Catholic sister, hospital administrator, excommunicated for approving abortion

In a NewsCore story we read that that whole "magisterium of nuns" thing does work so well when bishops have backbones.

Arizona Hospital Nun Excommunicated For Allowing Abortion

Updated: Sunday, 16 May 2010, 9:20 AM CDT
Published : Sunday, 16 May 2010, 9:20 AM CDT

(NewsCore) – A nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, Arizona was automatically excommunicated after approving an abortion be performed on a patient in order to save the woman’s life, The Arizona Republic reported Saturday.  [The idea here is that she automatically incurred the excommunication, latae sententiae, by her direct participation in the successful procuring of an abortion.  Some may have questions about how proximate her participation was to the actual abortion.  However, it seems that the bottom line here is that it could not have taken place without her approval.]

Sister Margaret McBride, who was also a long-time administrator at St Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, has also been reassigned to other duties, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese said. 

The incident occurred late last year when McBride was consulted — along with doctors — in the case of a young woman who was 11 weeks pregnant.

The woman was suffering a life-threatening condition which was likely to have caused her death had she not had an abortion.

"In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy," hospital vice president Susan Pfister told the newspaper. 

Pfister issued the statement on behalf of the hospital, its parent company Catholic Healthcare West, and the Sisters of Mercy, McBride’s religious order.

Olmsted confirmed McBride was "automatically excommunicated" because of her involvement in the abortion.

"I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese," Olmsted said.

"I am further concerned by the hospital’s statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother’s underlying medical condition.

"An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother’s life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

Excommunication forbids the person from participating in church life, including receiving communion, and can only be remedied through an appeal to the Vatican. 

It is normally resolved by a statement of repentance.

(This article is provided by NewsCore, which aggregates news from around News Corporation.)


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109 Responses to Catholic sister, hospital administrator, excommunicated for approving abortion

  1. JonM says:

    I heard this on the radio yesterday. ABC Radio News was very slanted, and came immediately after a snippet praising the ordination of a homosexual Episcopal (and woman) bishop.

    They were also very coy about just what condition the woman had.

    On the radio, the report made it seem that the child’s life superseded that of the mother. Even the NewsCore story does not have details, although it seems to be content with reporting and passing the chance to ‘make a statement.’

    Suffice it to say that His Excellency probably has a better handle on the facts than any commentator out there. I noted that he is also the Bishop who instituted a more rigorous marriage preparation requirement. Seems to me this Bishop is a true leader of his flock.

  2. Hans says:

    Excommunication forbids the person from participating in church life, including receiving communion, and can only be remedied through an appeal to the Vatican.

    I am aware that some things are reserved to the Pope or the properly authorized Vatican dicastry (or some such), but I was unaware that all excommunications were so reserved as this sentence seems to imply. I am neither a canon lawyer nor do I play one in the comments. What is the situation here?

  3. Good! Bishop Olmsted is one of my heroes. He put the kibosh a couple of years ago on a retreat to be given to Franciscan sisters by Edwina Gateley (author of the disgustingly titled Warm, Moist, Salty God — ’nuff said) and also got rid of the noxious founder of LifeTeen, Dale Fushek, now dismissed from the clerical state.

  4. TJerome says:

    Just another pro-life Democrat, I’m sure.

  5. Prof. Basto says:

    She should also have been penally dismissed from religious life.

    Transfer to other duties is not enough. Excommunication – that will be lifted after a simple expression of repentance, is not enough.

    She approved the killing of another human being.

    If she repents, she should be absolved of her sin and released from the penalty of excommunication, but she should not continue to be a nun, and as such a kind of representative of the image of the Church, after what she did.

    Killing a baby should have consequences in the material world.

  6. Totally working off memory here, and I’m not super sure about this:

    IIRC, the Vatican gives the power to remove excommunications for certain stuff (like certain kinds of latae sententiae abortion excommunications) to bishops, who then give the power to priests. There’s maybe some paperwork involved also. If a priest doesn’t think it fits the normal conditions for this, I think they can hand cases right back up the ladder to the bishop and the Vatican.

    I think other kinds of excommunication are handled other ways, because they tend to be more complex cases with more pastoral implications.

    We need a canon law guy to answer this….

  7. Clinton says:

    Yes, this bishop is a true leader of his flock. I’m sure he’ll take flak for excommunicating Sr. Margaret, when of course it was she who
    excommunicated herself. I’m betting that is a distinction the media will be unwilling or unable to make.

    This is the same bishop who contributed $50,000 to the Church in Maine to help defeat the same-sex “marriage” law that was coming
    up for passage last year. He’s not afraid to speak up for the faith and take positions that make him unpopular with moral relativists.

    I think it’s important to let him know he his work is appreciated. His mailing address is 400 East Monroe St., Phoenix, AZ 85004-2336
    (for his chancery office).

  8. Doc Angelicus says:

    Does anyone any lead or link as to the life-threatening condition of the mother? The medical details would be important to know if available. Life “threatening” is not fatal, “likely to to have caused her death” is not fatal, so the notion that the abortion was “required” is certainly spurious. Still, it would be important to know the medical details.

  9. Joel says:

    I am extremely curious to hear just what the life threatening situation was. In our modern age and with the exceptional healthcare available here in the U.S., it is pretty much un-heard of to say that a pregnancy is life threatening.

    Saddly too, I fear this could be one of those moments when the herd gets scattered. All too often I hear politicians and fellow christians and Catholics, espouse that they do not believe in abortion, “except to save the life of the mother”. If this story gets big enough, it will require other Bishops and all Catholics to stand with Bishop Olmstead in his defense and the defense of our faith.

    Wormwood is apparently learning his lessons.

  10. Rich says:

    When bishops have backbones is right..situations like this create a paradigm shift suggesting to those who don’t want to live by objectively moral standards that such standards actually exist. The usual result is vitriolic rage directed at the bishop for not being “pastoral” enough by, if not condoning such behavior as this nun’s, at least being “nuanced” enough (remember that one?) for permitting contradicting standards to take the place of God’s law in the eyes of the People of God. This is a case when “pastoral” doesn’t mean “permissive”. By reaffirming the automatic excommunication, the bishop performed the most concrete action to curtail the scandal caused by Catholic leaders potentially getting away with such actions in the people’s eyes.

  11. Joe Magarac says:

    I, too, would like to know what the woman’s situation was. If a pregnant woman’s life is in danger, and if the only way to save the woman’s life will result in an abortion, then the principle of double effect allows doctors to perform the procedure if that is what the woman wishes. But these sorts of procedures are not “abortions” as such, and the news reports indicate that the hospital performed an “abortion,” not a procedure with an abortive effect. Accordingly, it looks like Bp. Olmstead did the right thing, and kudos to him for doing so.

  12. MichaelJ says:

    According to “Father Tim” at Irish Central,(http://www.irishcentral.com/story/news/father_tim/an-irish-nun-a-catholic-hospital-a-dying-mother-an-abortion-and-93886294.html), “A patient with an 11-week-old fetus was dying in the hospital from a rare heart condition, in which the strains of pregnancy can tip the balance between life and death.”

    I cannot find any information about Father Tim (not even his last name) other than “Father Tim is an Irish Catholic Jesuit missionary and is IrishCentral’s spiritual specialist.”

    Sadly, he rather vehemently disagrees with the Bishop, but perhaps his information about the condition is of some use.

  13. Federico says:

    Excommunication forbids the person from participating in church life, including receiving communion, and can only be remedied through an appeal to the Vatican.

    I am aware that some things are reserved to the Pope or the properly authorized Vatican dicastry (or some such), but I was unaware that all excommunications were so reserved as this sentence seems to imply. I am neither a canon lawyer nor do I play one in the comments. What is the situation here?

    This particular penalty is reserved to the diocesan bishop. The bishop can remit the penalty. A priest of the diocese can also remit the penalty in danger of death or if he’s provided the faculty for it by his bishop and subject to whatever constraints the bishop has placed upon its exercise.

    A note of warning to priests who may have this faculty provided by their diocesan bishop: unlike the faculty to absolve validly, this is territorial and cannot be exercised outside the diocese.

  14. Charivari Rob says:

    Doc, Joel, Joe:

    I first saw this a couple of days back on the Deacon’s Bench.

