From a reader…
Recently, a baby in Texas was temporarily removed from her mother’s womb for life saving spine surgery. After the 20 minute surgery, the baby was returned to the womb, and was born healthy several months later. (Truly a great pro-life story – Link to BBC story HERE.) My question: Could that baby have been validly and licitly baptized under emergency guidelines while out of the womb (presuming it was safe to do so, etc.), even though it was not “born” for another few months? Thank you.
I read that story. It is amazing what can be done today.
Yes, it would have been possible to baptize the child before being replaced.
Babies can be baptized. An unborn baby is a baby. An unborn baby can be baptized.
The baby in the story could easily have been baptized using the short, emergency form. There could be no possibility of anointing with chrism, the Ephphatha, etc.
Moreover, for a long time there has been a procedure in an emergency to baptize in utero.
Manualists, et al., write of a procedure in which, using a syringe as in amniocentesis, a solution of water and mercuric chloride was introduced such that it reached the child. Leo XIII in 1905 approved of answers to dubia – back when dubia received answers – issued by the Holy Office about the validity of such a baptism. The Holy Office said that it was permitted and it was valid. In that case, however, I should think that conditional baptism would be prudent after live birth if possible.
If one is at a higher than usual risk of miscarriage (has already had one, has low hormone levels etc), should such a person, as a habit, try to have their baby baptized in utero even at say 5-6 weeks?
Can unbaptized children who die in miscarriage reach heaven? Would “baptism of desire” apply if the parents would have desired to have the child baptized? Should we do baptism in utero always to be safe? Would it be efficacious if the water introduced did not necessarily reach the baby?
Sorry, for the questions; I’m a father of young children, so the answer is of real concern.
But it’s dangerous, because babies got accidentally killed by experimental in utero Baptisms back in the 16th-17th century. Probably less of a chance of certain death or accidental triggering of miscarriage, now.
Those who have read Laurence Sterne’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, specifically the lengthy theological judgement in French on the validity of baptism by injection which Sterne inserts into volume I, chapter XX (mistaken by many readers for an elaborate forgery), should know this well.
Ultrasounds are spectacular things, although good luck getting your insurance carrier to cover that.
Whoa there, Baba Looey. There’s enough here for several whole books.
Short answers, as I understand them (and to the extent I am fairly confident in my understanding being correct):
1) Would “baptism of desire” apply if the parents would have desired to have the child baptized? Probably not. I believe the concept of transferred baptism of desire was expressly rejected by … St. Thomas? the Holy Office? someone … at some point.
2) Would it be efficacious if the water introduced did not necessarily reach the baby? Probably not. The matter of baptism is the ablution of water across the body (preferably head, other body parts introduce ambiguities) of the person being baptized. I fail to see how pouring water near but not on an individual would suffice.
That being said, the question presents some interesting issues. Amniotic fluid is primarily water by volume, but its composition is not stable throughout pregnancy. Is it, at any stage, sufficiently water to constitute the matter of baptism? The Catholic Encyclopedia from 1917 says, “In like manner [moralists] consider as probably valid the baptism of an infant in its mother’s womb, provided the water, by means of an instrument, would actually flow upon the child,” citing Lehmkuhl. But there was unlikely a sophisticated analysis of the composition of amniotic fluid available to Fr. Lehmkuhl. If amniotic fluid be water, can baptism be effected by causing the amniotic fluid to flow across the child? That might change the answer to question (2), and opens the prospect of other methods of causing movement of the amniotic fluid.
3) Can unbaptized children who die in miscarriage reach heaven? That is a permissible subject of Christian hope, but not a question to which there is a definitive answer.
4) Should we do baptism in utero always to be safe & If one is at a higher than usual risk of miscarriage … should such a person, as a habit, try to have their baby baptized in utero even at say 5-6 weeks? Those involve medical judgment concerning cost-benefit analyses and likely depend on what sort of methods referred to in (2) yield a permissible confidence of validity. No opinion.
