Archive for May, 2010

Catherine Palmer is working on a project stemming from her article posted below. We’re looking to catalog all of the pro-choice euphemisms in existence, and ask that you write in whatever ones you know.

For example: Product of conceptus (for embryo/fetus).

Please pick your brains, your pro-life friends’ brains, and write in whatever you have. Thanks so much.

Read Full Post »

ellaOne (Ulipristal 30 mg) is the new and improved version of RU 486. Its mechanism of action is similar in that it blocks the hormone progesterone from its effect of maintaining the endometrial lining of the uterus.

Recall that while estrogen is key to stimulating the growth and development of a new uterine lining (endometrium), progesterone is tasked with maintaining the structural integrity of that lining (to which the embryo attaches). In a normal menstrual cycle, the former egg follicle, the corpus luteum, produces progesterone and dies if no embryo has been produced. Thus the definition of menstruation is progesterone withdrawal from an estrogen-primed uterus.

If an embryo happens to be nestled in that endometrium and ellaOne is taken to block the effects of progesterone, the endometrium will break down, flushing the embryo out in the process.

Whereas RU 486 was taken as a morning after pill, ellaOne can be taken several days later.

The FDA is set to hold hearings on ellaOne this coming June 17. At those hearings we will hear of how this drug is not an abortifacient, that it is meant as emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.

Enter the verbal engineering.

The pro-aborts have actually outrun their own verbal engineering, which is always engaged in as the necessary pre-requisite to social engineering. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology defines pregnancy as the implantation of the embryo. It used to be defined as conception. However, this definitional change does have a curious logical coherency.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) continues to spawn all manner of derivative evil. It is because of IVF that the definition of pregnancy was changed. A woman is said to be pregnant when she has conceived in her body (in vivo). However, when a woman donates eggs, which are then fertilized in a petri dish (in vitro), the woman is not said to be pregnant, and rightly so. She may have 30-40 live babies in their embryonic stage in a petri dish, but her body remains without child. Thus, a mother of 40 can remain never having been pregnant.

The definition needs to be reworked, back to conception, but including IVF. I propose the following:

Pregnancy: The status of a woman whose body possesses nascent human life from the moment of in vivo conception, or has received nascent human life through artificial implantation.

It makes a difference.

Through the current IVF-inspired definition, RU 486 is held to be an emergency contraceptive. Taken early enough, ellaOne could fit that same definition. However, ellaOne can be taken when the embryo has already implanted, running up against even the current and tortured definition of pregnancy. As such, there can be no doubt that ellaOne is an abortifacient. Thus the pro-aborts are now hard-pressed to find verbal engineering sufficient as to give them cover. However, what they lack in the way of rhetorical cover, they may well gain by brute political force.

FDA is always at the mercy of Congress and the White House for funding. With the demonic trinity of Obama-Reid-Pelosi, do they dare reject this new drug? It’s a dilemma to be certain.

November is coming.

Read Full Post »

Over at the Center for Morality and Public Life, President Andrew Haines wisely brought on board a great new author, Catherine Palmer, who has just finished her second year at the College of William and Mary. Ardently pro-life, Catherine also has her own blog, Vita Pro Omni. We welcome her to the ranks of pro-life authors and activists, invoke God’s continued blessings in her life, and pray that she see the end of this scourge in her lifetime. Catherine wrote the following article for her new column at CFMPL. It is reprinted here with her permission.

Disrobing Pro-Choice Euphemisms

by Catherine Palmer

There are those ideas which serve the fulfillment of the human person and there are those ideas which diametrically oppose this purpose. Of course, there are also those which are somewhere in-between—but such ideas are less noteworthy and unrelated to our discussion today. For the time-being, I would like to focus on a string of modern thought which has abused humanity and poisoned minds over the last 50 years in particular.

Throughout the course of a few decades, this mentality has essentially seeped into every corner of our society. When considered at face value, this seems an almost shocking phenomenon: how could an ideology so dangerous, so depraved, get past the conscience of millions of Americans? But when we realize that this philosophy is a great masquerader, concealing its true colors behind the guises of “women’s liberation” and “population control”, it all begins to make a bit of sense.

The ideology to which I am referring is, broadly speaking, the pro-choice ideology. This doctrine insists, sans sound premise, that certain human beings ought to be labeled non-persons and thus be denied rights. It insists further that the choice to destroy a living human fetus is fundamental to a woman’s freedom and equal place in society. According to this mindset, abortion is a constitutional right and ought to be protected as such.

