Who is the patient
Who Is a Patient?

Dr. Bill Lile recently had the opportunity to speak with the medical students at the University of Florida, and he posed a series of questions:

“If somebody was not born here in the United States, but they needed a blood transfusion to save their life…are they entitled to that blood transfusion to save their life?” To which all agreed they would. 

“What if the same patient, who wasn’t born in the United States, is going to die unless we do heart surgery on this patient?” He went on, ”What if they need laser surgery, spina-bifida surgery?” 

The students unequivocally agreed that these patients are entitled to access to medical care, despite their nationality or geographic location. They recognized the inherent dignity of each human being and the role of medicine to provide quality healthcare to every patient, regardless of their circumstances. This is the ethics of medicine, but it is also the ethics of our shared humanity.

What these students acknowledged was what we as humans know deep within us — patients are people, and people have a right to protection and respect, to bodily integrity. 

Then Dr. Lile revealed something that took the students by surprise. Every single condition he described, he had treated – and on his own patients; but his patients were not yet born. That’s right, Dr. Lile’s patients are preborn babies who are still in the wombs of their mothers. To save their lives, he has administered blood transfusions, performed heart surgeries and surgeries on spina bifida, etc., and all of this was done before they were born. 

Fetal surgery is a growing field of medicine, with centers around the world competing to be the “first to perform” the latest surgeries on the preborn. What an astounding witness to life, and what a witness to hope!

Dr. Lile has had a unique glimpse inside the womb, but thanks to modern scientific advances, we, too, can see inside the womb; and what we see makes the truth certain. Truth inspires awe. A glimpse into a world that was once mysterious and hidden is now open for anyone. These windows to the womb allow us to meet our children before they are even born.

Medicine has advanced to such a degree, that we can demonstrate powerfully that preborn babies are human, and therefore have the right to protection and access to healthcare. We can see, through 2D/3D ultrasounds, MRIs, and even in-utero surgeries, the humanity of each preborn child. Their personhood, and even their personalities, are evident before they exit the womb.

How many of us have witnessed our children’s ultrasounds, only to marvel years later that their personality was evident even back when they were their tiniest selves? That strong kick in response to the ultrasound probe, or the feats of intrauterine prowess that we witnessed, only confirmed that our child was a budding gymnast in the making or a future world-class kickboxer. And probably both! Perhaps we exaggerated in our predictions, but we noted with wonder that the sleeper remained the sleeper, and the spunky one retained that fire. With a thumbs up or a thumb in the mouth, with a smile or a hiccup, they gave us a glimpse into their tenderness.

We have excellent tools at our disposal to demonstrate the humanity, the personhood, and the unique individuality of each baby that is present even in the womb and is now visible to the world thanks to science and technology. With these advances, we can see with our eyes that preborn babies are persons.

“Where there is hope, there’s life,” proclaimed Anne Frank. Is it not also true that where there is life, there is hope? There is always hope. Let us speak life; let us spread hope. Release the truth. Our tiniest patients depend on it. 

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