Ethics committees try to find ways to satisfy difficult situations that will not contradict current standards of ethics. If one practices situation ethics, then each circumstance stands alone and is judged based on its own parameters outside of an objective truth. This is a dangerous methodology and one that played into the decision making over an abortive procedure performed in a St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital in Arizona. (Read the story at Catholic News Service)
Seated on the panel of ethics advisors was Sr. Margaret Mary O'Brien. She, in unison with the rest of the panel, decided that an abortion to be performed on a mother with pulmonary hypertension who was pregnant with an 11 week old fetus was ethically sound.
The Church clearly teaches that abortion is always wrong. The fetus is never to be considered an illness or pathology that must be eliminated to preserve the life of the mother. The fetus, in a situation where the mother's life is at risk, becomes another patient. Yet, the ethics committee in an effort to justify their erroneous decision that led to the praiseworthy excommunication of Sr. McBride, a Mercy Sister of all things, by Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, would like to parse words over the guidelines in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services.
The hospital officials found a passage in the directives that they determined justified their decision to permit the abortion.
But the Catholic Healthcare West officials, in their letter, asked Bishop Olmsted to clarify the directives, citing another section that reads: "Operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.The problem is that the dilemma to be resolved became the baby not the pulmonary hypertension. There are pharmaceutical treatments for pulmonary hypertension. They are, however, contraindicated during pregnancy. In this case, the pregnancy already existed and had to be considered another living patient at risk of pulmonary hypertension. If the only way to treat the underlying issue was to administer the medication that would pose potentially harmful risks to the fetus, one would have to assess it based on the principle of double effect at which point one might conclude that the treatment for the disease constituted a necessary risk. I am not suggesting a treatment option, rather I am offering that there were other options to consider in lieu of abortion. In no uncertain terms is the answer to the problem the elimination of the life of the child, but the loss of the life of the child can be justified if it is not clearly intended as a result of the treatment of the mother.
Until we can appropriately reform and catechize those institutions who are supposed to be consecrating to Christ those who will teach the truths of His Church, especially in areas of ethics and morals, we will continue to see absurdities of this magnitude. Our Religious Orders are capable of so much more. Thank God for Bishop Olmsted who taught and acted in Truth.