The ramifications of this mentality are unspeakable, but not unprecedented. Anytime unpopular human beings are reduced to something disposable, we see horrific effects. We saw it in our segregated nation under Jim Crow laws in the 1950’s, when African-Americans were lynched by the thousands because they were dark-skinned; and we see it in America today with abortion-on-demand, where the unborn are dismembered, burned, and suffocated because they are inconvenient. But I would like to think (and generally do think) that the propagators of these killings would never commit them were they to see them for what they really are.

As far as I understand, segregationists genuinely believed in their racial ideology and pro-choicers (by and large) truly believe in abortion as a just societal policy. But popular ideologies may or may not be at the service of truth. And there is good evidence that neither the segregationist nor the abortionist has his story straight.

By drawing an analogy to segregated America I do not intend to offend pro-choice readers but rather to illuminate a historical moral evil that is perhaps more clearly a moral evil due to the boon of retrospect. Masquerading ideologies are characteristically deceiving in their own time, but become transparent in following years.

This transparency comes about in several ways, but two in particular. Perhaps one could classify them as a single means involving paired steps. In any case, it seems there are several initiatives we must undertake to try to disrobe the costumed pro-choice ideology, leaving it naked and stripped of its charm.

The first initiative is educational in nature. In short, we have a responsibility to learn the facts about the unborn. The abortion question ultimately comes down to their moral status, so knowing 1) what they are and 2) how to articulate what they are is crucial. Embryology, biology, philosophy, sociology—all are at our service in correcting the inimical pro-choice mindset. Where there is intellectual confusion, we must submit ourselves to the service of truth and aim to correct it.

The second initiative is active in nature. Armed with proper knowledge, we can enter the realms of higher education and politics to make a legitimate case for life. This is what groups like ALL (American Life League), AUL (Americans United for Life), and the Susan B. Anthony List do, to name a few pro-life powerhouses. Without resorting to extremist tactics, never considering violence, these organizations nonetheless make measurable strides toward advancing pro-life philosophy and policy.

Utilizing history as our teacher, we see that the Civil Rights Movement required authors and activists, professors and preachers, to bare segregation for the world to see. The Pro-Life Movement will likely prove no different.

Surely, inhuman ideologies parading in dress-up clothes and pretending to be human are among the most dangerous sort[1]— and C.S. Lewis understood this ably: “But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” Pro-choice euphemisms, be gone.

[1] Joseph M. Scheidler, paraphrased

Read Full Post »

Today in the calendar of the Church we celebrate the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity. It is a great feast day for the pro-life movement.

In our understanding of the Trinity, the Father gives Himself totally to the Son, and the Son gives Himself totally to the Father. In this reciprocal act of radical self-donation made in Love, the Holy Spirit of God is generated. The Church holds out sacramental marriage as an icon, a window, into the inner life of the Trinity.

The mutual submission of husbands and wives to one another of which Saint Paul speaks is not the servile condition that radical feminism would have us believe. It is rather the same total emptying of self, the same radical self-donation as characterizes the inner life of God. In that complete giving and receiving of self between spouses, there can be no barriers. In that self-donation, new life is generated as the product of spousal love.

The Church teaches contraception as an intrinsic evil precisely because it is an assault on our imitation of the inner life of the Trinity, because it is an assault on our fertility, of our capacity to generate new life as the expression of our love. It is a barrier that is out of sync with the natural rhythms of human fertility and its cycles. Natural Family Planning takes into view those cycles and does not erect such barriers as to make of marital union a mere plaything devoid of openness and responsibility.

Sterile marriages, marriages that are parsimonious in their approach to love and its fullest expressions beyond the bedroom, that are even hostile to life, are marriages that reject the paradigm of the inner life of the Trinity. The four Gospels are nothing, if they are not one long revelation into the inner life of the Trinity. As Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me {completely}, so I have loved you {completely}.” and “Love one another as I have loved you,” which is to say, completely and selflessly.

So God gives us marriage that we might have a vehicle through which we learn to love, mirroring the example set by the inner Life of the Trinity. God is truly three persons in one entity because that oneness comes about through radical, mutual self-donation. That’s how the two become one in marriage: two persons, one in mind and heart, and even almost in being. And in those best of marriages where self-donation comes closest to perfection, we have reflected for us the inner life of the Trinity. This is what Jesus was getting at in His prayer to the Father in John 17:

20″My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24″Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25″Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

This model of the Trinity in our lives works when we ask the Holy Spirit of God to move in us, in our marriages. It works when we ask the Spirit to teach us wisdom and love, when we are prepared to abandon sin and empty our lives of all impediments that lead us to parsimony, rather than openness.

Especially openness to Life.

