Suffering in the NICU and the Pro-Life Attitude: A Life Chat Interview with Emily Kelly

Suffering is a part of every person’s life. Although it is an inescapable element of the human condition, many–including those in the pro-life movement–still grapple with the proper response to suffering, one that reconciles it with the dignity of the human person.

Emily Kelly, neonatal intensive care unit nurse, is no stranger to suffering. On a daily basis she is confronted with the heartbreaking reality of suffering in premature infants.

In an interview with Life Chat host Mary Kate Knorr, Kelly is frank about the tension that sometimes exists between wanting to eliminate suffering while also respecting the life and dignity of her patients. She explains, “All of our doctors are very compassionate and they want to have the baby and the parents in the very best interest.” However, many times, the proposed solutions do not respect the infants’ right to life. Some doctors would rather eliminate the sufferer altogether rather than work to alleviate the suffering

Knorr comments that this is extremely confusing because the “people taking care of babies who need help are the same people who are saying that abortion is the right option.” Kelly agrees and wonders:  “Why would you be the enemy of that which you are trying to save?”

Sadly, in some circumstances, parents come to share physicians’ conclusion that their child’s life is not worth saving; that it is better to let them die than let them suffer. “It really is foundational on what their defense mechanisms are, combined with what their support system is,” Kelly comments. 

On the other hand, she adds, that there are many families who do all they can to save their children’s lives, which has been “a really moving thing to watch.” And when parents do want to fight for their child, Kelly has noticed that the doctors are usually very responsive to their wishes. 

“This suffering is hard. It’s not pretty, it’s not glamorous, but in a lot of ways it is beautiful,” and Kelly gets to experience this firsthand with the children she works with. 

Kelly truly believes that the ultimate question we have to answer is: does life have meaning? She says that the doctors know that it is a life, they know all the biology and what changes the child goes through as it grows from embryo to fetus to newborn. “When you see the babies, and get to journey through it with them, it’s all worth it and you realize even more that life is to be celebrated,” she reflects.

These tiny, premature babies, some of whom are born months before their mothers’ due dates, are truly some of the most fragile people on earth. Kelly knows we must do everything we can to protect them.

To hear more about Kelly’s experience in the NICU and her views on why these lives matter, listen to Mary Kate Knorr’s entire Life Chat interview with Emily Kelly here!