Hand of Hope - Analysis
This amazing photo, taken by Michael Clancy and originally published in The Tennessean and USA Today on September 7, 1999, is real and authentic. It "went viral" via forwarded email within weeks of its first appearance in newspapers.The photo was taken during a surgery performed by Dr. Joseph Bruner and Dr. Noel Tulipan at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville on August 19, 1999 to treat a 21-week-old fetus for spina bifida. The operation was a success, and three months later a healthy Samuel Alexander Armas was delivered by C-section.
Some have questioned the accuracy of the assertion that the fetus actually reached out of the opening in the womb to grasp the surgeon's finger. There are at least three different accounts of what happened at that moment, two of them from eyewitnesses:
- Viral text: "During the surgery on little Samuel, the little guy reached his tiny, but fully developed, hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon's finger."
- Photographer Michael Clancy: "Samuel came out from under anesthesia too soon and thrust his clenched fist out of the surgical opening to his mother's womb. In my opinion, Samuel was in pain. Dr. Joseph Bruner reached over and gently lifted Samuel's hand, and Samuel reacted by squeezing the doctor's finger."
- Surgeon Joseph Bruner: "Depending on your political point of view, this is either Samuel Armas reaching out of the uterus and touching the finger of a fellow human, or it's me pulling his hand out of the uterus ... which is what I did." (Quoted in The Tennessean, Jan. 9, 2000)
Perhaps it all boils down to semantics. Dr. Bruner has stated elsewhere that Samuel's hand "appeared" in the uterine opening before he reached out and lifted it, lending credence to photographer Clancy's version of events. In any case, although it appears the email does exaggerate when it says the fetus "reached ... through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon's finger," something akin to that really did happen.
Such quibbles don't lessen the impact of the photograph itself, which Dr. Bruner has described as "powerful" and Michael Clancy calls "miraculous." It should come as no surprise that both the image and Samuel Armas' success story have figured prominently in the abortion debate ever since.
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Sources and further reading:
Doctors Give Little Ones a Hand
The Tennessean, 7 Sep 1999
Photo of Fetal Surgery Still Stirs Emotions
The Tennessean, 9 Jan 2000
Story of 'Fetal Hand Grasp' Photograph
From the Website of Michael Clancy, photographer
Struggling Photographer Chooses Principle Over Money
JustFacts.com, 22 Sep 2000
Amazing Prenatal Photo Changes a Family for Life
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8 April 2000
Baby Photographed from Womb Adds Fuel to Abortion Debate
Associated Press, 23 Sep 2000
Last updated: 09/30/11