Nun excommunicated for allowing dying patient to have an abortion

We covered this story already, but I want to direct your attention to this NPR article, which has a more in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the woman terminating her pregnancy and the excommunication of the nun. When the pregnant woman showed up at the hospital, she was too ill to even be moved to an operating room; she was literally on her death bed, and would have almost definitely died without the abortion:

Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”

The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital.

“They were in quite a dilemma,” says Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College. “There was no good way out of it. The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make.”

That’s some moral philosophy you’ve got there when the decision to let a fetus and a woman die or let the fetus die and keep the woman alive is “a very hard choice to make.”

But the hospital felt it could proceed because of an exception — called Directive 47 in the U.S. Catholic Church’s ethical guidelines for health care providers — that allows, in some circumstance, procedures that could kill the fetus to save the mother. Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital as well as its liaison to the diocese, gave her approval.

Let’s pause for a moment here. Yes, most (all?) hospitals have ethics committees or boards that evaluate tough cases. But here you have a dying woman whose life can be saved by a completely legal and incredibly common medical procedure; if she does not get this procedure she will die. But because the hospital is religiously affiliated, there’s a nun on the ethics board who gets to exert her moral philosophy over this patient’s right to live?

Don’t get me wrong: Sister Margaret McBride made the right decision here, and she was brave in making it. It’s abhorrent, though, that questions like this even go before a religiously-motivated ethics board in the first place. What if it was Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, the man who declared Sister McBride excommunicated, who was sitting on that board? (There is no “what if.” The patient would be dead, the fetus would be dead, and four children would be orphaned).

The woman survived. When Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted heard about the abortion, he declared that McBride was automatically excommunicated — the most serious penalty the church can levy.

“She consented in the murder of an unborn child,” says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”

Except, well, sometimes the ends do justify the means. I understand that sometimes Morality Is Hard, but this should not be. And hey, if it’s the Catholic perspective that a mother must die along with the fetus if she’s in a situation like this, then fine — pregnant Catholic women who follow this line of belief (and I’m going to guess there aren’t too many when it comes down to it) are welcome to refuse treatment, including abortion, in dire circumstances. But there’s a real conflict if a hospital adheres to a religiously-based morality system that disallows legal treatments to prevent death or physical harm — especially where there is no option of moving the patient to another hospital. If there was a hospital run by a non-Christian religious group whose belief system held that touching a member of the opposite sex was forbidden, and a girl came in and died because it was an emergency and there were no female doctors readily available, people would throw fits. And rightly so! But almost kill a patient because saving her life requires an abortion? We end up talking about how it’s a “difficult situation,” and debating whether the nun should be excommunicated.

If your “pro-life” views require that both a mother and a fetus die when it’s perfectly possible to save the mother, perhaps you should re-consider your moral judgment skills.

Thanks to Doug for the link.


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75 comments for “Nun excommunicated for allowing dying patient to have an abortion

  1. Keri
    May 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I agree completely and couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Sheelzebub
    May 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    As someone who was raised as Catholic, I can assure you that the Catholic Church does not regard women as people.

    And this stuff is why I’m leery of anti-choicers who say, “Well, of course I’m for it in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life.” Our rights have been chipped away enough to erode those scant few exceptions. The fact that so many hospitals are affiliated with religions does not help. They have the “right” to kill women.

  3. PrettyAmiable
    May 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    On the other thread, one commenter brought up that maybe the Catholic church just has no place in a hospital administration. I’m team that person.

  4. Xeginy
    May 20, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I agree with PrettyAmiable. If the Catholic Church thinks it’s better to let a woman die than for her to get an abortion – fine. Have fun with that. But I think it is unacceptable for them to start pushing their beliefs onto an administrative board in a hospital. If it’s legal, do it. If it’s illegal, don’t do it. It’s unfortunate that so many hospitals are religiously affiliated.

  5. May 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    With everything going on in the Catholic church these days, I kind of wonder if they are actively trying to get people to stop being Catholic.

  6. Linda Loughrey
    May 20, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    These people are medieval. Thank you to the brave administrator who was able to stand up to the narrowminded clergy.

  7. Suzanne
    May 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Well, Catholic women can’t say they don’t know where they stand.

    It sounds as if Sister McBride is sticking to her guns, refusing to say she repents her actions. Hence the excommunication and the possibility she may be expelled from her order.

    It is interesting that she seems to have thought her what she did acceptable under the Church’s own ethical directive. If she and the hospital were correct, then the good bishop is ignoring the Church’s own guidelines in order to make an example of Sister McBride.

    The whole problem, of course, is that the woman and her family were apparently unwilling to have her follow the example of St. Gianna Molla. What’s wrong with these people?

  8. May 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    well Ben, that was one of the things that worked on me so it just might be their plan.

