Doctor warns the practice of obstetrics is dying


Matercare International head addresses
Campaign Life’s summer students

John Jalsevac

The Interim

“Pro-life people don’t appreciate what’s happened to obstetrics,” lamented Dr. Robert Walley as he addressed summer student workers at Campaign Life Coalition’s Toronto office. “The practice of obstetrics is dying and it will be an enormous problem.”

Walley is the executive director of Matercare International, a Newfoundland-based charity, the self-professed mission of which is to improve “the lives and health of mothers and their unborn children throughout the world, through new initiatives of service, training and research, in accordance with the contemporary teaching contained in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life).”

Walley was born in Malta, raised in India and England and has lived in Newfoundland for three decades. He studied medicine in England, Toronto and Harvard and notes he was educated in the practice of obstetrics in a bygone era, the loss of which he mourns. Then, he says, it was regularly taught that modern technology made it possible for the first time in history for an obstetrician to claim two patients – the child and the mother. But developments since the 1960s have changed that. Walley recalls the first time he was asked to perform abortions. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I thought we had two patients? Now you’re asking me to kill one of them?” He moved to Canada, in part, because he did not like the direction English medicine was taking in terms of abortion and what it meant to be a obstetrician.

The accomplished Catholic physician, who has served as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Health, looks upon the practice of obstetrics with a refreshing worldview that forbids the idea of abortion or contraceptives as a solution. “The privilege that obstetricians have is of being there to help the co-creators,” he says. “Motherhood is of such fundamental importance that we should cherish, nourish and celebrate it. The most important event in the history of humanity, the Incarnation, occurred because a mother said ‘yes.’”

As such, Walley has made it his lifelong mission to “breathe life back into maternal health care and the practices of obstetrics,” to bring back the awareness of both the child and the mother as patients to be treated.

Walley’s work has brought him into various parts of Africa where obstetric services are limited and often completely unavailable. Amongst other things Matercare International trains traditional birth attendants in modern obstetric care, enabling them, despite their illiteracy, to spot numerous possible birth complications before labour begins. Should complications occur, Matercare ensures the midwives are in contact with nearby hospitals and can radio for help. “Nobody’s ever tried this in Africa,” says Walley.

Besides training midwives, Matercare has built numerous modern health centres, conducted life-saving research pertaining to the practice of obstetrics, provided health supplies and expended a great deal of effort treating the humiliating condition of obstetric fistula in numerous African countries, most notably Ghana and Nigeria. Matercare is currently working on establishing a fully equipped 20-bed birth trauma centre in Rwanda.

Matercare, however, has the great disadvantage in its work of not being a politically correct organization. “The greatest problem we have is the United Nations,” complains Walley. He related a typical example of how Matercare was excluded from offering services in an Albanian refugee camp because it refused to offer abortions.

Walley also has criticism of Canada’s role on the world stage, both through the UN and its agencies and the projects the government supports through the Canadian International Development Agency. “Canada is one of the leading promoters of abortion and birth control,” he says. “Leaving the moral arguments behind, you tell me how an abortion is going to help a mother dying from an obstructed labour or is bleeding to death?”

“It’s an international disgrace of which we should be ashamed, but we don’t care. It’s politically unimportant to any of our leaders, unlike AIDS. AIDS is a terrible scourge, because Canadians die of AIDS. But we give little or nothing to maternal mortality, because no Canadian mother ever dies. We are the Levites – we walk on the other side of the road and look away. We as a nation should be ashamed.”

“It’s a human rights issue,” Walley concludes about his vision of worldwide, mother-and-child-friendly obstetric care. “It has nothing to do with a religious issue. Mothers have a right to the care they need because they are having babies.”

Despite the obstacles, Matercare has helped numerous women in locations where there is absolutely no local help for them, and which the United Nations and government aid agencies ignore.

Walley concludes his heart-rending slide presentations with an appeal to financially support Matercare’s efforts. His most recent fundraising project is a Matercare air miles card which, when used by purchasers, banks air miles points to Matercare. He states this is a huge help to the organization, which is constantly flying volunteer doctors to needy locations around the world.

To contact Matercare to ask for the Air Miles kit, call (709) 579-6472 or e-mailinfo@matercare.org.

What is obstetric fistula?

Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening between the vagina and bladder and/or rectum. Most obstetric fistulae are caused by long obstructed labour, in which the baby cannot pass through the mother’s pelvis. The pressure of the baby’s head cuts off the blood supply to the tissues creating a breakdown of the tissue and the opening between the organs. Associated factors include malnutrition, very young age, lack of access to, or failure to obtain, appropriate emergency care and cultural beliefs and practices. The result is uncontrollable bladder and/or bowel leakage through the vagina, constant wetness, skin excoriation and foul odour. The impacts of the condition on the woman are shame, long-term debility and, in many cases, isolation and abandonment by her husband and family.

– Source: Matercare International

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