Read Full Post »

In light of our discussions on the Phoenix case, this one is going into the side panel as a permanent feature. NCBC offers free emergency ethics consults 24/7. This is worth having on the Rolodex or electronic equivalent.

From NCBC:

To submit a consultation request via our website, please click to navigate to our consultation page. The NCBC provides free consultation services to individuals facing difficult ethical decisions related to health care. In emergency situations, an NCBC ethicist is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 215-877-2660. NCBC ethicists do not provide legal or medical advice.

Read Full Post »

Short. Powerful. Says it all.

via http://www.intothedeepblog.net

Read Full Post »

Memorial Day weekend is a good time for watching short clips. Here is a treat that came to me via Lisa Mladinich. I’ve known all about this molecule for 15 years as a Molecular Biologist, but this guy brings it all home. Watch this to completion!!

Read Full Post »

Today’s article in HeadlineBistro

Word last week that a new, “synthetic cell” has been made by Dr. J. Craig Venter, of Human Genome Project fame, has electrified many in the scientific world. The announcement has led to confusion about what has actually been accomplished, opened the door to possibilities both revolutionary and frightening, as well as rekindling debate over the ethics of manipulation.

What Venter and his colleagues actually did was to synthetically produce the entire chromosome of Mycoplasma mycoides, a type of bacterium lacking a cell wall, and transplant it into its cousin, Mycoplasma capricolum. Though the two are cousins, the M. capricolum began to produce proteins of M. mycoides, whose instructions for being built are carried only in the M. mycoides genome. Read about the back-story more fully here.

Critics of Venter rightly point out that he has not made a truly synthetic cell, as he has ‘merely’ transplanted the genome of one species of bacterium into the preexisting cell of another species. From any perspective, semantics notwithstanding, this is a revolutionary advance in the field of molecular biology. It really matters not that Venter used another species to produce the instructions on the newly introduced chromosome.

We have long been able to introduce foreign genes into unrelated cells for production of novel proteins. This process of Cell Transformation was first discovered by Frederick Griffith in 1927, and shown by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase, in a Nobel Prize-winning experiment, to be brought about by novel DNA.

The key to getting the activation and expression of foreign genes is to attach to them regulatory DNA sequences recognized by the cell as belonging to one of the cell’s own genes; in effect “tricking” the cell to make something other than what it thinks it’s making. This is how we have been making human insulin in microbes for decades. We simply attach the human insulin gene to a regulatory region of DNA meant for a microbial gene, and trick the cell into producing human insulin.

What Venter has done is bring this process to a level that is orders of magnitude more involved. Under such a paradigm, he doesn’t need to craft an entirely new cell, but that is coming. The possibilities for the future are so large as to be barely capable of being articulated.

Of course, the optimists are attaching to this the possibility of realizing their fondest hopes and dreams. Count me among them. We may well be able to design organisms capable of producing pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, biofuels, fertilizer compounds, or even be able to consume crude oil as their only carbon and energy source. The latter would be a next generation improvement from the current microbes in use, and would be especially helpful in oil spills such as the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sky is literally the limit, as we most certainly will design ever-increasingly useful synthetic cells. We have been on this road since Griffith’s discovery of Cell Transformation. It is inevitable. Improvements in biotechnology will accelerate the pace at which these developments will be made.

However, there are some serious concerns over what designer DNA inside of designer cells could do if these organisms were to escape into the wild.

Griffith’s experiment showed that components (now known to be DNA) of heat killed pathogenic Streptococcal bacteria were taken up by non-pathogenic Streptococcal bacteria, transforming these hitherto tame cells into pathogenic strains.

What if some designer DNA was to make it into cells in the wild (called wild-type to distinguish them from their experimentally created cousins)? What if the DNA from the synthetic cells transformed these wild-type cells? Depending on the new capacities, this could cause an ecological disaster. Are we prepared for controlling this new capacity and the possible catastrophic consequences of its misuse, intentional or otherwise?

In the movie, Inherit the Wind, based on the Scopes Monkey Trial over teaching evolution, Spencer Tracy portrays Clarence Darrow and makes this argument to the jury about the price of progress:

Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.’

‘Madam, you may vote, but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder-puff or your petticoat.’

‘Mr., you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’

Darwin took us forward to a hilltop from where we could look back and see the way from which we came, but for this insight, and for this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

Similarly, Molecular Biology has taken us to a hilltop from where we could look back on the natural order of the biological world down to its molecular level of order and control. But for this insight, and for the revolutionary advances that will be made, we must be prepared to abandon our comfort in certain knowledge of the natural order, and prepare for a new order of uncertain stability in the biosphere.

This new order will mean new levels of vigilance, of regulation and oversight.