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/deaconsbench/2010/05/nun-approved-abortion-at-catholic-hospital.html

    His source was an article in the Arizona Republic which said the hospital could not release information about the woman or her condition due to privacy laws. A few paragraphs after that, the Republic article claims her condition involved pulmonary hypertension (without making clear the source of that information).

  15. JosephMary says:

    Interesting that this potentially fatal condition is not named.

    What sort of training do these women religious have? An introductory course in moral theology addresses situations like this. Are the directives of the Church just disregarded?

    Our sisters of mercy at a hospital I am familiar with had their ways of bending the rules so to speak. Abortions not done at the hospital but across the street, etc. One doctor brought some of the issues to the bishop who told the doc to mind his own business and the doc told the bishop to please mind his.

    I remember one older sister who told me that Teri Shaivo should die because she ‘had no quality of life’. That is the place where these misguided secular sisters have gone. They invited new age speakers in and one sister taught reiki. Sad but true.

  16. doanli says:

    I would too like to know the condition of the woman in order to opine on this.

    I have always been taught too that if a pregnancy threatened the life of the mother, then induced abortion was permitted (ie, ectopic pregnancy)

    ?????

  17. doanli says:

    Pulmonary Hypertension may be indicative of a heart condition. It is a serious condition.

    However, as I said, I am reserving my opinion until I know all the details of this case.

  18. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    May God continue to strengthen Bishop Olmsted in his defense of Catholicism, but more importantly, his defense of life within the womb. As for Sister, I am happy to hear the Bishop confirm her excommunication, as now it bears greater weight, having been announced. Dont get me wrong: it never pleases me to hear someone has been excommunicated, but in matters such as these, it is the only course of action.

  19. Craig says:

    From the article Charivari linked in the AZ Republic:
    In a statement, Suzanne Pfister, a hospital vice president, said that the facility adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services but that the directives do not answer all questions.

    So…they believe that life begins at conception (assuming here, most likely they do not) and the terminated (so clinical, murder is my preference, or, due to the early state of development, slaughter) of the child’s life, did they, I doubt they did, baptise and give the child a Christian burial? Or did they, most likely, send the child to some biological waste collection?

  20. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    The maternal mortality is about 30% from pulmonary hypertension, which I had read elsewhere was the malady in question. Normal maternal mortality in the USA is around 10-15 per 100,000. There was a great risks of maternal mortality, but materanl death was not certain. However fetal mortality from abortion is essentially 100%.

    Can a woman still be called a Nun, or Sister, if she is excommunicated. Does that not cause immediate laicization, as it were, from the religious state of life. I believe the headline should refer to an ex-nun, and she should be addressed as Miss McBride.

  21. Geoffrey says:

    “I am reserving my opinion until I know all the details of this case.”

    I agree. No doubt she incurred excommunication latae sententiae, which was confirmed by Bishop Olmsted. However, I cannot help but think that the “heat of the moment” might have caused Sister Margaret McBride to not think clearly? I guess we’ll never know.

    I am more concerned about that this occurred “late last year”… why are we just hearing about it now?!

  22. Jerry says:

    re: Joe Magarac – “If a pregnant woman’s life is in danger, and if the only way to save the woman’s life will result in an abortion, then the principle of double effect allows doctors to perform the procedure if that is what the woman wishes.”

    There is a key constraint that must be met for the principle of double effect to be applicable: the abortion must be the indirect effect of another procedure. For example, in the case of a tubal ectopic pregnancy the procedure is to remove the affected fallopian tube; the pregnancy is terminated indirectly because the fetus is lodged in the tube.

    In the case being discussed here (pulmonary hypertension), my guess is the abortion was the primary procedure. It does nothing to correct the underlying condition; it only removes the stressor that was exacerbating it. I do not believe the principle of double effect can be applied in such a situation.

  23. adeodato says:

    I think people are rushing to a conclusion here prematurely. As a cardiologist
    I can attest to the fact that pregancy can place a mother with certain conditions at risk of death. In addition, an ectopic pregnancy would lead to the
    death of the fetus and the mother. A termination of pregnancy in these cases is done with the intent of perseving the mothers life.

  24. Dean says:

    Not a canon lawyer, but with this type of excommunication, the person brought it on herself and it does not require a bishop’s say-so to make it so. Bishop Olmstead’s comments seem to simply confirm this.

  25. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    p.s., Doanli et al., There is a difference between cases where the mother’s life is threatened and ectopic pregnancy. In ectopic pregnancy, there is no natural nor reasonable chance of fetal survival to birth, and an essentially 100% chance of maternal demise. So it is morally different to abort a child who has no chance of survival and will kill the mother even than it is to abort a child who has a chance of survival even if the mother’s death is certain. Even apart from Theological considerations, Natural Law shows that there is no offense in aborting a child who can never be born because it can never reach the uterus, much less the birth canal.

  26. Jerry says:

    re: doanli – “I have always been taught too that if a pregnancy threatened the life of the mother, then induced abortion was permitted (ie, ectopic pregnancy)”

    A direct abortion is not permitted, even if it is required to save the life of the mother. Other procedures which correct the life-threatening condition which may have the indirect effect of terminating the pregnancy may be permitted, depending on the circumstances.

    Using your example of a tubal ectopic pregnancy, the procedure being performing is a salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tube). The pregnancy is necessarily terminated because the fetus is lodged in the tube being removed, but termination of the pregnancy is an unavoidable side-effect, the the primary objective.

  27. ajwagner54 says:

    I wish the diocese would have been more prepared to counter the attacks in this situation. The comments on here are not bringing much clarity either. In this situation, are you really saying that the proper thing to do would have been to just let the mother die? That is what it sounds like to a lot of people.

  28. doanli says:

    Suppose the pregnant woman has serious heart disease and renal failure, requiring dialysis, and she’s very prone to congestive heart failure? Can a woman with these conditions carry a child to a time in the pregnancy where the baby can live outside of his mother?

    I’m just throwing this out because I’m seriously confused here.

  29. everett says:

    Jerry is making the key point here. A direct abortion is never permitted under the principle of double effect. If there is a primary procedure, such as the removal of the fallopian tube that results in the abortion, that is permitted. Significant difference here, which I’m sure all secular press will either not understand or purposely ignore.

  30. Thomas G. says:

    ajwagner54 – “In this situation, are you really saying that the proper thing to do would have been to just
    let the mother die? ”

    Not at all. Both mother and child are treated with the intent of preserving both lives, recognizing that
    doctors are not infallible in their predictions and that life and death are ultimately in the hands of God.

    I would be seriously skeptical if you were to tell me that there is absolutely NO treatment for
    “pulmonary hypertension” other than direct abortion of the child. Sureley there is such alternative
    treatment and it should be used.

  31. rakesvines says:

    Doesn’t canon law punish with the same automatic excommunication, politicians who support abortion laws? If so, then Pelosi and all the Catholic reps who voted for Obamacare have been automatically canned just as soon as they’ve cast their ‘Yea’ to it. And wouldn’t the late Ted Kennedy be in that same boat – more so than anyone? Can excommunication be removed by simply going to Confession or must the excommunciation be lifted first before access to the sacraments become possible? If so, then Kennedy needed that too. (Yet Card. Sean O’Malley still presided at his funeral Mass. He must have been a big donor.)

  32. doanli says:

    Rakesvines,

    I have the same sentiments.

    I had seen Sen Kennedy go up for Holy Communion despite his support of legalized abortion. (and was his 1st marriage annulled?)

    And yet I, and many others, obey and sit in the pews during Communion because we made a mistake “marrying” the wrong person. (I am in an annulment process right now.)

    Sorry to derail the subject, Father…

  33. Patikins says:

    Doanli:

    An evil (direct abortion in this case) can never be used to achive a good end (saving the mother’s life). Sometimes mothers are called upon to make heroic sacrificres for their children. St. Gianna comes to mind.

  34. everett says:

    To aj and doanli – the proper thing is never to “just let the mother die.” Without knowing the specific condition, its difficult to say. For example, say there was a medication or other treatment that was available to attempt to treat the condition, even if it might have been potentially harmful to the child. This is acceptable because there is a primary condition being treated, and the negative effect on the child is an unfortunate consequence. Again you deal with issues of weighing how potentially harmful the condition is to the mother. And, as mentioned, carrying the child to a point where it may be possible to survive outside the mother is sometimes an option.

  35. doanli says:

    I worked in a hospital years ago (a Baptist one), and they performed an abortion on a woman who was in end stage renal failure because the doctors stated the pregnancy would be deadly for her.

