A brilliant education in life issues

A brilliant education in life issues Some of the team behind Baby Surgeons on Channel 4

Truly, one of the great achievements of modern medicine is the treatment of babies in the womb. An unborn baby with a tumour on her lung – spotted by a routine ultrasound scan at 19 weeks – can now have corrective laser treatment surgery which saves her life.

Prof. Basky’s work is a testament to the amazing advances occurring in the medical treatment of the unborn, and their mothers”

In Channel Four’s terrific new series Baby Surgeons, which started last Monday, we saw the wonderful Prof. Basky Thilaganathan do just that. To the joy of the parents, the baby girl came through brilliantly – although, obviously, like all surgery, the intrauterine laser treatment carried a risk. Significantly, the unborn infant was successfully anaesthetised during her treatment.

Prof. Basky’s work is a testament to the amazing advances occurring in the medical treatment of the unborn, and their mothers. His attitude is so respectful of the miracle of human life: he calls the unborn babies he treats “the youngest patients”. “It’s a miracle,” he says, “when a sperm and an egg meet – a perfect human being is formed.” But even when the human being isn’t medically ‘perfect’, there is more and more help. “Nature is in control,” says Prof. Basky, who looks pleasingly like Yul Brynner, “but we can help at certain points.”

Last Monday, three sets of parents were seen. Parents with achondroplasia – they quite cheerfully referred to themselves as dwarfs – were supported through a pregnancy, after three miscarriages. The medical aspect was very openly explained: a mother with achondroplasia has a 50% chance of having a baby with the same condition. It turned out that Randika’s baby would also be a dwarf and she was “quite happy about the diagnosis”, and thrilled when the very sweet baby was born early, via a caesarean section.

This programme, although taking a neutral approach of straightforward reportage, was an education in human life development”

Another couple had also suffered repeated miscarriages, and a fresh pregnancy produced triplets. But alas, one of these babies died at week nine. The mother grieved and was desperate to hold on to the two remaining girls: photographs of scans at every stage in the pregnancy were displayed on a wall in her home. To her great grief, one of the remaining babies perished in the womb, and as the very small infant was delivered, lifeless, she was nonetheless named and treated with the greatest care and respect. The last triplet survived: and “though [the two who died] could not come into this world, they’re part of us”, said the mother.


This programme, although taking a neutral approach of straightforward reportage, was an education in human life development. Not only did it show the development of the unborn with close-up techniques but it most touchingly illuminated the attachment that the mother (and admittedly in a supportive role, the father) develops towards the life she is carrying. Prof. Basky, who heads up St George’s foetal medicine unit in London, said his aim was “to give babies a chance of life”, and parents the fulfilment of a family.


On a different, although related, aspect of life, Dr Dermot Kearney, a graduate of UCD, and President of the Catholic Medical Association, says that the CMA is now successfully treating women who change their mind about abortion, after taking the abortion pill, mifepristone. During lockdown, this has been prescribed by the British NHS to take at home, known as ‘Pills by Post’. Dr Kearney says that 141 women contacted the CMA for help with reversing the abortion procedure: of 73 who were treated, 38 have held on to their pregnancies – 50% success –  and ten have delivered healthy babies. The treatment involves administering progesterone, the female hormone.

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists are critical of the CMA’s approach. But it’s an interesting fact, in itself, that women are seeking help to reverse abortion pills.

The shifting sands of international relations

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, has been widely celebrated as the ‘wokest’ of the woke political leaders. But now a shadow has crossed the profile of the much-praised Kiwi: Wellington has decided to prioritise trade with China rather than sharing intelligence with its western allies, known as the ‘Five Eyes’ (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

Forget Beijing’s human rights abuses and the atrocious persecution of the Uyghur Muslims. Business with China – on which New Zealand depends – comes first. Since Jacinda seems to be seeking ever-closer union with Beijing, it looks as though NZ will be omitted from western intelligence’s secrets.

The best candidate to fill New Zealand’s position is surely France, which has much stronger links with Africa than the Anglophone countries – partly built up, by the way, by the French missionary traditions such as the Holy Ghost fathers.


In suggesting that Shirley Williams missed out on becoming leader of Britain’s Labour party last week, I omitted the fact that James Callaghan won that role before Michael Foot. Thanks to John O’Mahony of Galway for correcting me on recalling Jim Callaghan, who was UK prime minister between 1976 and 1979.