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.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Arizona Nun Excommunicated for Saving a Patient’s Life by Jill May 17, 2010
- More child rape victims for anti-choicers to torment by Jill June 24, 2008
- Note to the Catholic League: Next time, hire a college intern by Jill January 3, 2011
- Send your support to Sr. McBride in Arizona by Rachel May 26, 2010
- The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Give Healthcare to the Women-folk by Jill September 4, 2007