  9. May 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Back to the main topic, this kind of thing terrifies me because there are a lot of catholic hospitals in my area. I’m actually sterilized but since I haven’t had a hysterectomy, I can’t be 100% sure I’ll never get pregnant. And if I do, since I am sterilized (essure), there’s a damn good chance that it would be an ectopic pregnancy. So yeah, good on Sister Margaret McBride and a giant fuck you to the rest of the church that would have me die.

  10. Jay
    May 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    (The HMTL in my first post was botched, and I’m not sure if it went through or not; if so, I apologize for the doublepost.)

    Nothing would be more ‘pro-life’ than going after priests who abuse children, and promoting safe sex practices that can curb the AIDS epidemic; but for some reason, the priests aren’t met with the same rebuke as Sister McBride, and the pontiff seems unconcerned with children impacted by AIDS – I suppose children only matter when they’re fetuses/embryos whose well-being can be evoked in order to police women’s bodies.

    “And this stuff is why I’m leery of anti-choicers who say, “Well, of course I’m for it in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life.” “

    The anti-choicers who say this are being completely dishonest about the reasons behind their opposition to abortion – after all, if abortion really were ‘murder’, why would the circumstances of conception matter? Murder is murder, regardless of how the victim was conceived.

    Making exceptions for cases of rape makes their opposition to abortion seem like a way for them to punish women for being ‘wanton’ with their sexuality. It’s like, “What, she thinks she can choose to have sex without facing the consequences?”, but they withdraw this criticism from rape victims, who obviously haven’t chosen to have sex. – anti-choice rhetoric often has ‘slut-shaming’ underpinnings.

  11. White
    May 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    If your “pro-life” views require that both a mother and a fetus die when it’s perfectly possible to save the mother, perhaps you should re-consider your moral judgment skills.

    Well if you’re going to treat them both equally then you can’t kill the fetus to save the mother even when they’re both going to die. I mean, you couldn’t kill the mother to save the fetus if they were both “going to die anyway.”

  12. Marle
    May 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    That is so scary that a woman could die for want of a simple medical procedure, in a hospital! How do they debate this? How?

  13. Ens
    May 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I wish people who used “the ends don’t justified the means” would realize that they often get the ends and means backwards.

    Here, the real end that the Catholic Church had was “not doing an abortion”. The means was “murder through willful neglect”. And it’s true: in this case, the ends clearly don’t justify the means. Which the nun saw clearly.

  14. Emily
    May 20, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    In a case in which an abortion will save the life of the mother, the fetus is KILLING the mother. It’s not a question of “they’re both going to die” – one of them is going to kill the other, or, in most cases, one of them is going to kill both him/herself (granting personhood, which is not my personal philosophy) AND his/her mother.

    White should have to face the 4 children this woman already has/had at the time of the operation and explain to them why his belief that abortion as wrong means that this hospital should have let their mother die.

  15. Julie
    May 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    I mean, you couldn’t kill the mother to save the fetus if they were both “going to die anyway.”

    Actually, if there were a situation in which the only two options were a) both mother and fetus dies or b) fetus lives and mother dies, then I think saving the fetus would be an option. You’d get into some pretty complex consent issues, since a person old enough to get pregnant is usually old enough to give or withhold consent to being killed, but I don’t think it’d be a choice that wouldn’t even be put on the table.

    Of course, a situation like this wouldn’t be analogous to what we’re talking about, since the fetus needs the mother’s body to survive, not vice versa.

  16. Gypsy4022
    May 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Me thinks that the Bishop is being naive. If the women has four other children, and to allow her to die for some ethical reasons which have no foundation in the Catholic Church, would be tantamount to two murders- the mother and the unborn. In addition, orphaning the other four small children would be ruining the entire family. Sister MacBride has made the right decision and cheers to her for standing up for the right of the family.

  17. Sarah
    May 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    And yet the Catholic church does not excommunicate Congressional representatives who vote in favor of military action, nor soldiers, who at best kill some people in order to preserve the lives of others.

    Interesting.

  18. Andrea
    May 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Gypsy, I know you probably didn’t mean it like this, but I’m a little uncomfortable with using her other four children as a main reason for granting the abortion. A woman’s worth is not dependent on her status as mother/not-mother, and on the number of kids she may have.

    I don’t have any kids. Still doesn’t give the Catholic Church the right to let me die on behalf of a fetus.

  19. White
    May 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Actually, if there were a situation in which the only two options were a) both mother and fetus dies or b) fetus lives and mother dies, then I think saving the fetus would be an option. You’d get into some pretty complex consent issues, since a person old enough to get pregnant is usually old enough to give or withhold consent to being killed, but I don’t think it’d be a choice that wouldn’t even be put on the table.

    Can you perform an operation on someone when that operation will kill them, even with their consent? I doubt that you can.

