Rick Santorum had to leave the campaign trail this weekend as his three-year-old daughter Bella was hospitalized with pneumonia. Her condition was serious, but now seems to be improving. Santorum was up with her most of one night; he said she was really struggling. What makes this even more poignant is that Bella has Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder that usually takes a child’s life in the first year. Her prognosis is not good; only rarely does one with this condition last until the teenage years.
What this whole episode underscores is the Santorums’ dedication to the culture of life. Most parents nowadays, when informed of a birth defect, opt for abortion. The Santorums refused to do so—not just this once, but twice. Back in the mid-1990s, they had another birth trauma. Their unborn child at that time also had a birth defect. The doctor said, rather bluntly, that the child would die. Santorum and his wife, Karen, didn’t follow the advice of many to abort the child. Their pro-life convictions dictated otherwise. Santorum writes in his book It Takes a Family,
I must tell you that our reaction, after the shock and grief, was not to avoid the pain, the cost, or the struggle; it was not to get rid of the “problem,” and it was not to put the baby out of his misery like something that was less than human. Karen and I couldn’t rationalize how we could treat this little human life at twenty weeks’ gestation in the womb any different than one twenty weeks old after birth. At either age, he is helpless, unaware, and thoroughly dependent on us, his parents, to protect him, care for him, and love him unconditionally. So instead of giving our child a death sentence we gave him a name: Gabriel Michael, after the two great archangels.
Santorum then tells how it affected his family and him personally:
No, we had no choice but to fight to save our son’s life. We did all we could, including intrauterine surgery, but our son was born prematurely, and after two hours in our arms, he died. Gabriel died as a cherished member of our family—forever—having known only love in his brief time on earth. Life changes us all, but often nothing like death. At that moment, eternity became reality. After Gabriel, being a husband and father was different, being a legislator was different. I was different.
I honor that kind of commitment. It’s a commitment based on the Biblical principle that each person is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated as a valuable member of a family and a society. Later in his book, Santorum clearly identifies the seared conscience this society has developed over the years:
The social critic Christopher Lasch was right when he said, “Every day we tell ourselves lies so that we can live.” Americans get up every day in a country that permits, fosters, and on some levels even encourages the killing of the same number of children every year as there are people in Maine. And yet the vast majority of us do nothing. We tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do; or that it is sad, but necessary; or that the country is better off without those unwanted children; or that having an abortion is wrong, but you can’t impose your values on someone else. Many Americans simply don’t think about it at all, because they aren’t getting hurt. As another saying goes: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Santorum and his family are exhibiting for the entire nation what a Christian family ought to be. We need more of those models. We need people like Rick Santorum in positions of leadership for the sake of the moral foundation of our society.