In a sense, we’ve worked out many of these concerns already. Many of the same concerns were raised more than thirty years ago in the creation of transformed cells, which also use antibiotic resistance genes to help select the creation of successful clones by growing in a culture medium laced with antibiotics. These transformed cells were created with a few essential genes that were crippled, so the cell could not grow outside of the lab, where these defects could be artificially remedied with nutritional supplements.

Still, as Andrew Haines, President of the Center for Morality in Public Life accurately points out, “Synthetic cells aren’t bad; they also aren’t new life. But we must proceed with caution nonetheless; since increases in scientific precision often give rise to the opinion that man ought to regulate the conditions of his own being. And this is patently false.”

Similarly, Catholic News Service reports:

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told Italian television May 21 that as long as synthetic cells were used “toward the good, to treat pathologies, we can only be positive.” However, if they are used in ways that offend human dignity, “then our judgment would change. We look at science with great interest. But we think above all about the meaning that must be given to life. We can only reach the conclusion that we need God, the origin of life.”

That’s going to be a tough but necessary sell with Molecular Biologists. It is a comparably small price to pay for our ability to do so much potential good.

Read Full Post »

After a pleasant evening with my brother Knights of Columbus, I came home to the following reply to my post below showing the Marie Stopes ad for abortion services on English T.V. They must be catching hell for this if they have people trolling the internet to do damage control. The following answer speaks for itself. No need for me to parse it out.

All I’ll say is that this is a tragic come-down for the nation that gave us St. Thomas More, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Literary Giants such as William Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Lord Alfred Tennyson, The Brownings, Thomas Hardy, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Carlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Jane Austen, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, G.K Chesterton, John Donne, J.R.R. Tolkein, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and a host of other giants too numerous to list in a post (though it would be great for people to add their own favorites).

Evil always trips itself up. Consider this following news story quote in light of the email I received from this same organization.

” ‘The ad is not about abortion,’ Julie Douglas, marketing manager of Marie Stopes told Fox News, ‘It doesn’t mention abortion. It’s about unplanned pregnancy.’ “

From Marie Stopes:

2010/05/27 at 11:57 PM
At Marie Stopes International we always support a woman’s choice to continue with her pregnancy or have an abortion. If a woman feels that an abortion is in her or her family’s best interests, then she should have access to safe, supportive and non-judgmental advice and help form an expert clinic. No one else should pressure her into either continuing with the pregnancy or having an abortion.

The earlier a woman decides on abortion, the more options are available to her, and the easier and safer it is to perform the abortion.

Abortion is available for free on the National Health Service, but waiting periods vary according to area, and this is a time when days may be crucial. Also, not all women resident in the UK are eligible for NHS abortions: women visiting from other countries, or women living in Northern Ireland, are required to go private.

These adverts will enable women who think or know they may be pregnant, and are considering abortion, to find out where they can get one.

I see you are an American blogger. You may not be aware that in the UK, many public services and charities, including health charities, advertise on TV: TV ads are by no means exclusive to “consumer services”. For example, prior to our recent General Election, the Electoral Commission ran ads to let people know how they could find out if they were registered to vote, and where they could register, and when the deadline was. Doing so did not mean the right to vote was equated to “pizza delivery, internet service, and appliance repair”: those ads were providing the general public with information both useful and necessary. So with our ads.

Marie Stopes International makes clear to all patients who are eligible for NHS treatment that abortion and contraception services are free on the NHS: but all women, anywhere, have a right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. No one else can make this decision for her.

Some of the money from the fees people pay in the UK Marie Stopes centres goes towards supporting the work Marie Stopes International does overseas.

In 2008 alone, MSI provided over six million people in 42 countries with high quality health services, including family planning; safe abortion & post-abortion care; maternal & child health care including safe delivery and obstetrics; diagnosis & treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and HIV/AIDS prevention. Millions of people die unnecessarily each year from health conditions that could be prevented or treated at low cost because they do not have access to basic sexual and reproductive health services. Marie Stopes International is working to change that.

Read Full Post »

The following video is of a television commercial by one of England’s largest abortion providers, Marie Stopes. It seems to all outward appearances to be a soft-peddle for abortion. Why else would one of England’s largest abortion providers be offering to “help” with a late period? They aren’t exactly the local Catholic Charities office. Following is a list of Marie Stopes’ services, which evidently do not include helping women bring unplanned pregnancies to term:

Our services include:

Unplanned pregnancy counselling
Abortion information and advice
Help for women needing abortions
Abortion pill and other treatment options
Vasectomy information and vasectomy procedure
Female sterilisation
Health screening for men and women
Company health screening
STI testing

The ethical dimensions seem pretty clear. Abortion is now being pressed home as a consumer service along with ads for pizza delivery, internet service, and appliance repair. This is what western civilization has come to.