On the subject of baptism of embryos, below are the text of two documents from the archives of an international religious congregation that ran hospitals; most of the Sisters were fully qualified nurses and midwives. Unfortunately, the documents have no reference or author, and are undated. I guess they would have been from the first half of last century, and probably originated in the USA since they use “baptize” instead of “baptise.” I’ve reproduced the text to be as close to the original as possible, using the same spelling, capitalisation, punctuation, etc.
THE SUBJECT OF BAPTISM
No human being in the mother’s womb may be baptized so long as there is probable hope of administering Baptism after the birth. A child should be baptized at once after birth if in danger of death. The fact that a newly-born child is not breathing is not a sign of death. Only putrefaction, and that in a fairly advanced stage and general, is positive proof of death. But in cases of danger of death, when the child’s head alone has been delivered and further progress is arrested, Baptism should be given on the head, and the water should flow on the skin. This Baptism is valid and if the child is subsequently delivered Baptism may not be repeated. If, in cases of malpresentation, a hand, arm or leg is put forth and there is danger of death, the part delivered should be conditionally baptized; if the child is subsequently delivered alive, Baptism must be repeated conditionally. It is for the doctor to determine the chances of safe delivery. If the mother die, the child will also probably die before full delivery; therefore Baptism on the part delivered must be administered conditionally.
When a pregnant woman dies, an extracted fetus must be baptized absolutely if it is certainly living; if there is doubt about its life, it must be baptized conditionally. If it cannot be or is not extracted, it is the business of the doctor or nurse to administer Baptism to the child where it is. If, after the death of the mother, Caesarean section is to be done, the lapse of time to delivery will be so long that the chances for a living child are small. But there is considerable difference of opinion as to the time after maternal death that elapses before fetal death. Some say the fetus dies at once, other that it survives for hours (15 to 24), and stories are told of a period of two to four days. The fetus should, therefore, be baptized at the earliest possible moment by some of the methods well known to Doctors. Rupture of the amniotic membrane is advisable if there is no probability of a living child being delivered by the Caesarian section method. After the death of a pregnant woman, there is certainly a grave obligation to have a living child delivered by the section or some other method, if there is a probable chance of success.
Every miscarriage (aborted human fetus), if certainly alive, must be baptized absolutely; in doubt as to life, it must be baptized conditionally. It is unchristian to destroy all abortions as a useless mass of tissue. The living human being should be given a chance of heaven. These products of conception have lived for several days so that the presumption of life is strong. The approved way of baptizing these abortions is to open the membrane with thumb and finger, dip the mass into tepid water while pronouncing the form of Baptism and extract it. The mother should not engross all the attention of doctor and nurse.
There is no valid reason for stating that a living substance from the maternal womb is not animated by a rational soul.
Directions for Mid-Wives For the Baptism of Embryos or Children born before their time
The Embryos cannot be distinguished until the 15th day of gestation. At 30 days, it has the appearance of a grey or whitish jelly, & has reached the size of a common fly. At 45 days, the organs begin to appear, & the size is that of a bee. At 60 days, it is about two inches long & the places of the ears, nose & mouth begin to appear. The Embryo may retain life for about one hour, scarcely more. When a woman has reason to fear a miscarriage, she should send for a mid-wife at once. Should it take place, whatever substance appears should be carefully examined in order to discover the embryo or embryos, as there may be several living or dead. For this purpose all may be laid in a napkin over a plate moderately warm. The Embryo may be in its envelope or caul, or without it. If without it, and there is life, baptism must be given without condition. In either case, if life be doubtful it should be baptized conditionally with a form, such as the following – “If thou be a fit subject I baptize Thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” If the embryo be in its envelope or caul baptism must be given twice, & each time conditionally. First it should be given over the envelope, lest life should be extinguished in removing. Secondly, the envelope having been gently removed with a scissors or sharp-pointed knife, baptism should be given again, lest at first, it may not have been valid. The form in all cases may be the same, & a spoonful of water will be sufficient. When the embryo is sufficiently large to distinguish the head, the water should be poured on it, & in baptizing, the water must be poured & the words pronounced at the same time & by the same person.