    Actually, if there were a situation in which the only two options were a) both mother and fetus dies or b) fetus lives and mother dies, then I think saving the fetus would be an option. You’d get into some pretty complex consent issues, since a person old enough to get pregnant is usually old enough to give or withhold consent to being killed, but I don’t think it’d be a choice that wouldn’t even be put on the table.

    Of course, a situation like this wouldn’t be analogous to what we’re talking about, since the fetus needs the mother’s body to survive, not vice versa.

    I dont see why this would be relevant.

  20. Sailorman
    May 20, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    There’s gotta be a law.

    Perhaps there is nothing we can really do about private things. but a freakin’ HOSPITAL should not get a penny of funding, an ounce of “extra help,” a iota of extra consideration, a zoning variance, etc., unless they will agree to provide all medically necessary services of which they are capable.

    This is simply galling.

  21. Lynnsey
    May 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I don’t think it’s the status as mother/not-mother that is important, but the importance of that woman in the lives of others who depend directly on her (whether we like it or not, women provide the majority of care to children in our society) that becomes an issue. This SHOULD be important to an entity, like the Catholic Church, that CLAIMS to be “pro-life” (a term I think is ridiculous in light of their policies on a myriad of other issues) and big on so-called family values.

    It still doesn’t give them the right to let you die if you don’t have any kids. It should, however, strengthen the argument against the illogical choice that they tend to make here in light of their own supposed moral principles.

  22. Pidgey
    May 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    It is horrifying how the Catholic Church works so hard to protect child molesters but will excommunicate a nun who authorizes a life saving procedure.

  23. Bob
    May 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Surely being expelled from the Catholic Church is a good thing?

  24. Andrea
    May 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Lynnsey, I hear what you’re saying. I’m just not sure arguing on their terms is really going to get anyone anywhere. I mean, logical consistency isn’t their strong point, clearly. I could never, ever get behind ‘family values’ as the conservative, christian right has defined it.

  25. Kat
    May 20, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Nuns in general are feeling a backlash right now for speaking out against the bishops on healthcare reform. My aunt is a nun, and in hospital administration. They do a lot of good. I love that they are coming into their own in public rebellion and hope this is the beginning of a trend. Although I also think the bishops are going to fight them right back. Kudos to Sister McBride for making a common sense decision.

  26. preying mantis
    May 20, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    “So yeah, good on Sister Margaret McBride and a giant fuck you to the rest of the church that would have me die.”

    I’m pretty sure the church position in the case of your hypothetical ectopic pregnancy would be that you get to have your abortion, but you have to suffer through the extra pain and bear the extra expense of it being an abortion via removal of the fallopian tube in which the embryo is lodged.

    “Well if you’re going to treat them both equally then you can’t kill the fetus to save the mother even when they’re both going to die. I mean, you couldn’t kill the mother to save the fetus if they were both “going to die anyway.””

    Buh?

    A) We quite frequently excise conjoined twins who, without their twin, cannot live based on the fact that the supporting twin can survive on their own but will die if asked to continue supporting their twin. So yeah, this isn’t really that much of a judgment call when it’s not the RCC and those godforsaken pregnant-lady sinners. Faced with the choice between one dead baby and two dead babies, pretty much everybody goes for the option that leaves at least one baby alive.

    B) Another of the dangers of being a pregnant lady in a Catholic-run hospital is the extent to which the fetus’s well-being is prioritized over the mother’s in the delivery room. Given a situation in which a laboring mother and the fetus she’s delivering are at risk of death or maiming, the fetus comes first, second, and third.

  27. prowlerzee
    May 20, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Brava, Sarah and Andrea!

    “…and a girl came in and died because it was an emergency and there were no female doctors readily available, people would throw fits.”

    Oh, please. The silence would be deafening. We have entire Islamic nations who do this, and yet the official “progressive” stance is that it’s *bigoted* to call out these swine. And don’t forget all the noxious “some women *choose* to be masked and draped and have clitoraldectomies” arguments.

    The Catholic Church is big target number one, and meanwhile there’s a giant politically correct moat protecting the fortress of Islam.

    You can gripe all you want against the Catholic Church and you get kudos and hosannas. And yet, SCHOOL GIRLS are burned to death in Saudi Arabia because of course the firemen aren’t allowed to touch them. Crickets. No fits, no outrage, no notice. Entire Islamic nations have religious laws that condemn 13 year olds to be stoned for reporting RAPE. The public gathers and watches the men stone the 13 year old rape victim who is buried up to her neck. A lowly woman nurse has to dig her out and determine her vital signs because of course the men clubbing the child to death can’t be “defiled” by touching such a creature.