{HT: Deacon Greg Kandra}

Read Full Post »

In our ongoing exploration of the Phoenix abortion and the application of double effect, commenter Marle asks a great clarifying question:


Dr Nadal, I understand I will never get you to agree with abortion and I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. What I don’t understand about double effect is why abortion is ok if you take the fallopian tube. The fallopian tube isn’t killing a woman in that situation; as evidenced by the fact that in many cases the fallopian tube doesn’t have to be removed. What’s killing the woman in a tubal pregnancy is a fetus growing where it can’t, and it has to be removed. It seems to me that double effect makes it so that abortion is ok as long as the woman is permanently hurt in the process.

Gerard M. Nadal


I don’t think that either of us is convert hunting here. One of the purposes for which this blog is offered is to have a quiet little corner for people to duck in from the maelstrom and explore some of the science, ethics and theology that undergird the pro-life movement. I prefer a quiet and civil, academic tone to the screaming out of the windows at passers-by found elsewhere, and thank you for such a reserved tone.

Let’s walk this through slowly and deliberately to best answer your question.

First and foremost, the difficulty in discussing double-effect (DE from here) is magnified if one of the parties sees no problem with abortion in general. DE seems a sleight of hand at abortion to most pro-choice folks with whom I have spoken.

However, to understand DE, we must assume a starting position that states a categorical prohibition of the direct targeting of the baby (more properly embryo or fetus) for death. In a word: Abortion.

There is a huge difference between an abortion and removal of a fallopian tube containing an embryo, or a hysterectomy of a severely cancerous uterus containing an embryo or fetus. That difference is what DE establishes. To recapitulate the four conditions which establish DE:

First: The action contemplated must be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent.

Second: The bad result must not be directly intended.

Third: The good result must flow from the action as immediately as the bad effect.

Fourth: The good result must be “proportionate to” the bad result.

It must be stressed that all four of these conditions MUST be met for DE to have been established.

Let’s start with an advanced tubal pregnancy first. The embryo has gotten stuck (usually behind a blockage in the tube such as scar tissue from PID). The embryo continues to develop to the point of swelling the tube and eventually bursting it with catastrophic hemorrhaging by the mother. It can be, and is for too many, immediately fatal.

The removal of the tube satisfies the above 4 conditions as follows:

1. The action being contemplated here is not the killing of the baby, but the removal of a tube that is a clear and present danger to the mother’s life. The removal of the dangerously damaged tube is itself a moral good.

2. There is a bad effect in the removal of the tube. There is a baby inside that is going to die when we remove the tube. Current medical science has no way of extracting the baby and implanting it in the uterus. Nevertheless, a bad result will ensue. A baby will die. This result, however, is not directly intended. Intent matters greatly.

3. The good result is that the mother’s life has been saved. The bad result is that the baby died. The benefit to the mother is as immediate as the bad effect because the dangerously damaged tube has been removed.

4. The good result is proportionate to the bad result in that we saved the life of the mother, though unintentionally the baby died

So we see that the removal of an advanced tubal pregnancy satisfies all four conditions for DE.

In the case of an early tubal pregnancy treated with methotrexate, none of the conditions of DE applies.

1. The contemplated action itself is morally bad: the chemical abortion of the embryo.

2. The bad result (death of the baby) is directly intended.

3. The good result does not flow immediately from the action along with the bad effect. (There is no guarantee that the tube will be useful in the future, especially if scarred from PID).

4. The good result (saving a fallopian tube) is disproportionate to the loss of baby’s life (even if the loss were a certainty in advanced tubal pregnancy).

In short, as methotrexate targets the baby directly, it is nothing more than a chemical abortion. There have been reports of early tubal pregnancies where the embryo has dislodged itself. The child deserves the chance, as well as the medical community exploring ways to safely secure that result through medical intervention.

Thus we see through the conditions for establishing DE that certain life-saving procedures may be performed if the direct action is morally good, the bad action is not directly willed or intended, the good action flows as immediately as the bad action, and the good result is proportionate to the bad result.

Read Full Post »

I add this explanation of the principle essential to guiding our discussion of the Phoenix abortion.