    *I am praying on this.*

  36. William of the Old says:

    By coincidence (?), Fr Groeschel’s program (EWTN) last night was on life of St. Gianna.
    Saint Gianna, pray for us.

  37. Jerry says:

    re: EoinOBolguidhir – “In ectopic pregnancy, there is no natural nor reasonable chance of fetal survival to birth, and an essentially 100% chance of maternal demise. So it is morally different to abort a child who has no chance of survival and will kill the mother even than it is to abort a child who has a chance of survival even if the mother’s death is certain.”

    Be careful! While your conclusion is correct, the reasoning is faulty.

    Quoting Fr. Austin Fagothey, S.J. in “Right and Resaon: Ethics in Theory and Practice”:

    [The principle of double effect] is based on the fact that evil must never be voluntary in itself, must never be willed either as an end or as a means, for then it is the direct object of the will-act and necessarily renders the act evil. Nor may evil ever be voluntary in cause, as a foreseen but unwanted consequence, unless it can somehow be reduced to an incidental and unavoidable by-product in the achievement of some good the person is rightfully seeking.

    All of the following conditions must be met before the principle of double effect can be used to justify an act:

    (1) The act must be good in itself, or at least morally indifferent.

    (2) The good intended must not be obtained by means of the evil effect.

    (3) The evil effect must not be intended for itself, but only permitted.

    (4) There must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect.

    In the case of a tubal ectopic pregnancy, the act under consideration is the removal of the fallopian tube, not the removal of the fetus.

    (1) The removal of a fallopian tube is a morally neutral act.

    (2) The good is achieved by preventing fatal hemorrhage secondary to rupture of the tube, not by direct termination of the pregnancy.

    (3) The intent is to prevent the tube from rupturing, not to terminate the pregnancy — although the latter is an unavoidable consequence.

    [N.B. Many tubal ectopic pregnancies resolve spontaneously. The rationale presented above applies only in the subset of cases where surgical intervention is required to either prevent or treat a ruptured fallopian tube.]

  38. Mrs Kate says:

    Brave Bishop. Hope he doesn’t suffer too much for this, the wolves will be after him.

  39. adeodato says:

    “(2) The good is achieved by preventing fatal hemorrhage secondary to rupture of the tube, not by direct termination of the pregnancy.” Not true. Ectopic pregnancies that meet certain requirements can be treated medically, i.e. with Methotrexate, which wold terminate the pregnancy. There are also some laparoscopic techniques that could preserve the tubes (patient wants to still have children)but remove the pregnancy.

  40. Jerry says:

    re: adeodato – “Not true. Ectopic pregnancies that meet certain requirements can be treated medically, i.e. with Methotrexate, which wold terminate the pregnancy. There are also some laparoscopic techniques that could preserve the tubes (patient wants to still have children)but remove the pregnancy.”

    As I noted at the end of the response you quoted from, my arguments apply only to those cases of tubular ectopic pregnancies where _surgical_ intervention is _required_ to treat or prevent a ruptured tube.

    In both of the examples you give termination of the pregnancy appears to be the primary act, in which case the principle of double effect does not apply and the procedure is not morally licit.

  41. Central Valley says:

    Living in city with three hospital under the control of Catholic Health West, I am not at all surprised. Look at the Sisters of Mercy…average age 65ish, vocations ZERO, their habits are business suits for women. It appears the only habits the girls like to display are bad habits.

  42. mpm says:

    adeodato,

    Jerry gave the case, well studied since the 1950′s at least, where an ectopic pregnancy could be terminated by removing a portion of the fallopian tube, with the consequent death of the embryo, as a very traditional example of the principle of double effect. To that extent it seems to me that it was clear, traditional and well-expressed — and true.

    The fact that nowadays a doctor could save the life of the mother at the expense of killing the embryo is not an example of the principle of double effect. It is just killing the baby as a means to saving the life of the mother.

  43. Leonius says:

    This situation was NOT EVEN A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION.

    Note this even in the article, I quote: “likely to have caused her death” end quote.

    If the woman’s condition was actually pulmonary hypertension then the doctors have murdered this baby just in case the mother had a heart attack with no way of knowing whether that would actually happen or not, the woman’s life may never have even been in danger and it is treatable in various ways.

  44. ghp95134 says:

    Let’s place a face to the article — here is Sister Margaret Mary McBride, VP of Mission Integration:
    http://www.stjosephs-phx.org/Who_We_Are/188732

    Perhaps when religious begin to dress like religious …

    –Guy

  45. everett says:

    The key part here is that killing the child is never a “treatment.” If the conditions Jerry listed are met, it may be acceptable for some other treatment to occur that may (or will likely) result in the death of the child.

  46. diem says:

    @Federico,
    Just to nitpick, in danger of death any priest can lift all excommunications and absolve all sins:
    Can.976

  47. Hans says:

    I wish the diocese would have been more prepared to counter the attacks in this situation.

    The problem so often in these cases is that in order to defend the actions of the Church (though in this case no action seems to have been needed) ‘adequately’ in the minds of so many, those defending her would have to act as a scandalmonger in the same that her accusers do.

    A classic example of that is the case of Bishop Tobin and that congressman, whose name escapes me, who outed himself about not eligible to receive communion, and for which the good bishop was enthusiastically criticized.

    .

    Thanks for your input, Suburbanbanshee and Federico.

    .

    I am unaware of any tradition of automatic removal from the religious state upon excommunication. There was a legal theory beginning in the late Medieval period that oaths to an excommunicated party were unenforceable (effectively unmaking an excommunicated king, for instance), and also that property held by that person could be, or was, (depending on the theorist) forfeit. The long-term results of that theory not good, to say the least, and it is no longer with us that I am aware. (I will play at being an amateur historian.)

    Anyway, vengeance is God’s job, and she could be much help to the cause by being publicly penitent and so helping silence Bishop Olmsted’s critics. We shall see.

  48. Bressani56 says:

    can someone explain to me how murdering an innocent life HELPS a bad situation? Why does murdering an innocent life help? I don’t get it.

  49. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    Jerry: Thank you for the emendation. I would be more inclined to invoke the double effect line of reasoning in a case where a treatment given to a pregnant woman who had the possibility of giving birth to that child, e.g. chemotherapy or anaesthesia for an breast cancer discovered in the presence of a normal intra-uterine pregnancy in the first trimester.
    The removal of the fallopian tube is decidedly not the point of aborting an ectopic pregnancy, which need not even be on the fallopian tube, and which (ie the tube) the gynecologic surgeon would try to spare even as he made sure to remove the conceptus. It is not a rupture of the tube that causing bleeding in these cases, it is the rupture of the conceptus itself. There is no double effect, there is only a single effect.
    The better distinction is that the child cannot possibly live to natural parturition, nor generally even close to it, with the rare exception of “ghost pregnancies,” which are also never born. While we might laud the Christ-like generosity of a mother who forgoes the Chemotherapy so that her baby might live, no one would laud the mother died refusing removal of a foetus that never could live. In this case in Texas, there was a baby that would almost certainly live, and a mother would was unlikely to die.

  50. adeodato says:

    EoinOBolguidhir: Ditto

  51. tzard says:

    An Obstetrician we talked to said there is no case he can think of where a c-section cannot be used to remove a baby from a mother, if the Mother’s life is in danger. But some don’t like this for fear of affecting future fertility or cosmetics.

    To me, the overriding factor is the desire to eliminate all risk, exacerbated by treating the pregnancy as a disease. Tort law has gone to the point where a obstetrician can be sued if the birth is not perfect – undoubtedly not only weighs on the mind of the doctor, but eventually forms him in his or her mentality.

    All Catholics certainly need to do daily, incremental work towards holiness. This includes forming oneself to seeing the baby as a human and not as a disease. Part of his professional duty to teach the patient about pregnancy should also include these critical factors. Same thing with administrators forming hospital policy or sitting on “ethics” boards.

    People die, even women and under normal circumstances – even in childbirth. Doctors are not gods (to bring up the old stereotype).

    The failure here started long before the incident. And the fix won’t be easy to make – but calling it for what it is, is a start.

  52. tioedong says:

    sounds strange. “Heart disease” is rarely a reason to abort nowadays…the only “medical” case I ran across in 40 years of medicine was end stage cardiomyopathy awaiting a transplant…how bad was mom? Well, she almost died from unrelated minor surgery we did on her a year later…what would be a simple outpatient procedure landed her in ICU for a week.

