Rick Santorum: An interview about ‘Bella’s Gift’

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/10/27/rick-santorum-an-interview-about-bellas-gift/

This article is part of a series of profiles of the 2016 presidential candidates that will appear on the NewBostonPost in the months leading up to the nominating conventions. 

What if the baby had a 90 percent chance of dying? What if giving birth would kill the mother? Then would you get an abortion?

Perplexing hypothetical questions surround the abortion debate, forcing people to reconsider their ethical standards and views on life. But these dilemmas are not hypothetical for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen, parents of seven living children. They have personally encountered the question of the value of life at an early stage and of partial-birth abortion twice.

“It’s one thing to fight the pro-life battle, and another thing to live it,” Santorum said on Oct. 22 in an interview with the NewBostonPost. “Bella’s life embarked us on a path of living the pro-life battle after the child was born.”

Santorum was in town to speak with the Massachusetts Citizens for Life about his book, “Bella’s Gift,” co-authored with his wife. The book tells the story of the Santorum’s 7-year-old daughter, Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, or Edwards’ syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality with a very low survival rate.

On hearing the news that Bella’s condition was “incompatible with life,” the couple was urged to abandon hope for her. Although Santorum said his immediate family recognized Bella’s inherent human dignity, some other family members, friends, and physicians did not share their view. “‘Why try?’” Santorum said one doctor asked. “‘You have to learn to let go.’”

The pro-life debate holds great significance for the Santorums. Karen Santorum is also a neo-natal nurse.

“If you are faithful, God will be faithful,” Rick Santorum told the crowd. Of course, the situation was not simple for the family, especially since they had already lost one child, Gabriel Michael, only two hours after his birth.

“There was drama in the house at the time because there was real drama,” he said. “When your child goes into cardiac arrest twice and has to be resuscitated, that’s real drama. That’s not made up.”

Bella’s delicate condition created a tense environment for the family, with each member coping in a different way. In “Bella’s Gift,” the Santorums recount their respective reactions. For Karen Santorum, it was anger in the midst of unsupportive relatives and a skeptical medical community whose response to the hypothetical — and real — questions was “abort the baby.”

In spite of the doubts, she insisted on fighting for Bella’s life. A doctor’s pessimism did not stop her from getting Bella’s prescription for oxygen; nor did skepticism keep her from performing CPR on her cold, blue daughter.

It was such moments that frightened Sen. Santorum into assessing his own passive response to Bella’s potential fate. “I was happy with whatever. I could accept whatever God’s will was,” he said.

“I didn’t want the vulnerability that comes with hope,” he said. “Was I really comfortable and convinced of my faith, that all that matters in the end is the end? As it turned out when the moment came that Bella almost passed away, it wasn’t enough.”

Witnessing Bella’s close call and his wife’s enduring hope, Santorum realized his own vulnerability. Faced with the fragility of his daughter’s life and the new spiritual challenges, he sought a clearer understanding of life’s true meaning. He realized that love and the determination to appreciate each day with Bella gave purpose to the challenges his family faced. The present moment became the reason to “be good.”

“It’s hard to make sense of things. If everything is about the here and now and you lose the here and now, then there is only loss,” he said. “Even if you’re not a Christian, you have to step back and say, ‘Is this all there is? What’s the point?’ But I think most people see that there’s an aim to this, that there’s a reason to be good. In the case of Gabriel and in the case of Bella there is loss, but there’s also gain and purpose and meaning.”

Bella’s needs eventually inspired his first presidential campaign in 2012. The Santorums’ research into Trisomy 18 revealed that many socialist countries’ health policies supported the utilitarian rejection of the affected children. He had this in mind when Obamacare was introduced into Congress. As a father, he could not bear to sit in silence when the question of medical panels arose in the debate. He determined that a run for president would bring attention to the issue and give him a national platform to discuss the treatment of the most vulnerable by our healthcare system.

Bella became a major player in the Santorum presidential campaign. In addition to serving as the initial motivation for Santorum to enter the race, Bella was also the reason for his temporary break and near-withdrawal from the race when she was critically ill with pneumonia.

But by the time her health improved and Santorum returned to the stage, his daughter had already become a figure of human dignity.

“I had people come up to me during the course of that campaign and afterwards, even celebrities who do not share our point of view on these issues, and they thanked me for standing up for the dignity of my little girl,” Santorum said.

“They know the truth. They know that life has value and meaning. Yet in our lost, dark world, most of the time they don’t see it. They’re for aborting children and they’re for doing amniocentesis when these children are in the womb so they can dispose of them. But when they see the truth, they can’t help but be moved by it.”

Other candidate profiles:

Marco Rubio, once the protégé, steps out of the shadows

Kasich pitches from the heart to woo NH voters

Ben Carson’s star rose from rough beginnings

Cruz stands apart in Senate, earning cold shoulders

Paul’s greatest asset is also his biggest liability

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