(Source: Wm. David Solomon, “Double Effect,” The Encyclopedia of Ethics)
Lawrence C. Becker, editor

This principle aims to provide specific guidelines for determining when it is morally permissible to perform an action in pursuit of a good end in full knowledge that the action will also bring about bad results. The principle has its historical roots in the medieval natural law tradition, especially in the thought of Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274), and has been refined both in its general formulation and in its application by generations of Catholic moral theologians. Although there has been significant disagreement about the precise formulation of this principle, it generally states that, in cases where a contemplated action has both good effects and bad effects, the action is permissible only if it is not wrong in itself and if it does not require that one directly intend the evil result. It has many obvious applications to morally complex cases in which one cannot achieve a particular desired good result without also bringing about some clear evil. The principle of double effect, once largely confined to discussions by Catholic moral theologians, in recent years has figured prominently in the discussion of both ethical theory and applied ethics by a broad range of contemporary philosophers.

Formulation of the Principle. Classical formulations of the principle of double effect require that four conditions be met if the action in question is to be morally permissible: first, that the action contemplated be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent; second, that the bad result not be directly intended; third, that the good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result; and fourth, that the good result be “proportionate to” the bad result. Supporters of the principle argue that, in situations of “double effect” where all these conditions are met, the action under consideration is morally permissible despite the bad result.
Each of these conditions has, however, been a matter of considerable controversy. The first condition requires some criterion independent of an evaluation of consequences for determining the moral character of the proposed action. Moral philosophers who believe that the moral character of an action is exhaustively determined by the nature of its consequences will, of course, object to this requirement.
The second condition assumes that a sharp distinction can be drawn between directly intending a result and merely foreseeing it. This requirement has been the subject of much debate. Some philosophers argue that if an agent recognizes that a certain consequence will inevitably follow from a contemplated action, then in performing the action the agent must be intending the consequence. Others argue, less strongly, that defenders of double effect have failed to delineate a practicable criterion for marking off the intended from the merely foreseen. Defenders of the principle typically respond by pointing to the implicit recognition of the moral significance of this distinction in the moral practices of ordinary persons.

The third condition writes into the principle of double effect the so-called Pauline principle, “One should never do evil so that good may come.” Again, philosophers who reject the view that actions can have a moral character independent of their consequences will find this condition unacceptable.

The fourth condition, by bringing in the notion of proportionality, has seemed to many philosophers to undercut the absolutism presupposed by the first condition. Although the first three conditions have a decidedly anticonsequentialist character, the fourth may appear to embrace consequentialist reasoning. Defenders of the principle typically attempt to accommodate the consequentialist character of the fourth condition while ensuring that it does not render the more complex features of the principle irrelevant.

Applications. The principle of double effect has played a significant role in the discussion of many difficult normative questions. Its most prominent applications are in medical ethics, where it figures prominently in attempts to distinguish among permissible and impermissible procedures in a range of obstetrical cases. The Catholic magisterium has argued that the principle allows one to distinguish morally among cases where a pregnancy may need to be ended in order to preserve the life of the mother. The principle is alleged to allow the removal of a life-threatening cancerous uterus, even though this procedure will bring the death of a fetus, on the grounds that in this case the death of the fetus is not “directly” intended. The principle disallows cases, however, in which a craniotomy (the crushing of the fetus’s skull) is required to preserve a pregnant woman’s life, on the grounds that here a genuine evil, the death of the fetus, is “directly” intended. There there is significant disagreement, even among those philosophers who accept the principle, about the cogency of this application. Some philosophers and theologians, by emphasizing the fourth, “proportionality,” condition, argue that the greater value attaching to the pregnant woman’s life makes even craniotomy morally acceptable. Others fail to see a morally significant difference between the merely “foreseen” death of the fetus in the cancerous uterus case and the “directly” intended death in the craniotomy case.

(Source: Wm. David Solomon, “Double Effect,” The Encyclopedia of Ethics)
Lawrence C. Becker, editor

Read Full Post »

The following article by Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education, National Catholic Bioethics Center, was written a year ago. I reproduce it here to offer more foundation to understanding the dynamics behind the controversy in Phoenix.

Thinking About Moral Absolutes

by Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education, National Catholic Bioethics Center

May 2009. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States in April of 2008, I had the chance to attend the opening ceremony at the White House South Lawn. As I listened to President Bush’s welcoming remarks to the Pope, I was caught off guard by one line in particular, a powerful statement that seemed almost too philosophical to be spoken by a United States president: “ In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.”

The President was expressing how we live in a time of history marked by moral relativism. This is the belief that there really is no right and wrong, just your opinion and mine about right and wrong, and we should simply “agree to disagree” and learn to get along. That is to say: you may believe that abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryonic stem cell research are fine, and I may not, but there’s really no point in arguing, since everything is relative anyway – morality is up to me and you to decide individually. In such a view, there are no moral absolutes or universals, and morality shifts freely with each person’s perspective.

