Silent Night, Holy Conscience

Dr. Frederic Loomis faced the most difficult decision a physician could ever make—whether to allow a deformed baby to live or die. He had only seconds to decide.

Dr. Loomis had delivered hundreds of babies, but this one was different. The infant lay in a breech position, promising at best a difficult and dangerous birth. One of its feet stretched only to the knee of the other leg. Furthermore, it was missing a thigh. The mother, a frail person visiting the sterile delivery room for her first time, was not aware of the grossly deformed child struggling to survive.

Dr. Loomis closed his eyes; at his fingertips squirmed a pitiful creature yet unborn. Would not the most loving thing be to detain the birth long enough to cause the child to be stillborn? He agonized within himself. Will this kid not be considered a freak, a twisted burden to its delicate mother? How can I justify playing a part in such a cruel drama? Surely no one will ever know if I spare this family from inevitable pain.

The doctor, through the baby’s cord, felt its heartbeat—dancing in rhythm to his own wildly racing heart. As Dr. Loomis continued to prevent the birth, he felt the normal foot pressing for passage into the world. Suddenly, he could no longer justify “playing God.” Instead, he would trust God to care for this child against what seemed to be impossible odds. Dr. Loomis delivered the infant into the world, which, he sensed, would be very unkind.

In the years that followed, Dr. Loomis often second-guessed his decision. He watched the anguish of the family as desperate parents sought in vain to find some correction for their child’s deformity. Even after they moved away, Dr. Loomis continued to lament the burden that he had saddled upon the family. Their heartache, he often told himself, was his fault.

In time, however, Dr. Loomis would find peace. It came at an unexpected time and place—the hospital Christmas party. Typically, it was during the holiday season when his pain seemed most severe. He could not shake the image of that unfortunate child from his mind. While the world celebrated the greatest birth ever known, Dr. Loomis obsessed over the saddest birth he had ever known. At this particular party, the most heavenly music filled the room. The sadness seemed to dissipate as the rich tones of “Silent Night” washed Dr. Loomis’ anguished spirit.

Following the concert, a woman approached him. “Doctor,” she said excitedly. “You saw her.”

Dr. Loomis studied the woman’s face, wanting to recognize her but unable to recall the memory. “I’m sorry. I should know you, but you may need to help me.”

“Don’t you remember the little girl with only one good leg, 17 years ago?”

Remember . . . it was the one thing in his life that he couldn’t forget! In disbelief, he listened to her story. “That baby was my daughter, doctor. And I saw you watching her play the harp tonight! She has an artificial leg. She’s doing well.”

At her mom’s bidding, the lovely harpist walked toward them. With soppy eyes, Dr. Loomis enveloped the girl in his arms. “Please,” he said in a tightening voice, “please play 'Silent Night’ for me one more time.”

The young lady returned to her harp and played his request with poise and perfection. As she played, Dr. Loomis reflected on the incredible gift of life. He thought about the sanctity in every person. And he exhaled 17 years of questions and wondering whether or not it was wise to grant a baby its life.

August 01, 2003 / Fresh Start
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Karl Haffner writes from College Place, Wash., where he serves as senior pastor of the Walla Walla College Church.