Seeing the Second Patients

Affirming the Humanity of Unborn Life is Following the Science

Dr. John Bruchalski grew up in a Catholic family, but as he grew toward adulthood, he thought the church was behind the times, especially when it came to its teachings on sex and morality. When he started medical school in 1983, nothing in his training challenged that perspective. Roe v. Wade had decriminalized abortion in all fifty states ten years prior, and abortion was a standard part of his medical education experience.

He found he had a knack for helping women. He was a good listener and good at helping them manage PMS. These and other inclinations led him to go into obstetrics and gynecology. The prevailing idea he’d absorbed growing up said that women were held down by their fertility. He wanted to help liberate them from its chains, and as an ObGyn, he could control their fertility, thus freeing them up to be happier and more successful. Toward that end, he learned all the forms of contraception, how to do first and second trimester abortions, and how to create embryos for in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Not long after he went into residency, though, he began to discern a pattern he hadn’t anticipated. It started when a post-abortive patient thanked him for the twofer.

“What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.

“Well, I had twins, and you got rid of them both,” she said.

He noticed that many of his patients were getting into bad relationships, becoming pregnant, and then coming to him to terminate the pregnancy. It was happening over and over, woman after woman. What he had thought would help them … wasn’t really helping them. He had gone into medicine to provide health, healing, happiness, and wholeness, but it looked like his “care” was delivering the exact opposite. He began to feel like he was pouring gasoline on a fire.

It came to a head when, as part of a late-term abortion procedure, he delivered a live fetus. It weighed 505 grams. Medical protocol required that he call a neonatologist, and as a good doctor, he always followed medical protocol. When the neonatologist rushed in, she looked at him and said, “John, you’re much better than this. Stop giving me tumors.”

He realized he’d been treating the human life in his very hands as something less than a total human person – as if it were a cancer, something to be excised and eliminated, rather than cared for. But caring for people had been why he went into medicine in the first place.

The neonatologist was also his friend, and she invited him to attend a retreat she was planning to attend. It was a Catholic retreat in Yugoslavia, and while he was there:

I had an experience with grace. … Scales were lifted off my eyes [and] everything came tumbling down.

When he returned, he told his supervisors he couldn’t do abortions any more. Fertility was something to be respected and cooperated with, not something to be repressed. He’d become a doctor to care for patients and had now come to see that the unborn children – what he had formerly been calling fetuses – were the “second patients” he was supposed to be caring for. There was a better way to provide good care for women and children, and he's been taking that more excellent approach ever since.

His change of heart coincided with a spiritual conversion, but he also has something to say about what scientists have discovered since Roe about life in the womb. “I find it amazing that when it comes to the care of human life at its most vulnerable stages, we are relying on science and medicine that is over fifty years old,” he said in an ad for the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy nonprofit. “It’s about time for the law to catch up to the science.”

Indeed, it is. The ad, which you can watch below, will air beginning on December 1st, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear opening arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.

Does it matter to Americans whether or not the thing in the womb is a human being? We will find out. It’s anybody’s guess how the case will play out and how the justices will rule, but one thing is sure. It will be controversial, and everyone will have an opportunity to ponder the question.

Interestingly, after Dr. Bruchalski abruptly stopped doing abortions, other residents began to approach him saying they didn’t want to do them ether. They wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Sometimes, one courageous person opens a way through which others follow. Now would be a good time to speak up for the most vulnerable patients in our midst. You never know who may take courage from yours and follow your lead on life. And by the way, affirming the humanity of the unborn would also be following the science.

Below Dr. Bruchalski tells his conversion story

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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