Ultimately, however, this position is neither reasonable nor logical.

If morality were merely about your and my moral opinions, the results would be disastrous. If I believe racism against blacks and the institution of slavery built upon it are wrong, but you believe they’re okay, can we both go our merry ways and live according to our own morality? Clearly not, and the United States had to undergo a terrible civil war to address this very question. If I believe serial murder and rape are wrong, but you believe they’re OK, can we both go off and live according to our own positions? Clearly not, since both positions cannot be true.

These obvious examples illustrate what each of us already knows, namely, that in the real world “relative” truth doesn’t work. Suppose you and I each drive towards an intersection with a traffic light. If it were up to you and me to make up our own minds about what color the light is, without any reference to its real color, there would certainly be a lot of accidents at our intersections. What many fail to realize is that the moral world works similarly. Many people’s moral lives are crashing and burning because they fail to respect the non-arbitrary markers of the moral roadmap guiding our human journey. They’ve slipped into thinking that they can make up their own rules as they go along, and that it’s all relative to their own desires or circumstances.

In the movie Schindler’s List, much of the action takes place in a Nazi labor camp. The camp commandant decides to take a young, Jewish girl to be his personal maidservant. At one point in the film, this girl has a private and very disturbing conversation with another man, Oskar Schindler, the protagonist of the film. With deep fear in her voice she says to him, “I know that someday my master will shoot me.” Schindler at first can’t believe what he is hearing, and he does his best to reassure her that the commandant is really quite fond of her. But she insists, “No, someday he will shoot me.” She then speaks of what she had witnessed the previous day. She had seen him walk out of his quarters, draw his gun, and shoot a Jewish woman who was walking by with a bundle in her hand. She described the woman: “Just a woman on her way somewhere. No fatter, or thinner, or slower, or faster than anyone else; and I couldn’t guess what she had done [to provoke him]. The more you see of the commandant, the more you see there are no set rules that you can live by. You can’t say to yourself, ‘If I follow these rules, I will be safe.’”

Fr. Raymond Suriani, commenting on this famous scene from the movie noted how this girl was absolutely correct: In a world of moral confusion, in a world of moral relativism, there can be no safety, and, consequently, no peace. She understood that in the “world” of that Nazi labor camp, right and wrong had been blurred to such an extent, that she couldn’t determine what was “right” even in the mind of the commandant. What pleased him at one moment might not please him in the next. And if he happened to have power, or to have a gun in his hand when he wasn’t pleased, she knew she could easily end up being his next victim.

There are certain important truths and universal moral absolutes which speak powerfully to us as humans about how we must relate to ourselves, to others, and to society. We can draw strength from the prophetic and protective voice of the Church, which speaks tirelessly to us of these moral absolutes and points out the threat to our humanity posed by every agenda of relativism.

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See http://www.ncbcenter.org

Read Full Post »

This exchange is the latest with Pediatric Cardiologist, Judith Becker, M.D. whose opinion is that Sr. Margaret McBride made the right call in signing off on an abortion in a patient with Pulmonary Hypertension.

Dr. Judith Becker

Since I am being quoted in this string I feel I should speak for my self as I have being quoted out of context and though I answered Dr Nadals questions, he apparently did not see that portion of my response. I also asked for some clarifications of his response and I have not yet seen a response from him.
As you will read in my final entry on the prior string this morning, I would respond here as well to Dr Nadal, “You may argue this all you want from the perspective of canon law, but do not use my words to argue it from a medical perspective. And, if, in fact in it’s infinite wisdom, the church rules that it is less sinful to lose two lives than save one, I can understand why there is a crisis of faith.”

In context my responses can be found at:
This discussion began on the 17th and my first 2 responses occurred on May 20.

May 20 10:30 AM:
I am a pediatric cardiologist whose expertise is in fetal diagnosis and care. In this capacity I see patients with pulmonary hypertension far more frequently than my colleagues. I also see other complications of pregnancy as a direct result of my work. I have 3 times in my 20 years of practice seen patients turn up in an emergency room in pulmonary hypertensive crisis without having known they had significant pulmonary hypertension prior to that time. Two of those patients never left the hospital but rather died over days to weeks in out ICU. A patient in that condition may or may not be easy to transfer elsewhere, depending on how much support she needed. There are experimental medications for pulmonary hypertension (including viagra and similar pulmonary vasodilators) but these therapies have a spotty performance record and it would not be known for months whether they had done enough to improve the patients condition significantly. Pregnancy effects the heart in these mothers in two ways. First it puts an increased volume load on the heart which if already failing can push it over the edge. Then in the process of straining, the right heart can acutely fail with this disease leading to sudden death.

