Dr. Darrell Cass recently led a successful pre-birth surgery on a child at 23 weeks:

Cleveland Clinic has successfully performed its first in utero fetal surgery to repair a spina bifida birth defect in a nearly 23-week-old fetus.

A multispecialty team of clinicians performed the surgery in February, and the baby, a girl, was later delivered by caesarean section near full term June 3, making it northern Ohio’s first surgery of its kind. Mother and daughter are doing well. …

Spina bifida is a birth defect that is most often discovered during the routine anatomy scan typically performed when a fetus is around 18 weeks old. The condition affects the lowest part of the spine and occurs when the neural tube does not fully close, causing the backbone that protects the spinal cord not to form as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can even lead to brain damage.

Spina bifida can affect a child’s lower leg strength and their ability to walk and run, as well as their ability to go to the bathroom and urinate adequately. According to the CDC, approximately 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the United States.

During the fetal repair surgery, a caesarean section-like incision is made and the mother’s uterus is exposed. An ultrasound is then used to locate the placenta and fetus. The uterus is opened 4.5 cm and the back of the fetus is exposed, showing the spina bifida lesion. The surgeons then carefully suture several individual layers of tissue (myofascia, dura and skin) in order to cover the defect. After the uterus is closed back up, the fetus remains in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy and is ultimately born by caesarean section.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Cass.

When a member of the human family, like this child, is wanted by her mother, we call this child a patient—and our physicians care for the child as a patient whose worth is equal to mother and father. But when a member of the human family is unwelcome, we call that child a fetus—and sometimes even a parasite—and our physicians do not care for the child as a patient, but instead intentionally kill in order to enforce the demands of the comparatively powerful over the comparatively weak. This describes not a humane or compassionate society, but rather one wherein violence has come to be seen as acceptance and even ethical.

If we only have worth because we are wanted, then none of us possess any inherent value. And if this is true, there is no coherent basis for such a thing as human rights.

There are always two patients in the case of a mother pregnant with her child. What varies is not the reality or unreality of the second patient; what varies is our interest in acting as if human rights were either real, on the one hand, or merely a sometimes convenient fiction, on the other.