips that had been on the receiving end of that tiny baby's grasp.

When I saw the previews for this show, I thought, "Oh no, not another abortion recommendation from House. Wouldn't it be great if they did a Baby-Samuel-hand-grasp-during-fetal-surgery instead?"

The House character has become increasingly caustic and despicable this season. I wonder if this is an indication of his humanity returning, even just a little.

I applaud the writers and actors for this bold episode.

*** UPDATE: Friend and reader Rachael pointed us to the Urban Legends site that says the description for the Baby Samuel photo is "inaccurate."

It cites an Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper article from December 13, 2000, that says the baby's hand merely "flopped out" and that Dr. Joseph Bruner said (though there are no actual quotes from Bruner) that he simply lifted it and tucked it back into the uterus. however is lacking in that they missed the most important source: it doesn't cite the original article on the story, from April 2000. More on that below.

I suppose the claim on could be true. Perhaps the baby didn't initiate grasping the doctor's finger tightly. Perhaps it was the normal infant reaction to any touch, or perhaps it was just a baby stretching its arm into a new open space where none had existed before.

Isn't that still human? Isn't that still a human life? A fully-formed hand, fingers, skin, knuckles, and blood vessels, tendons, bones, ligaments and nerves inside? Possibly even fingernails? At 21 weeks of unborn age?

I have to wonder though if the story is all that "inaccurate."

My first thought was that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is among the most left-leaning newspapers in the country (one example: they employ nationally-syndicated, myth-addled, pro-abortion, pro-contraception columnist Cynthia Tucker). The paper and Dr. Bruner probably got a ration of Sh-- from AJC's liberal readers about this unmistakable reminder that, as Bill Cosby once said about his unborn baby, "It's HUMAN in there!"

I also found this site, Truth or Fiction, which apparently did its own research and actually spoke to Dr. Bruner, the mother and to Vanderbilt University, which Legends appears not to have done:
According to the mother who had the surgery, Vanderbilt University, where the procedure took place, and he [sic] photographer who took the picture, this story is true.

...In this particular surgery, the baby's hand poked out of the incision in its mother's womb and Dr. Bruner says he instinctively offered his finger for the baby to hold. Most versions of the story say the baby reached out and grasped Dr. Bruner's finger, but in an article in USA Today on May 2, 2000, Dr. Bruner says both the mother and the baby were under anesthesia and could not move.
At least one of the three photos in this slideshow (scroll down) appear to show the baby's hand in a tight-fisted grip of the surgeon's finger.

Here is the original April 2000 AJC article, which isn't Googlable but was reprinted on good ol' FreeRepublic (where every conservative or pro-life mainstream article seems to live on despite the original media source making sure to remove it from the web):
To ease the strain, Bruner often talks to the fetuses while he works --- to soothe them and keep them quiet, and to let them know what is going on. Sometimes he conveys a message from the parents: We love you. We are trying our best to help.

"So I feel like I have developed a personal relationship with each of the fetuses," he said. "So when Samuel's hand appeared in the uterine opening, I impulsively reached out and lifted it. It was a very human thing to do, to reach out and take someone's hand."

Over his shoulder, Bruner heard the photographer's motordrive fire.

"When I saw the proof, I was astonished at what a powerful photograph it was," he said. "But even so, I was surprised by the media attention that it received."
The statement doesn't clearly define "appeared in the uterine opening" and the photographer clearly states he saw the baby's entire arm reach out then pull back. Maybe Dr. Bruner, who wasn't actually the fetal spinal neurosurgeon, wasn't looking in that direction at that precise moment and didn't see the arm reach out. He could have been looking up or away, at monitors. Unless we were there, we'll never know and if he was looking away at that moment, neither will Dr. Bruner.

Interestingly, that April 2000 article also reported that the photographer was fully pro-choice, at least until he saw what he saw and snapped those photos:
Up to that point, Clancy, who has no children, had considered himself in favor of abortion rights. "And right now I still feel that I am pro-choice," he said. "But I think once a girl is pregnant, the choice is made. This made a pro-lifer out of me."
As for those who've used the Baby Samuel photo, Vanderbilt University itself has gotten a good deal of mileage out of it.

Then there's this 1999 Life Magazine-award-winning photo by Max Aguilera-Hellweg, of yet-to-be-born baby Sarah Marie Switzer, whose arm is being lifted from her mother's open uterus by the same Dr. Joseph Bruner. A closeup of the photo and the story of the surgery and more on Dr. Bruner are found here, in this reprint of the LIFE Magazine article. In this surgery, the article says, "Brunen [sic] reached down and lifted Sarah Marie's hand out of the uterus." Apparently, after Samuel's photos were taken, Vanderbilt told the Baby Samuel photographer Clancy that this other photo had been "planned and posed...a month before" Baby Samuel's and was going to be a cover photo. Clancy then learned that LIFE Magazine wanted to "buy [Samuel's] picture. They want to buy it to kill it." Meaning, to make sure it never was seen again.

Perhaps Bruner did reach over and lift Baby Samuel's hand out. If so, we pro-life folks did everyone a disservice by embellishing, adding to the story aspects that weren't true, or inadvertently passing them on as truth, myself included.

But very young human infants, born and unborn apparently, do grasp adult fingers upon contact. Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence cites the definition of this neonatal reflex:
The palmar grasp reflex is characterized by the grasping of an object that is placed crosswise on the palm of a newborn infant, or neonate. Like the other neonatal reflexes, it is a sign of normal neurological development. Immediately following birth, the hand grip of this reflex is strong enough to support the baby's weight. Within a few hours, this strength will begin to wane, and the reflex usually fades completely after three to four months...Neonatal reflexes are...not learned or developed through experience [and...] are present at birth.
And as this and 4D ultrasounds are showing increasingly, neonatal reflexes are present before birth as well.

Anyone who's experienced this knows that tiny newborn fists can really grip. At least one photo shows this, in my opinion and apparently in Dr. Bruner's opinion and the parents' as well. And the baby apparently wasn't anesthetized too much to move its own arm or respond to Bruner's touch.

Regardless, I think that the nurse's reply to photographer Clancy when he saw the child's hand come out, says it best:
Oh. They do that all the time.

Cross-posted on ProLife Blogs.

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