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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

02 August 2006

Autopsy vs. Burial of a Fetus

Q: Thirty-four years ago my then girlfriend became pregnant. We wed and my wife carried to full term then lost the fetus as the umbilical cord detached. My question starts here. The hospital gave us the choice of burying the fetus or letting them perform an autopsy and I believe after all these years I should have buried or at least taken care of the fetus. I feel solely responsible for choosing the latter method. I must admit that at age 23 I didn’t understand what decision to make. Since then, we’ve had two boys by caesarian but I often longed for that daughter I never had. Did I sin by my decision? Should we ever meet some day, will that daughter hate me?

A: When we lose a child (born or unborn), the stress leads us to think differently than when we’re calm and rational. I know this for a fact, since I still clearly remember my wife’s miscarriage back in 1990. At such times, we sometimes make what we believe are the best decisions, then spend years regretting our choices. Even if we’re later convinced that all we did was right, we may suddenly experience the longing of which you write.

I understand the hospital wanting to know why a healthy mother with a healthy child in utero lost her baby before she could be born. An autopsy could help them determine the contributing factors and, perhaps, help to make sure that this never again happened with your wife. At the same time, we like to know that our dead loved ones have been laid to rest with respect and dignity.

I honestly don’t think that your actions following the loss of your daughter were sinful and am certain that in the Resurrection, even if she knows your actions, your daughter will not hold them against you. If anything, I would blame Satan (and your fallen human nature) for using your emotions to trick you into feeling guilt about a painful series of events over which you had little control.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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