Abortion, Catholic Hospitals, & Excommunicated Nuns

Flickr photo by davhor
the horror.  

You are a 27-year-old woman, pregnant with your fifth child late last year.  Something goes terribly wrong. 

You become very ill and are taken to a hospital. Imagine you are told that you must abort your eleven week fetus or both you and the fetus will die.

NPR reports that, "According to a hospital document, she had 'right heart failure,' and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was 'close to 100 percent.'"

The hospital? A Catholic hospital. St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix to be exact. It appears that St. Joseph's generally does not and will not perform abortions.

Imagine that you elect to abort, but in the end it is up to one nun. One nun holds your life in her hands.



Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College told NPR, "The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make."

The nun, Sister Margaret McBride, in the end agreed to allow the abortion under Directive 47 in the U.S. Catholic Church's ethical guidelines for health care providers. According to CatholicCulture.org, Directive 47 allows, under certain circumstances, treatment that could kill the fetus to save the patient:

"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."

Had not the nun agreed, the mother, so mortally ill that she was too unstable to be transferred to another hospital, would it seems most assuredly died with her unborn fetus, leaving behind four young children.

The end result was that the mother survived and Sister Margaret McBride was rebuked and excommunicated for her decision to authorize the procedure. She is waiting reassignment and possible expulsion from her order of nuns.

Flickr photo by mugley
According to USA Today, hospital vice president Susan Pfister told them that:

"The facility owned by Catholic Healthcare West adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services but that the directives do not answer all questions."

Sister McBride made a quick call that saved the life of a mother of four.  She was not alone however. At the time, she was a vice president of mission integration at the hospital. As a member of the hospital's ethics committee when the surgery took place, she was part of a select conference of people, including the patient and doctors, who were required to to very quickly decide upon this mother's fate.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted  just as quickly "automatically excommunicated" her for that course of action elected.

Bishop Olmstead  in a released  a statement explained:

"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. The unborn child's life is just as sacred as the mother's life, and neither life can be preferred over the other."

The irony of this predicament? Remember all those Catholic priests found guilty by the church of molesting small children? Remember all those years of ignoring and even covering up the criminal actions of said priests? 

It seems that not one of them was swiftly derobed and  "automatically excommunicated" like Sister McBride's case. Some critics point to a double-standard in the treatment of this case. Others suggest an example was being made.

In the end, there are so many parts of this case that are unimaginable for any of us:

  • Twenty-seven years old and pregnant with a fifth child.
  • Having to make a decision to save yourself as a mother of four or die with the child in your womb. 
  • Worst yet, happening upon a Catholic hospital that very well could have made that choice for you.

So, yes, imagine. Without Sister Margaret McBride, perhaps that decision would not have been yours.

Imagine and pick your hospital wisely next time you get sick.

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