NRL News

Michael Clancy, photographer of “Baby Samuel,” is National Right to Life Convention 2011 Banquet Speaker

by | May 10, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

One of the highlights of every National Right to Life Convention is the Saturday night banquet where attendees to the pro-life educational event of the year reflect back on three jam-packed days and hear an inspirational speaker who sends them back home recharged and reinvigorated.

This year’s Banquet speaker is Michael Clancy, known to pro-lifers around the world for his famous photo of “Baby Samuel.” Clancy took that historic photo of Samuel Armas during the time surgeons were performing in utero surgery on the boy. The 1999 photo shows Samuel, who was not delivered for almost four more months, grasping the finger of the surgeon at Vanderbilt University.

A hugely popular speaker at previous NRL conventions, both with adults and teenagers, Mr. Clancey will speak on June 25. Be sure to go here to register for the June 23-25 convention in Jacksonville, Florida and to take advantage of the convention discount on rooms which ends May 20.

Below I’ve reprinted an article written previously by my associate, Liz Townsend, that appeared in National Right to Life News which eloquently tells Mr. Clancy’s story.

See you at the convention!


Unborn Baby’s Hand Continues to Change Hearts and Lives

By Liz Townsend

One moment can change your life. That’s what Michael Clancy has discovered in the eight and a half years since he snapped the groundbreaking photo of an unborn baby clutching his doctor’s hand during fetal surgery.

Clancy is now a fervent pro-lifer, spreading the message that unborn babies are precious human beings and deserve protection. He will be a featured speaker at the upcoming NRL Convention in Washington, D.C., July 3–5.

“It was the earliest human interaction ever recorded,” Clancy told NRL News. “It proved that the child at 21 weeks in utero is a reactive human being.”

When he took the photo in August 1999, Clancy was a freelance photographer filming the fetal surgery procedure for USA Today. Unborn baby Samuel Armas had been diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which occur when the spinal column fails to fuse properly, leaving a lesion (or opening) that is highly susceptible to infection. Dr. Joseph Bruner and his team at Vanderbilt University were operating to close the lesion.

After the incision was made in mother Julie Armas’s abdomen, her uterus was removed and laid on her thighs. An opening was made in the uterus, and the surgeons were supposed to operate on Samuel without any part of his body emerging from inside.

However, as Clancy eloquently describes on his web site,, “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.”

The amazing photograph of Samuel reaching out to his doctor appeared in USA Today and The Tennessean September 7, 1999. Although Clancy never sought notoriety, his work immediately caught the attention of the media and of people around the world.

Clancy was shocked, however, when fetal surgeon Joseph Bruner told USA Today in May 2000 that the photo did not show purposeful movement by Samuel. Bruner claimed that he saw the hand near the incision and he “reached over and picked it up. … The baby did not reach out. The baby was anesthetized. The baby was not aware of what was going on.”

But Clancy posted on his web site the series of frames that depict the moment of contact between Samuel and Dr. Bruner, and they show that Samuel is moving his own hand, grasping the doctor.

“The doctor questioned my credibility,” Clancy told NRL News. “But Samuel punched out, and even damaged the surgical opening. That 21-week-old child reacted to the touch of his surgeon.”

Clancy went on to testify at a congressional hearing in 2003 along with then-three-year-old Samuel, who was born 15 weeks after his surgery. During the hearing, as reported in National Review, Sen. Sam Brownback pointed to a large copy of Clancy’s photo and asked Samuel who it was. “Baby Samuel,” he answered. Brownback then asked what was happening. “They fixed my boo-boo,” said Samuel.

Although he considers himself “shy,” Clancy agreed to speak at the annual banquet of a local crisis pregnancy center about two and a half years ago. After he spoke, “they gave me the first standing ovation I ever had,” Clancy recalled. “Afterwards, 20 to 30 people were lined up to speak with me, and told me I need to continue telling my story.”

Clancy listened to their advice, and is now telling people about his first-hand witness to the humanity of the unborn. He also encourages people to download the photo from his web site and distribute it far and wide.

“It changes one heart at a time, that’s what this picture does,” he said. “This is God’s work. This is the youngest interaction with a child inside the womb ever recorded. As long as it keeps being put where people can see it, it can save lives.”

For more about Mr. Clancy see

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Categories: Unborn Children