    This is the NORM, from small to large debasement, murder, rape and torture of women AND GIRLS, but say word one against Islam and in the “progressive” body-snatchers world you are outed as not being a pod person! You’re a :gasp: shriek: “bigot!!!!” Because even though the REALITY is that entire Islamic nations consign women and girls to much WORSE than this, the NARRATIVE is “only Islamic extremists” believe that. Well, that much is true: entire Islamic NATIONS, plus their own majority, appear to be “extremist.”

    Brava to Sister Margaret McBride. The nuns seem to be leading the way, and to all of them, bravissima. I know there are unsung heroines in Iran, too, and they are leading the way…but until we recognize all these women as the revolutionaries they are we are giving comfort to the EXTREMIST majority of these vile toxic patriarchal religions that have a stranglehold on entire nations. We have to hold the religion of islam in as much if not more contempt, on a regular, public, LOUD and widespread basis, as we do the Catholic Church, in order to support the few brave women trying to make a difference there.

    Instead, we allow Iran on the UN committee for women’s rights, and only the Iranian women’s rights advocates protest…to no notice, acknowledgment or support.

  28. micheyd
    May 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Sounds a lot like they had the nun take “the fall” for making an obviously correct medical decision (for both ethical reasons and malpractice liability) so the smug, self-righteous Bishops and Reverends could pontificate from a theoretical position.

  29. Gerald Alexander
    May 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I have a slightly different take on this situation. If I walk into the room of my sick brother-in-law and turn off his oxygen because I want to inherit his share, and he dies, I can be prosecuted for murder. If a doctor fails to prescribe the oxygen because he was tired, he can be sanctioned; but if I am the doctor, and will benefit by his death, see first situation. Well, what if instead of a doctor of medicine, I am a doctor of theology, and what animates me is not money but brownie points to heaven: turning off the oxygen should get me sent straight away to 20 years (or life) for murder.

    My conclusion: the DAs should look over all the cases in Catholic hospitals where deaths of women from non-performed abortions might have occurred, and consider whether those involved in the decision not to save the life of the women should be prosecuted for murder. First among those to be prosecuted should be the local archbishops, if it was found that they encouraged the practice.

    Ridiculous? 15 years ago, we would have said the same thing about prosecuting bishops who covered up for pedophiles. In many states, they would now be termed accessories to pedophilia. Perhaps by 2025, we will recognize murder when we see it.

  30. Atheistchick
    May 20, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I was going to make a mean comment about fucking all religion. But I will try to restrain myself.

    I will restate my thank you to Sister McBride–your actions are greatly appreciated and we need more like you, willing to question the church hierarchy and its impacts on healthcare.

    It does not matter what all the reverends and shit had to say about the abortion procedure. That is a healthcare decision made by the woman and her team of doctors and medical staff.

    Also (the following comment is not nice in the least), maybe if Sister McBride didn’t want to be excommunicated, she could try opposing condoms to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS, and raping a few children while she’s at it. Seems to be the pattern here.

  31. Tree
    May 20, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    yeah, I think that if Sister McBride were Brother/Father McBride an excommunication would not have happened. The Catholic Church is great at rationalizing away inconsistencies when it wants to.

    That the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in “the ends justify the means” is bullshit, even when they tell themselves otherwise. The catechism includes Just War theory and self-defense. ‘Pulling the plug’ on a patient is permitted as long as the procedures necessary to keep them alive are deemed “burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome.” Operations that can incidentally destroy a fetus are permitted as long as the intent isn’t to destroy it and as long as the risks are not “disproportionate” to the potential benefits for the fetus. (potential benefit to the mother isn’t included in that equation. clearly an oversight.)

    The focus is always “intent” and “proportion.” The church is only an absolutist when it wants to be.

  32. Granny T
    May 20, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I became an ex-Catholic 35 years ago, and have never regretted it. Every so often I’m reminded of why I left: too many popes, cardinals, bishops and priests interpreting their own hormones, desires and indigestion as the will of God.

  33. May 20, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    “Can you perform an operation on someone when that operation will kill them, even with their consent? I doubt that you can.”

    Actually, if you know a medical treatment will kill a person–sometimes, death is the goal–it depends on what country you’re in (or, sometimes, what part of what country). If death is a likely, but not certain, then the treatment may still be provided with the patient’s informed consent. Unquestionably.

    And really, White, you don’t understand how it’s relevant to examine (even as a thought experiment) a situation in which the options were certain death of woman and fetus, or the possibility of saving (only) the fetus?

    28-weeks-pregnant woman on the operating table, bleeding out, heart stopped, docs can’t restart it after three full minutes.

    What do you do, White? Odds that her heart starts again are looking pretty grim. Emergency C-section seals the deal. But if you don’t do that C-section right now, the fetus dies, too.

    Still irrelevant? Do you “treat them both equally”? Or does that glimmer of hope for Baybee’s life just make your sense of “equality” melt inside?

    You make the call.

