e live in a culture of death. Approximately 600 abortions take place every working day, the manipulation and destruction of thousands of human embryos in the name of medical science continues unabated and our courts sanction the withdrawal of artificially delivered food and fluids from patients who are not dying.
Those of us who to seek to promote a counter-culture of life must struggle against an unsympathetic, if not hostile, legislature and judiciary and a media that all too often carelessly talks of rights — "the right to choose", "the right to die", without also stressing the importance of our corresponding duties.
In such circumstances we need to look beyond our Parliament and courts to those who, by their daily lives and acts of witness, affirm a culture of life. Through the cacophony of competing arguments the small still voice of personal sacrifice and example remains the most potent weapon for challenging and changing prevailing attitudes.
In a cynical world we need to be inspired. Even the hardest of heart must surely be moved stories like that of Kelly Byrne, whose self sacrifice became public knowledge last week.
Kelly Byrne, a 19-yearold mother from Braintree in Essex has just died of cancer; but Kelly, a former beauty queen, was pregnant when she found out that the leukaemia she had as a child had returned. When doctors told her that chemotherapy would harm her unborn child, Kelly chose to delay treatment until after her child's birth. She knew what the implications were likely to be for her.
Last August, Kelly gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Logan. Only then did she commence chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A bone marrow transplant in January this year came too late for Kelly, who died last month.
Kelly can be described as a "martyr". She selflessly gave her own, young life that her son Logan might have the chance to live. She may have been unaware of the witness she bore to the Gospel of Life but the word "martyr" comes from the same root as the word "witness" and so this label could not be more fifting.
It is, of course, true that in the very rare circumstanceswhere two lives are in the balance an argument may be advanced for treatment to save one life while inevitably jeopardising another. Kelly's decision was to forego such a justification because of her overwhelming love for her
child. How does her decision compare with those who take their child's life simply on "social grounds" — the ground given in 98 per cent of the six million British abortions?
Kelly's poignant story is not unique. It echoes that of the famous Italian "mothermartyr", Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, who died aged 40 having demonstrated similar self sacrifice and courage..
Gianna combined a demanding professional career as a doctor in general practice with being a wife and mother to three children. Two months into her fourth pregnancy she was diagnosed with cancer of the womb and advised to have a hysterectomy to remove her womb. This would have ended the life of her unborn child. As this was not the intentional outcome, only an inescapable side-effect of the life saving operation she so-urgentlyneeded, the hysterectomy would have been acceptable in terms of Catholic ethical teaching.
Despite this, Gianna chose to undergo limited surgery that she hoped would remove the cancer without harming her unborn child. The surgery was successful in terms of preserving the life of the unborn child but it failed to cure the cancer. Only one week after giving birth to a healthy baby girl, Gianna died on the 28th April 1962.
Like Kelly, Blessed Gianna hoped that she would not die and leave her child motherless. However, both Kelly and
Blessed Gianna clearly valued life to such an extent that they were prepared to give their children the opportunity to experience and enjoy life just as they had. During Gianna's beatification ceremony in St Peter's Square, a young woman in her 30s knelt before the Holy Father for a special blessing. She was the daughter for whom Gianna had given
How can we think on this and not recall the countless unborn children who have been denied the opportunity that Blessed Gianna's daughter was granted? Our culture of death
tells us that this is a sad fact of life, that regardless of the physical, emotional, and spiritual costs of abortion to women, the unborn and their families, we should not interfere in "a woman's right to choose".
This is why it is so vital that courageous individuals continue to witness to a culture of life through their rejection of abortion, often at great personal and professional cost. We are not all called to like Kelly and Blessed Gianna but during years of campaigning I have come across many people who have refused to allow themselves to be corrupted by the pro-abortion mentality of our age.
Barbara Janaway was sacked from her secretarial post with Salford Health Authority for her refusal to type a letter of referral to a doctor so that a woman could obtain an abortion. "I refused" she said, "my conscientious objection was that I was setting the ball in motion. I would have been responsible."
Anita Anderson is a former constituent of mine. In 1993 she became pregnant and was told on three separate occasions that her unborn child was handicapped and on all three occasions declined the abortion that was offered. Following her third refusal, a social worker arrived at her mother's home and told her mother that a hospital bed had been booked for an abortion on the following Monday.
Thankfully, Anita and her family refused to be cowed into submission and their faith and strength were rewarded by the birth of a perfectly healthy little girl. Anita Anderson later told me: "They made me feel as if I was carrying a guinea-pig and as if they just wanted me to have an abortion so they could carry it away".
Anita Anderson's powerful affirmation of the value of the life of the disabled unborn also calls to mind the life of the late Ellen Wilkie, a disability rights campaigner and an indefatig able, champion of the rights of the unborn. She told me how her parents had been warned that she would be dead by her teens. Offered an abortion, they refused.
Just recently a friend of mine was recently told by staff in a London hospital that his son will have spina bifida. Within 45 minutes of the diagnosis he and his wife were offered an abortion. When he asked what experience they had of post natal treatment of spina bifida babies the doctor replied that even though the incidence had risen significantly "only two are born here each year" (the rest are done away with). The hospital could offer no special expertise. Healers and defenders of life, or destroyers?
Ellen Wilkie, displaying a modesty that I suspect would be shared by the other women whose lives are mentioned here said, "Anybody could do what I've done". Whether anyone could do what she and these other women did is debatable. The point is that anyone might do what they did. Their practical witness to the supreme value of human is profoundly inspiring.
In a practical way, by the way she lived and died, Kelly Byrne was following Jesus' teaching that "greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends." With very little thought, too many today lay down their most intimate friends , their children, so that they can live "freer", unencumbered, lives. Kelly's sacrifice was undoubtedly the greater love.
David Alton is an independent crossbench peer and an officer of the all-party prolife group in Parliament. The fourth edition of his book Life After Death has just been published by The Christian Democrat Press