    The most common reason for an “abortion” is cancer: Most moms delay the radiation/chemotherapy or hysterectomy but under Catholic law, it is valid to treat the mom, even knowing the treatment will end the kids’ life. You don’t abort, you remove the cancerous organ, or you give therapy that spontaneously aborts the kid. I know of two patients who waited, and one who was so far along she would have lost the kid (cervical cancer, so the womb was cancerous) so elected radiation. She still cries about it twenty years later…

    The “pulmonary hypertension” part however suggests either endstage pulmonary disease (e.g. cystic fibrosis or primary pulmonary hypertension) which theoretically could allow carrying the fetus to near term and premature delivery…the stress on the lungs is mainly in the last trimester, and if you deliver at 28 weeks sometimes you save both mom and kid…of course, the more rigid pro lifers would call this a “live birth abortion” if the kid didn’t make it, but the chances are good for both (they rarely deal with such problems…).

    There are rare congenital heart problems that have both (rare because we usually fix them before they get this bad)…e.g. an untreated tetralogy of Fallot. I’ve only had two adults with this, one retarded so didn’t get it fixed, and another a Native American who refused surgery. Neither were pregnant thank God, but if they had, it would be a medical reason to abort, again at 28 weeks if the mom agreed…although the high Co2 level from right to left shunting probably would cause a miscarriage.

    As a doc, I’d just send the woman to a specialist who had the option whether or not to abort…why a nun was in a case deciding if they should abort is nonsense. The docs tell mom the options, including referral to a specialty hospital to save her life, and the statistics. Having a “board” suggests mom was coerced by a bunch of “experts”. If the abortion is needed for the mom’s life, you don’t need a “board” to decide. It’s pretty clear cut.

    Finally, Who leaked the case to the press? That is a much more important question. It’s against the Hippocratic oath…and the law.

  53. Andy Milam says:

    I first was alerted to this early yesterday and I responded on http://www.irishcentral.com, in a blog by someone named Fr. Tim. That post was subsequently deleted, go figure, so I posted it on the general board. Here’s what I wrote, that Fr. Tim apparently couldn’t handle:

    “Fr. Tim is misguided. If the mother dies because she won’t abort the baby, she dies of natural causes (and so does the baby). But by killing the unborn baby, a murder is committed. Under no circumstances can an abortion be justified.

    What Bishop Olmstead did was appropriate and just. What Ms. McBride (formerly Sister Margaret) did by formally cooperating in an abortion is cause for separation from the Church.

    I will pray for the repose of the soul of the baby; the healing of the mother who lost her child; and the hopeful reconciliation and recantation of Ms. McBride, for her actions.”

    It is pretty easy to see. But I am really saddened by the attitude of Fr. Tim. I would ask that we all flood his blog and that site and show them how serious this is. My username there is camilam42.

  54. RichardT says:

    This is a genuine question, not a debating point, and I would be interested in the answer.

    Without commenting on this particular case, or criticising the Bishop or the Church’s teaching in any way, I had a question about this issue of abortion to save the mother’s life.

    I accept that it is often difficult or impossible to say that the mother’s life is directly, severely and immediately at risk, but let’s say that it is.

    Various people have said above that it is not permitted to directly carry out an abortion in order to save the mother’s life, and several people have made comments along the lines of “An evil (direct abortion in this case) can never be used to achive a good end (saving the mother’s life)”

    But the Church does permit us to kill in self-defence, or to kill in defence of others (for example soldiers in a just war).

    I have never seen, and would like to see, the explanation of why abortion is different. If the unborn child is directly, seriously and immediately endangering the mother’s life, why is it not permitted to kill the child by abortion when it would be legal to kill a deranged axeman who is similarly endangering her?

    The difference cannot be that the child does not know what it is doing or has no moral or criminal responsibility, because the axeman might be literally deranged and so not responsible for his actions.

  55. Jack Hughes says:

    Sister Margaret McBride is in need of our prayers

  56. Jerry says:

    re: EoinOBolguidhir

    I doubt I would have thought to apply the principle of double effect to the tubal ectopic/salpingectomy situation, but as mpm noted, that is a classic example that has been thoroughly studied by minds far greater than mine.

    If the embryo or fetus itself has ruptured it would no longer be alive, and thus there is no moral dilemma.

    In the more common case where the bleeding is the result of invasion into the vascular supply (in the tube or elsewhere), the same reasoning that is used for the salpingectomy can be applied: the purpose of the procedure is to stop the bleeding; if the conceptus _must_ be removed to do so, then the principle of double effect may apply (if all of the criteria are met). The key word is _must_ — it can’t be removed simply for convenience.

    For most of us the essential walk-away point of all this is that the death of the fetus may not be the direct result of the procedure or the desired end — regardless of how futile the prospect of survival to viability may appear to be. That is God’s call – not ours.

  57. Elly says:

    Question-

    Assuming it is morally acceptable to remove a fallopian tube in an ectopic pregnancy to save the life of the mother and the death of the baby is an unavoidable consequence, could there ever be a comparable situation of removing the uterus when a mother’s life is in danger? Then the baby wouldn’t be killed directly but its death would be an unfortunate consequence.

    I don’t think this sounds right but I can’t see the difference in the situations.

    Thanks,
    Elly

  58. dcs says:

    could there ever be a comparable situation of removing the uterus when a mother’s life is in danger?

    Yes – uterine cancer. The point is that there can never be a direct attack on the baby whether it is in the Fallopian tube, the uterus, etc.

    I have never seen, and would like to see, the explanation of why abortion is different. If the unborn child is directly, seriously and immediately endangering the mother’s life, why is it not permitted to kill the child by abortion when it would be legal to kill a deranged axeman who is similarly endangering her?

    The baby isn’t attacking the mother.

  59. bookworm says:

    “Could there ever be a comparable situation of removing the uterus when a mother’s life is in danger?”

    Yes, I have actually heard that cited as a “textbook” case of double effect.

    I would guess in this case that medical privacy laws prevent the public from knowing all the details. The reason we are “just hearing about it now” as another poster noted is probably because it took Bp. Olmsted some time to review all the necessary details, plus the Sister’s reassignment just occurred recently.

    If this had been a case of a good, committed woman Religious coming to an honest (even if mistaken) conclusion that aborting the baby was the hospital’s only option to save the mother rather than let both mother and child die, I would think she would have gone to confession as soon as possible afterward and asked God’s forgiveness for any sin she might have committed.

    If the priest were not able to absolve her in the confessional and he had to go to the bishop, then the bishop would have known that she at least was repentant, and would likely have quietly lifted the excommunication and never made it public.

    I may be way off base here, but I suspect that the whole reason this excommunication became public in the first place is because the Sister in question has refused to acknowledge ANY possible wrongdoing or express any concern about the scandal she may have caused. I

  60. Peggy R says:

    RE: Sr. MM’s photo. Lovely pearls. And she has (or “had”?) a “career.” I thought sisters had “vocations” or “missions”. Hmmm. The whole way of thinking by this nun (and her order I presume) is off kilter.

  61. bookworm says:

    Another question which I’m not sure can be adequately answered here: if the Sister had approved transferring the mother to another hospital that had no qualms about performing an abortion in such cases — particularly if the mother or her family had requested or demanded such an action — would she still have been subject to excommunication?

  62. doanli says:

    So a woman with end stage renal disease, on dialysis, would be obligated to carry the child as long as possible until she and her baby are in mortal danger?

    Not being sarcastic at all, I just want to understand the Church’s teaching in this matter. (No one has addressed it, and I do remember this case at that hospital 20 something years ago, when her nephrologists recommending her ending the pregnancy)

  63. doanli says:

    BTW, the Sisters of Mercy taught at my Catholic school.

    The school closed a couple of years ago with no nuns because they had no one to bring there. The only ones had grown too old to teach.

  64. dcs says:

    So a woman with end stage renal disease, on dialysis, would be obligated to carry the child as long as possible until she and her baby are in mortal danger?

    No, she would be obligated to carry the baby until it could be delivered safely.

    Unless there is some treatment for end-stage renal disease that indirectly causes the death of the baby.

  65. Jordanes says:

    tioedong said: Neither were pregnant thank God, but if they had, it would be a medical reason to abort . . . . If the abortion is needed for the mom’s life, you don’t need a “board” to decide.