  34. PrettyAmiable
    May 20, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    EAMD, why doesn’t the woman get a say? Or barring that, her family? White shouldn’t get to make the call whether efforts continue to save this woman’s life. Sorry.

    If I ever get knocked up, damned if I don’t see a lawyer to put together a super explicit will that I tattoo somewhere super visibly on my body.

    PS, GrannyT, you’re awesome. Thank you for making me giggle.

  35. May 20, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    In most “real-life” situations, PrettyAmiable, there would be a discussion of “what should the doctors do if” when obtaining hypothetical consent for the hypothetical operation. However, in most cases, there are still a lot of discretionary lines to be drawn–for example, if a patient says, “Save the fetus if there’s nothing else that can be done” or something to that effect, when is “nothing else that can be done” point reached?

    However, that wasn’t my point. Upthread, White seems to be dismissing Julie’s hypothetical as irrelevant. I don’t think it is irrelevant at all, and it’s also not necessarily a hypothetical. I was interested to see, in an entirely plausible emergency situation in which the most likely options were 1) both die and 2) woman dies, fetus lives, if the “treat them both equally” standard still applied. My suspicion is that for many “pro-lifers”, you would find that all of a sudden, it’s okay if one of them dies.

  36. Marle
    May 20, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Angela Carder died from being forced to have a cesarean when she had cancer. She was conscious and against it, so it’s really horrible.

    This is actually kind of a hard subject for me. My birth mother had an aneurysm when she was 8 and a half months pregnant with me. They did an emergency cesarean, and I was fine but she’s been in a nursing home ever since. Maybe the aneurysm wouldn’t have done as much damage if they waited to do the cesarean? I just don’t know.

  37. chingona
    May 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    There have been several cases in which women were killed/allowed to die to save their fetuses (or attempt to). The most famous was that of Angela Carder, a women who was pregnant and terminally ill with cancer. Against her wishes, the wishes of her family and the wishes of her own doctors, the hospital obtained a court order to perform a c-section. She and the baby, born at 26 weeks, died shortly afterward.

    It’s not that unusual for a hospital to obtain a court order for a c-section on a patient who will not consent to one. In most of these cases, the mother lives, but c-sections are more risky than vaginal birth (mortality rate of 1 in 2,500 vs. 1 in 10,000, I believe).

  38. Julie
    May 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    White, could you give me an example of a situation in which saving the fetus would require killing the mother (as opposed to a situation in which the mother is already dying, and the fetus is simply extracted)? If you find my point above irrelevant, then let’s focus on a situation that is directly comparable to killing the fetus to save the mother.

  39. White
    May 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    White, could you give me an example of a situation in which saving the fetus would require killing the mother (as opposed to a situation in which the mother is already dying, and the fetus is simply extracted)? If you find my point above irrelevant, then let’s focus on a situation that is directly comparable to killing the fetus to save the mother.

    There really isn’t one. Performing a C-section that kills the mother can only ever have the side effect of killing the mother – it never directly kills her in the way that an abortion kills the fetus. But even then, we wouldn’t perform a C-section on her without her consent when that C-section would kill her as a side effect. So you’re right, there really are no situations that are directly comparable to killing the fetus to save the mother.

    But if you assume that the fetus is a person with the same rights as the mother, then you couldn’t directly kill the fetus, ever. Even to save the mother’s life.

    What Jill said interested me too:

    And hey, if it’s the Catholic perspective that a mother must die along with the fetus if she’s in a situation like this, then fine — pregnant Catholic women who follow this line of belief (and I’m going to guess there aren’t too many when it comes down to it) are welcome to refuse treatment, including abortion, in dire circumstances. But there’s a real conflict if a hospital adheres to a religiously-based morality system that disallows legal treatments to prevent death or physical harm — especially where there is no option of moving the patient to another hospital. If there was a hospital run by a non-Christian religious group whose belief system held that touching a member of the opposite sex was forbidden, and a girl came in and died because it was an emergency and there were no female doctors readily available, people would throw fits. And rightly so! But almost kill a patient because saving her life requires an abortion? We end up talking about how it’s a “difficult situation,” and debating whether the nun should be excommunicated.

    The belief that it’s wrong to touch a member of the opposite sex is purely religious. It has no possible secular foundation. This would be the Catholic equivalent of abstaining from eating meat on Fridays. The belief that a fetus is a person is not purely religious. It has a possible secular foundation in a way that a prohibition against touching members of the opposite sex does not.

    Ultimately, the question of whether the hospital should be required to perform abortions in these circumstances all boils down to whether fetuses are people. If they aren’t, then allowing people to pretend that they are when doing so results in another person’s death is ridiculous. If they are, then obviously allowing/requiring people to behave as though they are makes perfect sense. So the conscience clause is a compromise between people who believe that fetuses are people and those who believe that they are not.

  40. tinfoil hattie
    May 20, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Don’t forget, it’s also okay to leave her four children without a mother.

