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Arts/Society Images That Changed The World


Jun 1, 2004
The Baby Hand

Some of us may be familiar with a picture called “The Baby Hand,” taken on Aug. 19, 1999, by photojournalist Michael Clancy for USA Today, which first published the picture. Clancy was assigned to document a spina bifida operation performed in utero on a 21-week unborn baby named Samuel Armas by Dr. Joseph Bruner, a surgeon at Nashville’s Vanderbuilt University Medical Center.

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The picture and its story have been circulated on the internet so often that some question whether they are authentic. They are.

Clancy describes the famous picture this way: “Samuel thrusts his tiny hand out of the surgical opening of his mother’s uterus. As the doctor lifts his hand, Samuel reacts to the touch and squeezes the doctor’s finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shakes the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. At that moment, I took this ‘Fetal Hand Grasp’ photo.”

In a story he wrote about the incident, Clancy added,

“As a doctor asked me what speed of film I was using, out of the corner of my eye I saw the uterus shake, but no one’s hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing. The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor’s finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. I took the picture! Wow! It happened so fast that the nurse standing next to me asked, ‘What happened?’ ‘The child reached out,’ I said. ‘Oh. They do that all the time,’ she responded.”

Clancy said the experience changed him from pro-choice to pro-life.

Not only did USA Today run the photo, but so did a number of other media sources in the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, France, Norway, Singapore, and South America.

The photo generated controversy at Fox News, where then-talk show host Matt Drudge was prevented by the network from broadcasting the image on his show. That was in the early years of Fox, before the cable giant rose to the top by appealing to conservatives. Drudge–who is strongly pro-life–quit over the dispute in the fall of 1999. Not long afterward, Fox ran the picture, anyway, as part of a story on spina bifida.

Samuel was born on Dec. 2, 1999, weighing 5 pounds 11 ounces–four weeks premature. By all indications, he appeared healthy. Today, he’s a “chattering, brown-eyed 3½-year-old.”