    Except there is never a medical reason to intentionally kill a child, nor is it ever necessary to murder one person to save someone else’s life. As others have explained, sometimes it is justifiable to take actions that indirectly result in the child’s death, but there can be no justification, and thus never any need, to intentionally and directly cause the child’s death.

    The Hippocratic Oath says as much (well, the real Hippocratic Oath, not the bowdlerised versions that some have invented to excuse doing immoral things in the name of medicine).

  66. Jerry says:

    re: RichardT – “But the Church does permit us to kill in self-defence, or to kill in defence of others (for example soldiers in a just war).

    “I have never seen, and would like to see, the explanation of why abortion is different. If the unborn child is directly, seriously and immediately endangering the mother’s life”

    Again quoting Fr. Austin Fagothey, S.J. from “Right and Reason: Ethics in Theory and Practice”:

    Cannot the fetus be regarded as an unjust aggressor on its mother’s life, and so forfeit its right to life? Is not the mother merely acting in self-defense? For the moment we can say that it is absurd to think of the unborn child as an aggressor against the parents, who by their own voluntary act caused its presence in the mother’s womb. We might as well give a man money, then call him an aggressor against our property, and murder him to get it back. _Aggression does not consist merely in being present, but in doing something; there must be an actual attack. If the pregnancy is developing into a miscarriage, this is one of nature’s accidents that is no one’s fault, surely no more the child’s than the parent’s._

    (The explanation goes on for several pages, and thus is much too long to post here.)

  67. Doanli, sometimes we are faced with a choice between saving our skins and saving our souls. Our obligation is to save our souls.

    The principle of self-defense doesn’t apply, because the baby is not an aggressor.

  68. doanli says:

    Morally, the baby is not an aggressor. The body sees it as otherwise. I think the doctors reading this forum will agree.

    I can understand if it’s a 55 year old, otherwise healthy, with a surprise pregnancy but at an advanced maternal age.

    I can even understand in the case of rape. Or a woman with a chronic medical condition (say Lupus or Juvenile Diabetes) that can be controlled in pregnancy thanks to the God given advances in Medicine.

    But if a woman chooses to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, or some other medical treatment that is dangerous to an unborn baby, and is fully informed of such, what is she obligated to do morally without the threat of excommunication from her Church? Or, in the case of a hospitalized woman who decides to abort? Should the nun have said “No.” and given her the option of whether or not to continue her care in a Catholic health care setting?

    Again, I just want to understand, not win an argument. I am a re-converted Cradle Catholic who has recently returned to practicing the Faith.

  69. doanli says:

    OT,

    Father Z., I would like to write you a check as a donation rather than do anything online. May I do that?

    Thanks. :)

  70. Jerry says:

    re: doanli – “But if a woman chooses to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, or some other medical treatment that is dangerous to an unborn baby, and is fully informed of such, what is she obligated to do morally without the threat of excommunication from her Church?”

    There are too many variables here to be able to provide a definitive answer. Using cancer as an example: What is the risk to the fetus? What is the risk to the mother if the treatment is delayed? Are there other treatments the pose less risk to the fetus? What is the probability of the treatment being successful for the mother?

    “Or, in the case of a hospitalized woman who decides to abort? Should the nun have said “No.” and given her the option of whether or not to continue her care in a Catholic health care setting?”

    Correct.

  71. KAS says:

    I see several things in the conversations above I would love to comment on but will restrict myself to this:

    The woman has a health condition that means she is likely to die if she gets pregnant.

    Then why is she choosing to risk her life by participating in sexual activity?

    Since it is obligatory on all human beings to preserve their lives, and obligatory to live according to God’s order, then it seems to me that the woman in question failed to fulfill her obligations.

    There is a right to life but NO right to intercourse.

  72. Central Valley says:

    If only we could get a man like Olmsted in the Fresno diocese.

  73. catholicmidwest says:

    Agreed, KAS. Not too intelligent for sure IF it really was life-threatening.

    I always wonder when I hear about “life-threatening” illnesses exactly how life-threatening they are. The medical industry is into scare tactics nowdays. It sells beaucoup very expensive prescriptions, and many of them are quite optional. [But of course, doctors want you to believe they control life and death. But the information keeps getting out: people still die, and just about at the same old rate as before.]

    I love the pharmaceutical ads on tv. Pretty pictures and soothing sounds, but in the background there is somebody saying softly but very very quickly, “may cause hypertension, heart disease, cranial hemorrhage, deafness, blindness, limp wrists and other appendages, vocal cord anomalies, sterility, constipation, confusion, mental breakdown, weight gain, hypertension, hypothyroidism, osteoporosis…and in rare cases, death. Don’t use if you have lungs or have ever had a headache. {But it’ll make you feel better!!}

    Those ads crack me up. You’re supposed to ask (beg?) your doctor to put you on this stuff by virtue of seeing it on tv. Yeah. Right. Not.

  74. catholicmidwest says:

    PS. This lady’s spouse (if she has one) had better be thinking about what’s smart and what’s stupid in this situation too. He’s not a bystander, you know.

  75. Andrew_81 says:

    But if a woman chooses to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, or some other medical treatment that is dangerous to an unborn baby, and is fully informed of such, what is she obligated to do morally without the threat of excommunication from her Church? Or, in the case of a hospitalized woman who decides to abort? Should the nun have said “No.” and given her the option of whether or not to continue her care in a Catholic health care setting?

    I think you misunderstand the principle. The woman may always choose to forgo treatment for some condition (as we all may), but is never obliged to forgo any treatment, even if it harms or kills the child, provided that the primary purpose of the treatment is not to kill or harm the child.

    Let us use the example of uterine cancer during pregnancy (in fact that is the exact case of St. Gianna). Let us say that all the doctors agree that the uterus must be excised in order to remove the primary tumors. In doing this the child will also be killed, because he will be removed with the uterus. The woman may choose either to forgo treatment, or to have her uterus removed. Neither is sinful, and neither is immoral.

    Let us say that the doctor have two choices when removing the uterus. They can first abort the baby and then excise the uterus, or they can remove the uterus with child inside. Despite that the end result is the same, the first is immoral and the second permissible, because in the first the doctors intentionally destroy the child, and in the second they cause the death of the child indirectly, by primarily treating the mother’s cancer.

    An evil act (abortion) can never be permitted that some good may come from it. A good or neutral act can be done (hysterectomy), even if one of the effects is evil, so long as the evil is not intended. As they say, the ends do not justify the means.

    Had St. Gianna opted for a hysterectomy, she would not have committed any sin and may still have lived to be a Saint, but she would have missed out on the grace he was given to show such Love for God and sacrifice her life for her child, and to die so virtuous a death.

  76. Oneros says:

    “The “pulmonary hypertension” part however suggests either endstage pulmonary disease (e.g. cystic fibrosis or primary pulmonary hypertension) which theoretically could allow carrying the fetus to near term and premature delivery…the stress on the lungs is mainly in the last trimester, and if you deliver at 28 weeks sometimes you save both mom and kid…of course, the more rigid pro lifers would call this a “live birth abortion” if the kid didn’t make it, but the chances are good for both (they rarely deal with such problems…).”

    I was about to say. Almost all of these “life of the mother” situations (very rare in themselves) do not become truly life-threatening until after viability…and at that point you could remove the baby ALIVE and put it in an incubator or whatever.

    This is one of the places where pro-choice people get all tangled up: after viability, “not being pregnant” and killing the baby…are two different things, because the baby can be removed alive and cared for in an incubator at that point.

  77. Norah says:

    From LifeSite News
    http://www.lifesitenews.com:80/ldn/2010/may/10051712.html

    …However, Dr. Paul A. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, disputes the claim that an abortion is ever a procedure necessary to save the life of the mother, or carries less risk than birth.

    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.”

    Byrne has the distinction of being a pioneer in the field of neonatology, beginning his work in the field in 1963 and becoming a board-certified neonatologist in 1975. He invented one of the first oxygen masks for babies, an incubator monitor, and a blood-pressure tester for premature babies, which he and a colleague adapted from the finger blood pressure checkers used for astronauts.

    Byrne emphasized that he was not commentating on what the woman’s particular treatment should have been under the circumstances, given that she is not his patient.

    “But given just pulmonary hypertension, the answer is no” to abortion, said Byrne.