  41. Athenia
    May 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    I very highly doubt that *any* Catholic would let their mother/daughter/wife/sister/aunt etc. die like that. Please.

    Bishops need to stop being assholes.

  42. Alara Rogers
    May 20, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    White, could you give me an example of a situation in which saving the fetus would require killing the mother (as opposed to a situation in which the mother is already dying, and the fetus is simply extracted)?

    Ok, here we go.

    The mother is a werewolf, who will shapeshift when the next full moon comes. She has refused surgery to transplant her unborn fetus into a surrogate mother. Although thus far the fetus has been small enough to survive the mother’s transformation into a wolf, it will be destroyed in her next shapeshift. The mother has refused the surgery because the only way to keep a werewolf opened up surgically long enough to remove a fetus is to use silver instruments, but the silver poisoning if those instruments are used will probably kill and will certainly permanently damage the mother. Since she’s a werewolf, she’ll fight off any attempt to restrain her and do the surgery, and you can’t drug her; your only alternatives are to shoot her with a silver bullet, cut her open, take the fetus and put it in a host mother, or let her involuntarily shapeshift next full moon, and kill the fetus.

    Let’s assume that she’s a law-abiding werewolf who eats raw steak, not people, and does no one any harm, not a Harry Potter werewolf who has no control over herself. She’s just like you and me, except she has a medical condition which will kill her fetus and which prevents the fetus from being removed surgically without doing her enormous physical damage, which she is unwilling to endure.

    Do you murder the woman so you can save the fetus, or do you let nature take its course and let the fetus be killed?

    Admittedly this is completely ridiculous and not a real-world scenario at all, but the problem with some of these thought experiments is that in real life you can’t separate out factors like “mother is a woman”, “mother is the parent of the child”, “conception happened naturally” and such, which is why we use constructs like “The world’s greatest violinist has been miniaturized and is hooked up to your blood stream and he needs your blood to survive, do you kill him by removing him?” and so forth.

  43. Sprout
    May 20, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    I just had to chime in to agree with a couple commenters up-thread who said that the Catholic church really should have no place in hospital administration. I’ll offer one more (way less dramatic) example of their religious principles getting in the way of good medical practice. A while back I had some medical issues that landed me in the hospital for a while – a Catholic hospital, not my choice. My doctor prescribed the pill for me for reasons other than birth control, but because of the Catholic “moral principles” written into hospital policy they couldn’t give it to me in the hospital. My mom had to go to an outside pharmacy to pick up that prescription, when all other meds were given and monitored by the hospital. Completely ridiculous and medically irresponsible, in my opinion. My situation was minor compared to the life and death abortion decision being discussed, but I have to wonder how many women are given sub-par medical care daily at such hospitals. I have a serious problem with the fact that there are so many Catholic run hospitals and that often they are the only choice for some people in certain places and situations. And I hate that my money went to them. If only we could have a government funded health care system that would require some kind of separation of church and state…

  44. Brennan
    May 20, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you for reporting this. It’s ridiculous. This should never have come before an ethics board; the doctors and nurses involved had an ethical obligation as soon as she agreed to the abortion. They could have lost their licenses for denying it.

  45. Ens
    May 20, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I love the werewolf analogy.

  46. Valerie2
    May 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I have to agree with Tree. If it was a man that made the call, wouldn’t be an issue. They really want to punish women for eating of the ‘forbidden fruit’. Titanic fail.

  47. Julie
    May 21, 2010 at 1:10 am

    Ah, but Alara, the mother won’t be killed herself in the next shapeshift. It is not a parallel situation!

  48. May 21, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Sister McBride is a scapegoat. It’s a PR issue as much as anything. The people at the top aren’t complete idiots and know that besides the “we’re pro-life at all costs, blah blah” rhetoric, there are real-life situations you can’t easily circumvent. So what do they do in order to save face? They hang a vulnerable member of their own organization out to dry. The Sister McBrides of this world take the fall for the powerful men at the top.

  49. preying mantis
    May 21, 2010 at 6:40 am

    “Performing a C-section that kills the mother can only ever have the side effect of killing the mother – it never directly kills her in the way that an abortion kills the fetus.”

    I’m curious as to why carving open someone’s abdomen, thus knowingly precipitating situationally catastrophic and lethal physical response, it so hugely, drastically different from removing an embryo or fetus from the uterus and thus knowingly precipitating a situationally catastrophic and lethal physical response.

    I mean, are we really supposed to buy that the deliberate and fatal compromising of a fetus’s supply of blood, oxygen, and what have you is killing it while the same thing being done to a woman’s supply of blood, oxygen, and what have you is just this super-regrettable side effect but totally not the same as killing her?

  50. Rev Revvin'
    May 21, 2010 at 7:10 am

    So the Sister saved a human life and by so doing also made a great contibution to the well-being of four already-born children.

