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Killing to Save a Life: Phoenix Hospital Stripped of Catholic Affiliation Due to Emergency Abortion

12.22.10

A Phoenix hospital had its Catholic affiliation renounced by a Bishop after doctors performed an abortion to save the life of the mother.  A nun who was involved in the decision was also excommunicated for her role in the procedure.

While I understand why people may be against abortion in most instances, I don’t get the stance that abortion is always wrong in every single case, including incest, rape, and when the life of the mother is at stake.

I think most of us can agree that killing another human being, while wrong almost always, even has instances where it’s morally acceptable or even morally warranted — in wartime, in self-defense, or to protect another from being killed.  Police officers and other law enforcement are morally allowed to shoot to kill in given circumstances, usually making split-second decisions.

So, why can’t doctors make calculated decisions in the same way when lives are at stake and can be saved?

The specific incident that caused St. Joseph’s Hospital to lose its Catholic affiliation involved a woman in her 20s, carrying her fifth child, who developed severe pulmonary hypertension to the point where her life was at stake.  A Catholic directive states that performing an abortion – a “direct” death – to save the life of the mother because of another issue – which would result in an “indirect” death – is not allowed.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead explains:

“No one has the right to directly kill an innocent life, no matter what stage of their existence. It is not better to save one life while murdering another. It is not better that the mother live the rest of her existence having had her child killed.”

I suppose the clarifying adjective here that makes this situation different than any other is the whole “innocent life” phrase.  I don’t know how that helps any, though, since who are we to pass judgment on the relative sinfulness of another human being who is old enough to most likely have sinned?  Why is that life expendable in order to save another life, but a baby’s is not simply because it hasn’t grown old enough to inevitably sin?

That line of thinking also involves telling a 20-something-year-old woman that she will be better off dead than dealing with the emotional trauma of having lost her baby.  How exactly is that valuing life at all? Life involves death – and all of us have to deal with it at some point in our years of existence.  To say that someone is better off dying than having what some consider to be a sin on their hands doesn’t ring true in other situations.

So why with this?

Considering that an ordained nun went along with this procedure shows just how morally ambiguous this scenario is, one that tests the concepts of morality.  As a practicing physician, how could you sit back and watch a patient die when you know that you could do something to save her life — even if that meant the death of her fetus?

But the big question is: how is it better to let two lives die – in the process, rendering those surviving four, young children motherless – than to save a life?

I don’t tend to expect much about religion to make much logical sense.  But this still baffles me.

Image courtesy of Cobalt123’s Flickr Photostream.

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2 comments

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