Climbing into the shoes of an awful moral dilemma

God preserve us all from the awful sort of moral choices that fell upon the ill pregnant woman at the center of our story on Page 4, upon her family and doctors, and upon hospital administrators. 

In brief, the facts are these: A woman is hospitalized with a flare-up of a heart condition that is further aggravated — likely to the point of life-threatening — by her 11-week-old pregnancy. 

Abort the baby or you die, the doctor tells the woman. 

Complication: This is a Catholic hospital. Resolution: A nun who serves as a hospital VP and who is on the facility’s ethics committee signs off on the abortion. 

Anyone with a pretty basic knowledge of Catholic moral teaching should know that’s not allowed. Abortion is the direct killing of an innocent human life. That is never, ever allowed. You cannot kill one person to save another’s life. And you cannot start deciding whose life is valuable and whose is not. 

But still, I dread the thought of being in the shoes of that woman’s husband that day. This is an urgent medical situation that requires a snap decision. Your wife will very likely die unless you OK the killing of a human being almost too small to see. And if you don’t, they’ll both die. What a horrifying dilemma. 

When my wife went into labor with our first child, she ended up needing an emergency C-section. The anesthesiologist botched the local anesthesia and abruptly had to put her out completely. I was so worried about her waking up again that the nurse had to drag me physically from my wife’s side to see our new baby in the next room. It all worked out fine, but I can see how a husband’s first instinct is to protect his wife. 

It is slightly more difficult for me to get into the nun/hospital administrator’s head. She’s been praised by her colleagues as a compassionate and effective professional. I’m sure she thought she was doing the right thing according to a dangerous logic — better one dying than two dying. But I am always surprised to find evidence that so many Catholic medical professionals seem uninformed about or unformed by Catholic moral teaching. 

The publicity about her automatic excommunication is, to put it mildly, not all good. Critics have pointed out — with some justification — the discrepancy between the speed with which the local bishop announced the excommunication of a nun and the inexcusable protectiveness many bishops showed clergy sex abusers. 

But, as long as the message doesn’t get completely lost, the local bishop is doing Americans a favor by reminding us of the fundamental principle that all human lives are of equal value and dignity, and must be vigorously protected. 

It might seem compassionate or the better thing to kill one person to save others. But that is a very dangerous road to start down. 

Let me know your thoughts at feedback@osv.com.