    Where’s the sin?

  51. May 21, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Here’s what I’m having a hard time understanding. In the era of HIPAA, how did this bishop, who as far as I can tell is not a hospital administrator but merely the head of the local diocese, come to know about healthcare decisions made by this woman and by the hospital’s ethics board in relation to the treatment of this woman to begin with? How did all of the other information about her life and medical condition — that this was her fifth pregnancy, and that she had right heart failure — get released to the media and the public? Where the hell is the confidentiality?

  52. Randomosity
    May 21, 2010 at 7:49 am

    I’m waiting for the Catholic bishops’ outrage over surgery to separate conjoined twins that necessarily results in one twin dying so that one can live a normal life. Usually this surgery is performed because a vital organ is shared (like the heart or lungs) and one set of organs trying to support two people results in both dying early. Separating them almost always means one twin dies.

    I’m not talking about separating conjoined twins in which they both have a good chance of surviving and do survive. I refer only to those unusual cases in which shared vital organs are overtaxed. One was in the news recently and I heard nothing at all about it from the Church.

    It’s OK to kill a child to save its sibling, but not OK to kill a non-viable 11-week fetus to save an already born, existing human. Seems like compassion is a mortal sin.

  53. Sheelzebub
    May 21, 2010 at 8:12 am

    People who believe it’s okay to let women die to save fetuses don’t believe women are human beings. They do not think we are people and they do not value our right to life. They value control over women’s bodies and lives, but think that women are not worth anything.

    And I have zero problem calling such people–and institutions that promote this sort of thinking–misogynist.

  54. Emily
    May 21, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I just have to say that White’s distinction between an embryo being a person and touching the opposite sex or meat on Fridays is BULLSHIT. I can think of any number of “secular” reasons for the latter two rules. To wit: consumption of meat at current levels is dangerous to the environment so a mandatory one day a week on which no one eats meat will save the planet; and any number of sex phobic “non-religious” reasons for the ban on intergender touching.

    The point is, religions and philosophies differ on the question of all three propositions. The existence of some POSSIBLE secular justification for a religious rule does not make it NOT a religious rule anymore.

  55. pcwhite
    May 21, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Oh, White is obviously an idiot. That’s the only word I can use to describe someone who would rather see two dead people* than one dead person.

    I didn’t think that original story could get much worse, but I guess it just did. ‘According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”’ Jesus. Certainly brings the reality home, doesn’t it?

    *Fetus isn’t a person, but I’m just calling it that for simplicity’s sake.

  56. Flowers
    May 21, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I have a Directive to Physicians (also called a living will) stating my wishes if I should become incapacitated. In Texas, where I live, I cannot ask to be removed from life support if I’m pregnant (which I think is fine). However, I do specifically state in the document that if I am pregnant and incapacitated that I do not consent to be taken to a Catholic hospital and want to be transferred as soon as possible to either a Jewish or completely secular hospital. I’ve had that statement in my documents for over 10 years. I think everyone would do well to go to an attorney and get one for themselves and give it to their families.

  57. Karen
    May 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

    This is an article from the other side on this issue. It demonstrates perfectly that, to the Catholic Church, the only good woman is a dead woman.*

  58. May 21, 2010 at 10:12 am

    This is an article from the other side on this issue. It demonstrates perfectly that, to the Catholic Church, the only good woman is a dead woman.*

    Oh god, that’s The Anchoress. She blogged extensively about the beauty of life for Terri Schiavo, who was presumably the Catholic Church’s ideal woman: living body, dead cortex.

    (I posted a comment to point out that if God “loves us into being for a purpose” perhaps God had a purpose for the woman who would have died last November, which would have been thwarted had the doctors at the hospital let her die. I expect it will not be approved.)

  59. Karen
    May 21, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Jesurgislac, your comment was approved, and is wonderful. Let’s see what idiotic responses you get.

    Also, to anyone else who follows my link, I’m the FIRST Karen. I have no idea who the second Karen is, but I think she’s quite stupid.

  60. Randomosity
    May 21, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Karen: That article pissed me off to an immense degree. The idea of it being selfishly wrong to abort in order to save one’s own life causes supernovae to explode.

    I commented, but I expect to be censored. I asked if she’d be willing to bet her own life against those odds and what she’d say to the woman’s orphaned children had she died.

    According to that article, self-defense is a sin.

  61. Karen
    May 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Oh, there are no words for the blind fury I felt at that article. Apparently pregnant women have a duty to commit suicide, which completely contradicts what I was taught in my mainline Protestant childhood. I only hope the Church’s evil position in this case gets as much press coverage as possible, because advocating for the death of a pregnant woman while covering up for child rapists really can’t have much support with the public.

