Friday, May 28, 2010

Response to NYT on Sister Margaret's Excommunication

New York Times opinion editor, Nicholas D. Kristof, likes to talk about the Catholic Church.  That is fine.  Kristof is free to speak of it as he will.  However, he speaks of it as someone who has received their understanding of the Catholic Church from multiple reruns of bad History Channel specials coupled with a relativistic view of morality where right equals my personal opinion.

Recently, Kristof, takes on the recent excommunication of a Sister who appears to have consented to the termination of a pregnancy in order to save the mother's life.  It would benefit Kristof greatly, who so regularly writes opinions on matters of the Catholic Church, to actually learn something about the institution which he so ardently speaks out against.

First, excommunication is not something the Bishop does.  It is something the Bishop recognizes.  An Excommunication occurs when a Bishop officially and publicly recognizes that the person being excommunicated has willful and deliberately separated themselves from the teachings of the Catholic Church in a manner that causes public scandal and confusion among the faithful.  The Bishop is giving consent and naming a problem that is already present in the person being excommunicated.  It is much like a doctor who gives the diagnoses of an already existing condition.  In brief, the person who is causing the scandal excommunicates him or her self and the Bishop merely recognizes it.

Second, Sr. Margret, regardless of her personality, has done an act that must be judged by the moral standards set forth.  This is the real crux of the matter.  The local Bishop deemed what Sr. Margret has done, consenting and giving approval to the termination of a pregnancy, has caused public scandal and confusion.  

Below I try to shed some light on why her decision was considered morally wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church.  Please remember, the Catholic Church view life in the same light as Dr. Seuses' Horton in that a life is a life no matter how small (or large).  The question remains why are 3 billion adult cells more important than the 3 cells of a human in utero?

1.  The willful termination of a pregnancy as either an end in itself or as a means to an end is considered intrinsically evil by Catholic standards.   The medical professionals were using the termination of the pregnancy as a means to an end -- the end being the possible preservation of the mother's life.  The child here is presented as the cause of the mother's medical problems.  The logic follow that if you removed the cause of the problem, then the mother will be cured.  Much the how a surgeon can remove a cancer causing tumor to help heal his or her patient.

2.  Though the termination of the pregnancy is presented as a medical treatment, it still boils down to the willful and deliberate termination of life.  Many will see this as an abortion in disguise.  

3.  From the Catholic Church's standpoint, an abortion is never permissible.  However, when the termination of a pregnancy happens as a secondary means, it is deemed tolerable because the termination of the pregnancy is not willful.  The best example of this is with the entopic pregnancy.  An entopic pregnancy occurs when a developing embryo implants, most commonly, in the the fallopian  tubes of the mother.  This happens because the fallopian tubes of the mother are infected, scared, diseased or not functioning properly to some degree.  When an entopic pregnancy is treated by doctors what is being addressed is the diseased tubes.  The common medical procedure for treating this kind of pregnancy is the removal of the diseased fallopian tube, which will result in the termination of the pregnancy as a secondary effect of the treatment of the mother.

Though life is terminated in both instances, the entopic pregnancy and the case with Sr. Margaret, the intents differs significantly.  Sr. Margaret's case involves treating the mother by means of a willful termination of the mother's pregnancy.  The entopic case intends to treat the mother by treating the source of the problem, the diseased fallopian tubes, where the intent is not to end the pregnancy but to treat the disease itself.  

A better example of this secondary affect might be the termination of a pregnancy due to the chemo therapy of a cancer patient.  The intent of the doctor's is not to terminate the mother's pregnancy.  The intent is to treat the cancer.  Because the chemo treatment poison's the person's body in order to cure the cancer, it has a secondary affect on the mother's body and her pregnancy which results in the termination of her pregnancy.

In short, because Sr. Margaret appears to have consented to the willful termination of the pregnancy as the means of treating the condition, she has brought upon herself the consequences of her actions.  If you want freedom and freewill, you must be willing to accept the consequences of your actions.  Also, if Sr. Margaret had proposed treating the mother's conditions first and foremost, and this path of treatment followed, the response of the local Bishop would have been otherwise.

I wonder if the medical professionals took the route of terminating the pregnancy because it seemed the easiest and quickest route.

A reader asks, "So what if not aborting the child would kill them both?  What then does the Catholic Church recommend?"

I do not speak on behalf of the entire Catholic Church, but I think the Church's stance would be one of life.  She would say that never under any circumstance should an evil be done in an attempt to cause a good.  In other words, the end does not justify the means.


Ginkgo100 said...

First a brief typo correction—I believe you meant to describe ectopic pregnancy.

Second, another example related to the morality of ending pregnancies. St. Gianna Beretta Molla (one of my heroes) was found to suffer from uterine tumors during a pregnancy. The combination of tumors and pregnancy endangered her life. The doctors presented her with three options: terminate the pregnancy while leaving the reproductive organs intact, remove the diseased uterus entirely (hysterectomy), or allow the pregnancy to continue to term before treatment was initiated. The first option (abortion) is not morally permissible; it is parallel to the case erroneously approved by Sr. Margaret. The third option was the one St. Gianna chose, which ultimately cost her her life, though her child lived. The second option is the most interesting from a moral standpoint. A hysterectomy is an entirely appropriate treatment for a diseased uterus. To perform this procedure while the patient is pregnant, of course, kills the fetus; yet this option was considered morally acceptable, because the death of the baby was not the intended effect. St. Gianna could have chosen this as a morally permissible option. (But then, she might not have become St. Gianna—just Gianna.)

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