    Byrne emphasized that the unborn child at 11 weeks gestation would have a negligible impact on the woman’s cardiovascular system. He said that pregnancy in the first and second trimesters would not expose a woman with even severe pulmonary hypertension – which puts stress on the heart and the longs – to any serious danger.

    A pregnant mother’s cardiovascular system does have “major increases,” but they only happen “in the last three months of pregnancy,” Byrne explained.

    The point of fetal viability is estimated at anywhere between 21 – 24 weeks, he indicated, at which point a baby can artificially be delivered and have a good shot at surviving. In the meantime the mother’s pulmonary hypertension could be treated, even by such simple things as eliminating salt from her diet, exercising, or losing weight.

    “It’s not going to be any extra stress on the mother that she can’t stand,” said Byrne. “Eventually you get to where the baby gets big enough that the baby can live outside the uterus and you don’t have to do an abortion.”

    “I am only aware of good things happening by doing that. I am not aware of anything bad happening to the mother because the baby was allowed to live.”

    “The only reason to kill the baby at 11 weeks is because it is smaller,” which makes the abortion easier to perform, he said, not because the mother’s life is in immediate danger.

    “I’ve done this work just about as long as neonatology has existed,” said Byrne. “The key is we must protect and preserve life, and we have to do that from conception to the natural end.”

  78. Scott W. says:

    Bookworm asked: “Another question which I’m not sure can be adequately answered here: if the Sister had approved transferring the mother to another hospital that had no qualms about performing an abortion in such cases—particularly if the mother or her family had requested or demanded such an action—would she still have been subject to excommunication?”

    It’s good that you raised this question because that is what has happened recently at some Catholic hospitals that are instructed that if they won’t do abortions, they must not only refer patients to hospitals that will, they have to provide transportation. This is like someone showing up at my door asking me to shoot his daughter and me saying, “No, I can’t do that, but my neighbor down the street will. Let’s take my car.” There is not a speck of moral difference between performing the abortion myself and making all the arrangements to make sure it happens by someone else. Basically, as long as the sister formally supported that the abortion happen, she is subject to excommunication (however, there is room for debate on whether it is automatic or not.)

  79. Elly says:

    Scott W., why is there room for debate whether excommunication is automatic?

    Thanks,
    Elly

  80. Scott W. says:

    Scott W., why is there room for debate whether excommunication is automatic?

    Given the scenario that bookworm proposed, it would depend on how much direct involvement the sister had in procuring the abortion. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but I was allowing for the possibility that the scenario had some indirect involvement. With the actual case however, I think it’s obvious–she formally green-lighted a direct abortion–automatic all the way in my estimation. The direct part is important because while it is good to talk about the principle of double-effect, I haven’t seen anything in the details that suggests that this was something other than a direct abortion. That means appeals to double-effect are off the table because direct abotion is objectively evil–meaning it can never be morally acceptable to do. Not if the mother’s life is in danger; not even if someone planted a nuclear bomb under New York City and threatened to detonate it unless we procured an abortion for his girlfriend.

  81. everett says:

    Exactly Scott – for all the excellent discussion we’ve had here about the principle of double effect, it wasn’t actually valid in this case. It sounds like the woman had a direct abortion, which is never acceptable under any circumstances and involvement in which results in automatic excommunication. If on the other hand the principle of double effect was in involved, there would be no automatic excommunication.

  82. dcs says:

    There is a right to life but NO right to intercourse.

    I don’t recall reading that the woman in question was unmarried, and married people certainly DO have the right to relations with one another. In fact the marriage contract is, in part, a handing over of marriage rights – the husband hands over the rights to his body to his wife, and vice versa. This is what the Church refers to as the marriage debt.

    Sorry for the rabbit hole.

  83. Elly says:

    But the right to intercourse is not absolute, am I wrong? If the woman would probably die if she became pregnant or if one of the spouses has HIV, doesn’t the right to life take the priority over the right to intercourse?

  84. Byzcat says:

    Notice the religious community involved here: the Sisters of Mercy. Mother McCauley founded the congregation, and for years they did excellent work for the Church. But back in the 1970′s they went off the rails. Two sisters I know attended Mother McCauley High School in the 1970′s and early 1980′s. Both were taught that birth control and abortion were legitimate choices, that men were the enemy, and both lost their faith. Also, every woman I know that was a product of this high school became an ultra-liberal feminist or left the faith. I see nothing has changed. It is time to reform these communities or disband them.

  85. dcs says:

    But the right to intercourse is not absolute, am I wrong? If the woman would probably die if she became pregnant or if one of the spouses has HIV, doesn’t the right to life take the priority over the right to intercourse?

    I’m not quite sure that’s accurate but I don’t have a manual of moral theology handy that would answer the question more completely. However, I would think that if the woman could die if she became pregnant, then she might not be obligated to fulfill the marriage debt, but she could still request it.

  86. MichaelJ says:

    Out of curiosity, why does anyone here refer to the baby as a “fetus” or “foetus”? Is it due to the nearly ubiquitous desire to use euphemisms to avoid unpleasant topics?

  87. doanli says:

    Thank you to all who have educated me about the Church’s doctrine on this issue.

    I am happy to know all this, accept it, and consider yourselves performing an act of spiritual mercy for enlightening me.

  88. Sam Urfer says:

    Well, this is what Aquinas says about the marriage debt: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/5064.htm#article1

  89. Jerry says:

    re: MichaelJ – “why does anyone here refer to the baby as a “fetus” or “foetus”? Is it due to the nearly ubiquitous desire to use euphemisms to avoid unpleasant topics?”

    Because the term ‘fetus’ makes it clear we are referring to an unborn child. It is a technical term being used in the proper context, not a euphemism. I fail to see how its use avoids any “unpleasant topics.”

  90. eulogos says:

    It seems that even here, some people are quite unclear on the moral theology. Here is what I understand, and I wish Fr.Z would correct me. ( I use the terms embryo or fetus to indicate a human being in a very early stage of development, and at a somewhat later stage of development, and no euphemism is intended.)

    The direct taking of an innocent human life at any stage of development is never licit.
    Even if it were to be the case that the only way to save the life of the mother is to take the life of an embryo or fetus, this is still not licit. (Someone here stated that it was.)
    It is also not licit to remove the fetus from the mother before it has any chance of living outside the womb and “letting it die naturally.” (Someone here stated that it was.) This is an abortion. And no, you can’t remove the uterus, if not diseased in any way, and say that the death of the baby was secondary to that. There was no reason to remove the uterus! This is an abortion and the mutilation of the mother!

    The Catholic position is that we must always try to save both the mother and the baby. An early delivery, when the baby has a decent chance to live, is licit.
    It is extremely rare these days but one cannot say impossible, that there would be situations in which carrying a pregnancy to the point of viability in a NICU was seriously life threatening to a woman. In those cases, doctors must still do everything they can to treat the mother while pregnant, but the baby cannot be delivered before viability, EVEN IF THAT MEANS BOTH DIE.

    The principle of double effect includes the caveat that the good effect can never be brought about by an intrinsically evil action. You cannot bring about the good effect of saving the mother by the intrinsically evil action of killing the embryo or fetus. The classic example is a cancerous uterus. This may be removed, even if the woman is pregnant. The good effect is brought about by removing the diseased organ.

    So far, this is all clear to me.

    However-

    Another classic example has been called into doubt for me by the doctor’s comment above, the case of ectopic pregnancy. It is usually said that the tube is diseased/defective when it has a pregnancy in it, as this is not normal, so it can be removed, which regrettably also removes the embryo. The procedure where the tube is flushed with methotrexate would NOT be licit, because it directly destroys the embryo, likewise any other procedure to scrape out the tube. This all seemed clear to me. But the doctor pointed out that the ectopic pregnancy might be elsewhere, on the outside of the uterus, or even elsewhere in the abdominal cavity. The dangerous situation is ended not by removing a defective organ, but by removing the conceptus.(embryo and what surrounds it and is burrowing into where ever it has landed.) To say that the intent here is “to stop the bleeding” and the secondary effect is the death of the embryo, doesn’t sound right. It sounds as if the good effect is being brought about by the killing of the embryo! Using that reasoning, you could say of the current case under discussion that the intended effect was to prevent excessive strain on the mother’s already strained cardiovascular system, and killing the fetus was an unintended side effect. And that definitely is not right! I am not happy right now about the ectopic pregnancy situation. Saying that it is licit to remove the conceptus because the pregnancy could never (hardly ever, some abdominal pregnancies have developed to term) develop to viability and the embryo/fetus/unborn child is sure to die anyway, would also be reasoning that could be applied to the medical situation under discussion, if the facts were as represented.(which I understand they might not be, but say it is so). I could use some guidance here from a moral theologian/Catholic medical ethicist as the justification for treatment of an ectopic pregnancy-NOT an uncommon situation, seems to have fallen apart. You can insist on lopping out the whole tube to preserve the double effect argument, but what if it is on the outside of the uterus? What if it is elsewhere in the abdominal cavity?