  62. Karen
    May 21, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Aaaand here’s the Diocese of Phoenix flat – out stating that it would have been better if the woman in this case died.

  63. Q Grrl
    May 21, 2010 at 10:38 am

    “There really isn’t one. Performing a C-section that kills the mother can only ever have the side effect of killing the mother – it never directly kills her in the way that an abortion kills the fetus.”

    Perhaps “kills” isn’t the word you’re looking for when talking about a life form that is incapable of self-support.

  64. Randomosity
    May 21, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I used to be Catholic. Not anymore. This weekend, I plan to write letters in support of Sr McBride and see how fast I get myself excommunicated.

  65. May 21, 2010 at 11:52 am

    “I only hope the Church’s evil position in this case gets as much press coverage as possible, because advocating for the death of a pregnant woman while covering up for child rapists really can’t have much support with the public.”

    Unfortunately that particular stance seems to have a great deal of support. We wouldn’t be in this mess if it didn’t. It’s not like people are in the dark about the practices of the Catholic church. They just don’t care. As long as it’s white men doing the raping, people tend to be shockingly willing to look the other way and even participate in the cover-up. And as for letting women die, it inevitable that people will be comfortable with letting women die as long as they are taught that women are to submit to men and that we’re basically just walking incubators for babies.

  66. joytulip
    May 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    White – your problematic religious doctrine has secular implications and is therefore real, but other people’s problematic religious doctrine doesn’t have secular implications and is therefore dismissable? Cultural bias much?

  67. W. Kiernan
    May 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Getting excommunicated for having saved a woman’s life is like getting thrown out Jim Jones’s People’s Temple. The heroine Sister McBride is surely upset at her mistreatment but outsiders can’t help thinking how lucky she is to be free of that pesthole of delusion and cruelty.

  68. personA
    May 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    I read sh-tuff like this and realize how lucky I am that I have never been Catholic, and was never reared Catholic, or ever plan to be Catholic.

  69. Jackie
    May 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Could someone explain to me how this is legal?

    I mean, if she died wouldn’t the husband (or other family members) have a huge lawsuit?

  70. umami
    May 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I would really like to second Jackie@69 if anyone can answer that. I started to make a comment asking that earlier but I was too upset by this story (raised and educated as Catholic) to know if I was being coherent or not.

  71. DocAmazing
    May 23, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Funny part: Unless I am grossly mistaken, the phrase “The end justifies the means” was coined by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order (of priests). A Church Father, and this Arizona priest has the huevos to contradict him! I smell another excommunication.

  72. May 24, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Given that murderers and rapists have been allowed to remain communicant members of the Church (Timothy McVeigh, etc) can anyone doubt that if a Doctor Mengele had come to the board of ethics and suggested that they forcibly put the woman into extreme life support (some of which may not be medically possible right now, I’m imagining) – to keep her heart beating and her lungs functioning and an IV drip to keep her nourished once she lost brain function and wasn’t able to swallow, or if she refused to eat, so that even though the woman died, the fetus could be kept alive until the Mengele could operate and remove the baby – if Sister McBride had consented to that, killing the mother so that the fetus could live, that Bishop Olmsted would have declared her automatically excommunicate by her own actions?

  73. Cathy
    May 24, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Sexism alive and well in the catholic church…. Men in the church and Rape Young Girls and Boys and get away with it… but a woman stands up to save another woman over a fetus and She is out… Boy what a bunch of bull… WWJD?? not this….

  74. Anya
    May 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    So much applause for Sister McBride. And this article too, particularly:

    Except, well, sometimes the ends do justify the means. I understand that sometimes Morality Is Hard, but this should not be.

    YES. Thank you. Sometimes, it can be hard- but situations like this which are pretty much black and white? No. Just no.

    And prowlerzee , shut the fuck up. If you knew even the slightest bit about Islam you’d know that physical contact between sexes has nothing to do with life or death situations, or even life or pain situations. The fact that nations calling themselves Islamic that are allowing such atrocities has nothing to do with the belief system itself.

  75. Sarah
    May 28, 2010 at 12:41 am

    RE:
    “I didn’t think that original story could get much worse, but I guess it just did. ‘According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”’ Jesus. Certainly brings the reality home, doesn’t it?”

    I think the following article brings the Catholic Church’s belief that women are not human into even greater relief:

    Bishop Olmsted–Nun Excommunicated Self by Approving Abortion
    http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=36604&

    Read to the end of the article so you don’t miss the quote from the Catholic doctor (a neonatologist–what does HE know about gynecology?” This nitwit, Dr. Paul A. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio.

    In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Dr. Byrne said, “I don’t know of any [situation where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother].

    “I know that a lot of people talk about these things, but I don’t know of any. The principle always is preserve and protect the life of the mother and the baby.”

    Could we please call for getting this guy’s medical license revoked? He doesn’t know what he is talking about!

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