Citing her Catholic pro-life beliefs, a Kerala woman, who worked as a senior nursing officer at the AIIMS in New Delhi, ignored medical advice to terminate her pregnancy and undergo immediate surgery for breast cancer. Sapna Tracy (43), who delivered her eighth child in December 2015, died Monday in Thrissur after delaying cancer treatment. All her children are below age 15.
In their youth, Tracy and her husband Chittilappally Joju (50), from Chittatukara village in Thrissur, were active members of Jesus Youth and Catholic Charismatic Renewal movements. While Tracy worked at AIIMS, Joju served as a social worker under the Church in the national Capital.
In recent years, both were actively involved in the pro-life movement of the Church, promoting large families and working against abortion. The Kerala Catholic Church diocese in Faridabad even honoured the couple for having a large family.
“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. Friends and relatives too recommended that she go by medical advice. But she was determined not to agree to foeticide. Doctors warned her that she would orphan her seven other children if she did not start treatment. 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’,’’ Joju said.
Mastectomy was performed in the sixth month of pregnancy. Doctors wanted to start radiation therapy and chemotherapy but Tracy said she would agree to that only after giving birth. “A few months after the delivery, she went for radiation and chemotherapy. She had a strong conviction that we should not end a life even if it endangers her own life. Giving birth to eight children and rearing everyone with her own salary, Tracy was a wonder in our Delhi neighbourhood,’’ Joju said.
About a year ago, Tracy was told that the cancer had spread to the lungs. Joju took the entire family — five boys and three girls — to Kerala earlier this year. Joju said he always supported the stand his wife took. “We consider life very precious. We have no right to terminate it. I had no qualms about backing her decision not to abort and start cancer treatment. We could not have saved two lives. I believe population will drive development. Had Tracy been healthy, we would have gone for the ninth child,’’ he said.
He said he had been counselling the children, preparing them for the death of their mother. “They had realised their mother would go one day. God and good-hearted people around them would take care of them. I have made them persons with hope. There is no room for despair.’’ 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, who are considered economically better placed, educated and politically powerful, constitute a sizeable chunk of the state’s 19 per cent Christian population. In fact, the prosperity of Catholics in Kerala is partly attributed to their early adoption of family planning. But the Church is now encouraging members to have four or more children to stem the decline in numbers. And this dip is attributed to migration to the West, working women deciding to limit the family size, and late marriages by the educated.