    I think I understand the principle fairly well, but its application in the ectopic pregnancy situation now seems confused to me.

    Susan Peterson

  91. eulogos says:

    As far as the transportation to a different hospital situation; my Catholic hospital would not do this when a woman who was also medically ill wanted to abort her twins. She was pretty sick but it wasn’t that being pregnant was making her sick. She just didn’t think she could handle being pregnant with twins, and raising twins, sick as she was. I tried to talk her out of it, and documented it too, and got a “good for you” reaction from a coworker and no negative reaction from the hospital. Her non Catholic doctor told her he would discharge her from this hospital and admit her to the non-Catholic hospital in town so she could have the abortion, and he documented this in the notes. He was formally censured by the Catholic hospital for discussing abortion with a patient in the hospital! This hospital also would not permit OB/maternity nurses to discuss contraception with patients.Of course, some may have, but they didn’t document it. It was considered the ‘nicer’ hospital in town to have a baby at, but women were always griping that they couldn’t have their tubes tied when they were open for their C sections. The hospital lost some business that way. The employees’ medical plan didn’t cover contraceptives, and the pharmacy, at which employees got a discount, did not stock them. How lovely to work in a place you knew had that ethical base! I wonder if it is still the same?

    I would say that the patient would have to be discharged and admitted to another hospital, but if her condition was really unstable, the hospital would be legally liable for discharging her. She could sign out AMA and take a taxi to the other hospital, or even arrange on her own and at her own expense, for medical transport to another hospital. That is about the only option I can think of if she couldn’t accept the hospital’s moral stance.
    Susan Peterson

  92. Hans says:

    Okay, this isn’t quite on topic, but I thought this was an interesting story related to abortion:

    WASHINGTON – A senior House Democrat said Tuesday that senators should fully question Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to make sure she supports abortion rights, in light of her previous backing for limiting late-term abortions.
    In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said she views as “troubling” a 1997 memo Kagan wrote urging then-President Bill Clinton to back a ban on all abortions of viable fetuses except when the physical health of the mother was at risk.

    Could she be Mr. Obama’s Souter? I suppose that’s too much to hope for just now. Anyway, it’s distressing the right people

  93. bookworm says:

    “direct abortion is objectively evil—meaning it can never be morally acceptable to do. Not if the mother’s life is in danger; not even if someone planted a nuclear bomb under New York City and threatened to detonate it unless we procured an abortion for his girlfriend.”

    An important distinction that seems to be getting lost here is the difference between the sinfulness of an objectively evil act being mitigated by circumstances such as extreme duress (i.e. the threat of two lives being lost, instead of just one, if the abortion is not carried out), ignorance, emotional or psychological disturbance, etc. and an otherwise objectively evil action being morally justified — that is, not a sin at all.

    In these extreme scenarios where an innocent person is suddenly forced to choose on short notice between killing one person and allowing two or more people (including themselves) to die, it is reasonable to believe that the subjective guilt of the individual is far less than it would have been if he or she had simply murdered someone without provocation. That is NOT, however, the same as saying that the person’s action is morally good.

    A mother who chooses abortion, or a doctor who consents to an abortion, ONLY because there is a genuine and immediate threat to her life from a non-viable baby whose life absolutely cannot be saved anyway, is in all probability not going to be judged as harshly by God as a mother who chooses abortion purely for reasons of convienience or a doctor who makes his or her living running a chain of abortion clinics and performing abortions every day. We certainly should not be judging them as harshly either.

    It is possible, perhaps probable, that the mother and doctor in the first scenario may not be subjectively guilty of mortal sin nor will they be subject to eternal damnation for what they have done due to the extenuating circumstances. BUT that is absolutely not the same as saying that they “did the right thing”, that others should follow their example, or that they have nothing for which to repent or seek forgiveness. They still need to seek God’s mercy as all of us weak sinners do.
    It seems to me that in most cases where good Christian people are suddenly confronted with having to take one life to save another (war, disaster, a cop shooting an armed and dangerous suspect, etc.) they spend many years, perhaps even the rest of their lives, doing just that.

    As I alluded to above, the mere fact that Sister McBride’s excommunication has become public seems to indicate that she has not taken the necessary steps to have it removed — i.e. going to confession, expressing contrition and seeking absolution. If she had done so, chances are she would NOT currently be excommunicated and no one outside of her order or the diocesan chancery would ever have known that she was.

  94. Jerry says:

    re: eulogos

    “the ectopic pregnancy might be elsewhere, on the outside of the uterus, or even elsewhere in the abdominal cavity. The dangerous situation is ended not by removing a defective organ, but by removing the conceptus.(embryo and what surrounds it and is burrowing into where ever it has landed.) To say that the intent here is “to stop the bleeding” and the secondary effect is the death of the embryo, doesn’t sound right. ”

    It depends on the circumstances. If the embryo is invading the vascular supply and causing life-threatening hemmorhaging it would be justified to operate to stop the bleeding. Every effort should be made to preserve the embryo, but if it must be removed to achieve hemeostasis the situation is morally equivalent to removing the fallopian tube: the direct operation is to repair the blood vessel, not remove the embryo.

    “Saying that it is licit to remove the conceptus because the pregnancy could never (hardly ever, some abdominal pregnancies have developed to term) develop to viability and the embryo/fetus/unborn child is sure to die anyway, would also be reasoning that could be applied to the medical situation under discussion”

    As I noted in a previous response, this is NOT valid reasoning.

  95. Jerry says:

    re: bookworm

    “An important distinction that seems to be getting lost here is the difference between the sinfulness of an objectively evil act being mitigated by circumstances such as extreme duress (i.e. the threat of two lives being lost, instead of just one, if the abortion is not carried out), ignorance, emotional or psychological disturbance, etc. and an otherwise objectively evil action being morally justified—that is, not a sin at all.”

    The circumstances you note may reduce or possibly even nullify culpability for an immoral act, but they do not morally _justify_ the act.

    “A mother who chooses abortion, or a doctor who consents to an abortion, ONLY because there is a genuine and immediate threat to her life from a non-viable baby whose life absolutely cannot be saved anyway, is in all probability not going to be judged as harshly by God as a mother who chooses abortion purely for reasons of convienience or a doctor who makes his or her living running a chain of abortion clinics and performing abortions every day. We certainly should not be judging them as harshly either.”

    Actually, we shouldn’t be judging others at all — regardless of the circumstances. The judgment is to be left to God and, in some circumstances, the responsible clergy.

  96. mpm says:

    Jerry,

    If I may….

    Your second paragraph is correct, but for clarity, the second clause, “but they do not morally justify the act”, I think could be restated as: “but they can not justify the act objectively speaking”.

    Or, am I mistaking your meaning?

  97. MichaelJ says:

    jerry: “Because the term ‘fetus’ makes it clear we are referring to an unborn child. It is a technical term being used in the proper context, not a euphemism. I fail to see how its use avoids any “unpleasant topics.” ”

    And why is this distinction necessary? How does it add to the understanding of the morality of the abortion? Does the phrase “removed the foetus” as opposed to “killed the child” really add technical clarity within the context of a (non-technical) discussion of the morality or licitness of a particular act?

    Perhaps it is not so much a desire to avoid offence as it is a (quite natural) desire to continue discussion? I imagine that two identical topics could take a wildly different course depending on how they were begun. Imagine one beginning with the question “Is it licit to remove a fetus?” and the other beginning with “Is it licit to murder?”

  98. Jerry says:

    re: mpm – ‘Your second paragraph is correct, but for clarity, the second clause, “but they do not morally justify the act”, I think could be restated as: “but they can not justify the act objectively speaking”.’

    How is an act justified other than objectively?

    When one’s culpability for an immoral act is diminished due to factors that impair the exercise of free will in deciding to commit the act, the act is being tolerated, not justified. The act itself is no less objectionable due to the subjective circumstances.

