WA abortion Bill: 10 years on

07 May 2008

By The Record

By Andrew Lansdown
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the great abortion battle that ended in the great pro-life defeat in Western Australia in May 1998. Do you remember how it all began?

There was a baby in a bottle on a shelf in a fridge. This baby had only lived several months from conception, so in death it was little, little enough to fit into a bottle—or, more precisely, a jar. A jar just emptied of jam, perhaps, or pickled onions.
The baby’s sister told about her bottled sibling for news at school. It was something unusual and worth telling. Goodness, that’s news, all right—a baby in a bottle in a fridge! None of the other children had anything half as interesting to tell. Everyone was captivated, including the teacher.
The teacher told the police and the police found the news difficult to ignore. They knew about the 8000 or so yearly killings of babies in Perth abortion “clinics” and they knew that these killings were against the law, but they had no concern for the law that was intended to protect them. But this, this bottled body, this preserved evidence, this inconvenient truth, was simply too much for them to ignore.
So the police charged the doctor who had killed the baby in his abortion clinic. They used the state’s long-neglected abortion law to bring the charge. It was in the news. It caused a stir.
Of course, the assorted ideologues immediately wept and raged at the injustice and hard-heartedness of the whole affair. How appalling to punish a doctor for helping a woman to exercise her right to choose!
The trauma he must be suffering! And he had been so considerate, too, to comply with the woman’s request to keep the aborted products of her conception! And yes, the woman did request the remains. She was not, it seems, completely without maternal feelings and human conscience. She knew her baby was … her baby. It was not a blob of protoplasm or an expendable part of her body, like an appendix. It was a baby, and it was hers. That knowledge ought to have stopped her from seeking an abortion, certainly.
And yet, to her credit, she did not want her baby’s body unceremoniously disposed of along with the bodies of the other babies that had been aborted that day.
She wanted to give her baby a proper burial, in her homeland, New Zealand. And so she put it in the refrigerator until she could respectfully lay its mortal remains to rest.
It was in the news and the news frightened the Premier and his government. It might not be practical to prosecute the doctor who life caring for the Hansen’s disease patients on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, was beatified in 1995 in Belgium by Pope John Paul II.
“I give thanks and praise to God for the news I received this morning!” Bishop Silva wrote in an e-mail message to diocesan personnel on the theologians’ decision.
In his announcement, Bishop Silva included the name of the Oahu woman, Audrey Toguchi, whose cancer disappeared a decade ago after she began prayers to Father Damien that included pilgrimages to Kalaupapa where the priest worked and died.
It was the first time the diocese had made her name public.
Toguchi, in a May 1 interview with the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu diocesan newspaper, said that when she first learned she had cancer “I put everything in God’s hands.”
She decided to pray to Father Damien, who had given his own life in service to others. “Father Damien is not going to let me go,” she thought at the time.
The sainthood process generally requires two miracles, one for beatification and one for canonisation.
An alleged miracle – usually a healing – must overcome two hurdles. First, medical experts must declare it dramatic and unexplainable.
Next, theologians must determine that it was caused through the intercession of the candidate for sainthood. In Father Damien’s case, the medical commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes ruled last October that the healing was “unexplainable according to available medical knowledge.”
In this latest judgment, the theological consultors determined that the cure was attributable to Father Damien.
The cure in question involved the disappearance of cancer, without treatment, from Toguchi’s lungs in 1999. The case was documented in an article about “complete spontaneous regression of cancer” published by Dr. Walter Y.M. Chang, in the October 2000 issue of the Hawaii Medical Journal.
According to the article, three malignant lung tumours were discovered by X-ray in September 1998.
The cancer was a reappearance of matching malignancies surgically removed earlier from other parts of the body.
Upon learning of her condition, Toguchi began praying to Father Damien and visiting Kalaupapa.
Before therapy could be applied, an X-ray a month later showed that the tumours had decreased in size.
Monthly X-rays revealed further shrinkage until scans in May and October 1999 could find no sign of the cancer. The doctor’s report stated that the “lung metastases disappeared with no therapy at all.”
The Diocese of Honolulu in 2003 convened a tribunal to investigate the miracle. The month-long process involved seven meetings and interviews with six medical doctors, the former cancer patient, her husband and sister, and two priests who had counselled the patient. Of the doctors, most of whom were not Catholic, five were connected with the care of the patient and one was independent.
The tribunal’s findings were formally opened at the Congregation for Saints’ Causes on September 11, 2003.
The ensuing process wasn’t all smooth sailing. The congregation asked the Honolulu tribunal to reconvene in 2005 to clarify parts of its original report. And last November, an official at the congregation quietly visited Hawaii for further examination of the case.