In a recent article, Irin Carmon at Salon.com explores the fact that Catholic health care providers have really expanded business in the last few years, so if Obamacare doesn’t require them to perform abortions to save a mother’s life, some women won’t have that option at all. If the only hospital near you is Catholic, or if you can’t be moved from a Catholic hospital to a real one that actually believes in saving lives even when it calls for uncomfortable decisions, you may just have to die along with your dying fetus.
But what really grabbed me in this article – amongst all the other outrages – was this:
Sending patients elsewhere isn’t always possible, especially in rural areas or in a true emergency. In 2009, a woman with heart failure who was 11 weeks pregnant and had a “close to 100 percent” risk of mortality arrived at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix. The situation was too dire for her to be moved, and a nun agreed that the termination the patient wanted was necessary. That nun, Sister Margaret McBride; was excommunicated. ”She consented in the murder of an unborn child,” John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, told NPR at the time. “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.”
So according to Ehrich, saving one life when you can’t save two is “doing evil to bring about good.” That’s interesting, since sometimes it works the other way, and I have to wonder if Ehrich would be similarly outraged:
Crimm, a 41-year-old single mother, received the grim diagnosis of terminal head and neck cancer just months after her little girl was conceived. She opted to skip chemotherapy to protect her growing fetus.
Crimm survived long enough for the baby to be delivered. But shortly after holding her daughter for the first time, the Oklahoma woman slipped into a coma and died.
Effectively, this woman committed suicide to save her baby, and we all know the Catholic stance on suicide. I’d love to hear how Ehrich would tell this woman, “We can’t sanction your suicide. We’re going to pump you full of chemo and hope the baby survives it.” Because that would be the consistent position if he’s at all concerned with not looking like the biggest hypocrite this side of Washington, D.C.
This is of course all coming up in the aftermath of the case of Savita Halappanavar who died when an Irish hospital refused to abort her dying fetus so that she might live. Interestingly, Irish clergy have since come out against this decision… I think:
The bishops insisted that the Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother.
“Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby,” the bishops said in their statement.
It’s a little confusing, because the “medical treatment” Halappanavar needed was the exact same procedure one gets when one has elected to abort an unwanted pregnancy. The bishops may be trying to draw a distinction between “abortions” performed for strictly elective reasons versus terminations of wanted pregnancies when they are threatening the mother’s life. On the other hand, any abortion procedure always involves “intentionally” ending the life of a fetus, and would have done so even in Halappanavar’s case, so huh? This is such a waffly statement you could pour maple syrup on and eat it. But it certainly puts Ehrich’s statements about the “Catholic position” into question.
But let’s return to Ehrich’s point and consider some other ways in which people “do evil to bring about good”, and wonder to ourselves if Ehrich would consider these things just as wrong as abortions performed strictly to save the lives of women:
- Law enforcement and the military sometimes murder people to stop them from murdering others.
- Sometimes civilians do the exact same thing, and the law recognizes it as a different from murder, and I’ve never heard of any religious objection, Catholic or otherwise, to the ethical correctness of killing only to preserve your own life or that of someone else from a murderer.
- Sometimes rescuers can’t save everyone in an emergency, so they have to choose which people they’re going to let die.
- Sometimes states or nations put people to death for having murdered others.
- Sometimes states or nations torture people because they believe (wrongly, I think, but that’s another debate) it will help them get information that will prevent acts of mass murder.
Would Ehrich like to see all these practices stopped? Or just the ones that save the lives of women?