  99. Very interesting debate after a tragic event. It is a sad statement on the condition of religious life that any sister, brother or priest would co-operate in such an evil as abortion difficult as the situation might be or seem. As regards excommunication I have been assured by my fellow friars on numerous occasions that all Orders ‘of Papal rite’ have the power to lift any excommunication at any time, even a Papal one, on the usual conditions of genuine repentance and I presume a commitment to make some kind of public recantation etc. Here in Ireland many early IRA men were excommunicated by the bishops and they would go instead to the Capuchins, Franciscans etc, for the Sacraments. Even on their deathbeds they would not see any priest but a friar. One of our friars once told me that a local bishop wanted to reserve absolution for abortion to himself and for this friar (working as a parish priest) to refer all penitents who had procured abortions to the bishop. This friar refused, explaining why, and they eventually agreed that the friar would notify the bishop if he ever gave such an absolution. He never did tell the bishop.

  100. Jerry says:

    re: MichaelJ – “And why is this distinction necessary? How does it add to the understanding of the morality of the abortion? Does the phrase “removed the foetus” as opposed to “killed the child” really add technical clarity within the context of a (non-technical) discussion of the morality or licitness of a particular act?”

    In a word (actually two): precision and brevity. ‘Fetus’ is easier to type than ‘unborn child’ and conveys the same meaning. The child’s state of development may indeed be significant when discussing medical, moral, and legal concerns. If it is not specified, there is a risk of misunderstanding, depending on the context of the discussion. Finally, being specific in no way mitigates the seriousness of the discussion, your specious protests notwithstanding.

    ‘I imagine that two identical topics could take a wildly different course depending on how they were begun. Imagine one beginning with the question “Is it licit to remove a fetus?” and the other beginning with “Is it licit to murder?” ‘

    They probably would, but perhaps not for the reasons you are imagining.

    ‘Murder’ is a term which has different — sometimes drastically so — meaning to different people. As a term of law, it has very specific meaning which does not encompass legal abortions. By using the term ‘murder’ you open up the rathole (more like a whalehole) over the meaning of ‘murder’ and run the risk of completely derailing the discussion.

    Is your intent to inflame or inform?

  101. MichaelJ says:

    jerry,

    I still do not understand how an individual’s state of development has any significance when discussing medical, moral and legal concerns – from a Catholic perspective. Are you suggesting that, all other factors being equal, it can be morally acceptable to deliberately kill a human if that human is unborn? If so, by what logic do you exclude distinguishing the killing of infants from the killing of adolescents? Are there cases where it is morally acceptable to kill one, but not the other?

    Your point about the term “murder” has merit, but not really pertinent to this discussion. This is a Catholic board discussing Catholic perspectives. The fact that a term has a different meaning to a laywer than it does to a Catholic is really kind of irrelevant.

  102. Jerry says:

    re: MichaelJ – “I still do not understand how an individual’s state of development has any significance when discussing medical, moral and legal concerns”

    Could this be because your intention is to make a point rather than to understand?

    Rather than waste any more time expelling bodily fluids into the wind, let me turn the question around: What is the harm in precisely identifying the object of the discussion rather than using a more ambiguous term? Please cite specific examples from this discussion thread to support your argument.

    “Are you suggesting that, all other factors being equal, it can be morally acceptable to deliberately kill a human if that human is unborn? If so, by what logic do you exclude distinguishing the killing of infants from the killing of adolescents? Are there cases where it is morally acceptable to kill one, but not the other?”

    My position should be quite clear from my previous contributions to this discussion. You can look them up if you wish; I choose not to waste time or space restating them. I also note that ‘kill’ is another term that due to it’s lack of precision tends to be far more inflammatory than enlightening in these discussions.

    “Your point about the term “murder” has merit, but not really pertinent to this discussion. This is a Catholic board discussing Catholic perspectives. The fact that a term has a different meaning to a laywer than it does to a Catholic is really kind of irrelevant.”

    Use of the legal definition is not restricted to lawyers, at least the last time I checked. The fact is that many discussions about abortion go far astray because the arguments intentionally appeal to emotion rather than the intellect — exactly what you are trying to do here.

  103. RichardT says:

    Jerry,

    Thank you for the quote, and the reference to Fr. Fagothey’s book. I see that you say that the explanation goes on for several pages, so I shall clearly have to do some more reading.

    But the bit you quote doesn’t seem to deal with all cases:
    “Aggression does not consist merely in being present, but in doing something; there must be an actual attack.”

    Yes, that seems to make sense, so far as it goes.

    But what about the “ectopic pregnancies” that have been mentioned here, where the unborn child has (if I’ve understood it) latched on to the wrong part of the woman’s body and is sucking blood from her in a way that would be fine in the uterus but is highly dangerous in other places.

    That doesn’t seem to be simply a natural consequence of pregnancy (such as high blood pressure that might be dangerous for that particular mother), nor is the unborn child merely present and doing its natural thing. There is an actual and unnatural act (albeit an unconscious one) by the unborn child that is directly endangering the mother’s life. Doesn’t that then constitute an attack?

    This isn’t criticism; just trying to understand.

  104. MichaelJ says:

    Jerry,
    I have no doubt that you are horrified at the brutality and sheer evil of abortion as everyone should be. I do not have the same confidence about someone trying to understand this issue after reading this discussion. While I agree that raw emotion should not be the basis of any discussion, this particular issue should evoke an emotional response, and anything that serves to lessen this natural response is a mistake.

    As far as my motives go, it is both to make a point and to understand. In some posts, such as yours, it is fairly obvious that the term “fetus” is used to avoid ambiguity. While I disagree that there is any ambiguity, I understand this. In others it is not so clear. The term is used as a euphemisim and is used, by those who promote abortion, to dehumanize the individual being killed. I asked my question for these reasons.

    For an example of the harm that may come, I call your attention to the quote “no one would laud the mother [who] died refusing removal of a foetus that never could live”. Imagine yourself to be a casual reader who is unsure about this issue. What would your response be after reading this? Now, how would you react if the quote instead read “no one would laud the mother who died refusing to kill her child that never could live”? You may believe that the term “killing her child” is less precise, but it does lead the reader to consider similar but different circumstances when evaluating the morality of a particular act. Nobody here would (at least I hope not) think twice about condemning the murder of an infant, born with some birth defect that would prevent its survival. If its an “embryo”, though its a different story (as can be seen here), isn’t it?

  105. DHippolito says:

    Here in Ireland many early IRA men were excommunicated by the bishops and they would go instead to the Capuchins, Franciscans etc, for the Sacraments. Even on their deathbeds they would not see any priest but a friar.

    So, Brother Tom, did those early IRA men repent before they received the Sacraments from friars? If not, why not?

  106. tzard says:

    With so much discussion, I’m tempted to say “enough is enough” and not comment. But I shall resist temptation.

    To those calling for dismissal of the nun – shame on you. We should hope that she repented soon after and has been in good graces with the Church and God since then. Since we haven’t heard from her, I’m hopeful that that’s the case. My own hope rests in such a forgiving God.

    As for the situation: A baby at 11 weeks who cannot be brought to term without both the baby and mother dying, can be removed from a pregnancy, and hopefully baptized before death and given a Christian funeral. If things can be brought to 23 weeks without grave consequences, then why not wait and perform a c-section?

    Cut the baby up for extraction and you’ve chosen to be a monster.

    I’m still not clear on what procedure was used – but it doesn’t look like care was taken. It seems the choice of procedure (from the term “abortion”) was not the morally acceptable (to God) one. And while “termination of pregnancy” could by it’s words mean something OK, we all know what it in practice means.

    Prayers all around – for the doctors and the mother as well as the Baby.

  107. catholicmidwest says:

    Shame on me then. She should be dismissed. Make it absolutely clear what the problem was and what happens when there’s a problem. IT’s about time that the church’s teaching was upheld.

  108. DHippolito – sorry for the delay in replying – I assume the friars took the opinion that the men were engaged in a war of liberation against an illegal occupier of the nation (akin to the Americans who fought the English back in the 18th Century). That the occupier had been there for nearly 800 years was negated by their refusal to allow self-determination. As soon as the nation got a chance to vote it elected Sinn Fein (Nationalist Republicans) who declared independence and the British reacted accordingly. It was in this context and that of the following years that these men were excommunicated by the bishops – the exact reasoning used by the bishops I don’t know.