Nurse dies after the birth of her eighth child after delaying cancer treatment

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Sapna Tracy (43), a strong believer in Catholic pro-life has passed away two years after she delayed cancer treatment in order to give birth to her eighth child. The senior nursing officer at AIIMS in New Delhi rejected her doctors’ medical advice to terminate her pregnancy and have surgery for breast cancer. All her children are below age 15.

Tracy’s strong belief system drove her decisions. She and her husband, Chittilappally Joju (50), were active members of Jesus Youth and Catholic Charismatic Renewal movements in their village in Thrissur when they were young. Joju worked as a social worker under the Church in the national Capital.

The couple, who were both activists were involved in pro-life movement of the Church, encouraging large families and refuting abortion. In fact, the Kerala Catholic Church honored the couple for having a big family.

Doctors made it clear that she would only orphan her seven other children while friends also encouraged her to take the medical advice that was given to her. However Joju said “Tracy was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in the third month of her eighth pregnancy. Doctors wanted termination of the pregnancy and immediate surgery to save her life. But she was determined not to agree to foeticide” She told the doctor, “Only I can give birth to this child growing in my womb. There are many good-hearted people who can take care of my seven other children”

Even though doctors urged Tracy to begin radiation and chemotherapy, the nurse refused any such treatment until after the birth of her eighth child. Mastectomy was then performed in the sixth month of her pregnancy. “She had a strong conviction that we should not end a life even if it endangers her own life”, Joju said.

Her husband praised and supported her decisions, saying “Giving birth to eight children and rearing everyone with her own salary, Tracy was a wonder in our Delhi neighbourhood”

A year ago, doctors told Tracy that the cancer had spread to the lungs. Joju took the children to Kerala earlier this year. He said “We consider life very precious. We have no right to terminate it. I believe population will drive development. Had Tracy been healthy, we would have gone for the ninth child.”

‘No room for despair’

Joju explained that he had been preparing the children for their mother’s death. “I have made them persons with hope. There is no room for despair.”, he said.

Fr Paul Madassery, secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council’s Family Commission, said the woman’s decision was right and the Church backed her pro-life stand. “We promote responsible parenthood. If a couple is healthy and can rear more children, there is nothing wrong in going for seven or eight or more children. When someone can rear more children, they should beget more.” he said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic Church took the lead in family planning in Kerala — the Catholics constitute a sizeable chunk of the state’s 19 per cent Christian population. The prosperity of Catholics in Kerala is partly due to their early adoption of family planning.

The Church is now encouraging members to have four or more children to combat the decline in numbers. This dip has been caused by migration to the West, working women deciding to limit the family size, and late marriages by the educated.

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