The upshot of all this is:
1 – Yes, the mother could have arrived at the hospital for the first time in poor condition, could have required stabilization and may have been too sick to move.
2 – An abortion early in the pregnancy of a patient like this is far safer than taking a wait and see
3 – To deny this mother lifesaving medical care at the time of the admission denied her access to long term therapies that might save her life. Also without her survival, the fetus could not survive so on the logic of not killing the fetus, we condemn both to death or murder, if you like. We also deny the previously delivered children of this mother the care of that mother in the future.
As a physician, this is an ethically untenable position. We take an oath when we complete our training to do no harm…..In a terrible situation like the one being discussed therefore it is far better to save the mother than lose both the mother and the child.

May 20 12:35 AM
Dr Nadal I have to take issue with you on this case. As Linda points out and as you yourself say, no one knows all the details, yet further on in your article you then rush to judge that a Bishop’s but not a nun’s word should be taken for whether an ethical line was crossed. I would, given that none of us know the specifics, and that both sides of the issues are represented by those in God’s service, tend to respect the nun’s position since she was right there at the time hearing ALL the arguments on both sides. If that is not good enough, then how about bringing the case into the light (without exposing the name or identifying info of the patient) and let us all be presented with all the known facts on both sides before running to judge?

I know it’s a bit off issue, but why have there not been ANY excommunications of priests who are recognized by the community to have rape multiple children, but a nun is excommunicated in a murky controversy of preserving the rights of the mother over that of an ultimately nonviable fetus.

In answer to your questions about my post above, the two deaths I mentioned related to Pulmonary hypertension were not preceded by an abortion. We had another case where a young mother was admitted and found to have free aortic insufficiency (another abnormality where pregnancy can be lethal and is contraindicated). That mother was counseled that her best hope for a good outcome was to ‘terminate the pregnancy’ (medical terminology), have her aortic valve replaced, and then go on to become pregnant with a functioning valve. She did choose that course, and as a result has a healthy heart which will function properly in future gestations.

When you comment: “Other of your colleagues would beg to differ with you on this approach to the management of both patient’s lives.” I have to ask if those are physicians who have cared directly for patients with Pulmonary hypertension in this situation?

May 22 8:22AM:
Dr Nadal has chosen to speak for me but he is taking my words out of context to make his own case and in the process has no regard for his own warning that we do not know all the facts and therefore should be careful about our assumptions….he is over and over making a huge assumption and it is inappropriate for him to use my words to support that assumption when in fact I was suggesting he not assume and that the opposite could be true.

Let us be clear.
1 – Pulmonary hypertension is a terrible disease and is very commonly quite lethal
2 – It is something that cannot quickly or easily be fixed or even improved WITH ANY KNOW MEDICAL THERAPY. It carries an unacceptably high mortality rate when it occurs, and IT RARELY REARS IT’S HEAD BEFORE THE PATIENT IS QUITE ILL AND THE HEART IS FAILING bringing them to medical attention.
3 – Fortunately it is uncommon, BUT THAT IS VERY DIFFERENT FORM CONTENDING IT IS NOT LIKELY TO HAVE HAPPENED IN THIS CASE. If it was a common enough occurrence a consult to the ethics committee would not have been necessary.
3 – Fortunately it is an uncommon disease BUT it does happen and FROM A MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE, if that was the case, Sister McBride and her medical staff DID EVERYTHING RIGHT.

You may argue this all you want from the perspective of canon law, but do not use my words to argue it from a medical perspective. And, if, in fact in it’s infinite wisdom, the church rules that it is less sinful to lose two lives than save one, I can understand why there is a crisis of faith.
Dr. Gerard M. Nadal

Dr. Becker,

You raise several issues in your posted comments, and I shall address them, I hope to your satisfaction.

First, as to your contention that Bishop Olmsted is missing data and not in a position to know with certitude if a line has been crossed, that simply is untrue from the standpoint of Roman Catholic moral theology and the bioethics that issue forth from those moral norms. I am certain that you are well-acquainted with the Principle of Double-Effect, which in essence allows for the removal of a diseased organ in order to save the life of the mother. The stipulation is that the organ containing the child (tube or uterus) is sufficiently diseased that it would certainly kill the mother prior to bringing the baby to viability at 23-25 weeks. In performing the procedure, the unintended consequence is the death of the baby, which is nevertheless an objectively evil action.

In the Phoenix case, the deliberate and intended action was the killing of the child. It was a direct targeting of the baby for death.

In Roman Catholic Christian anthropology and moral theology, both mother and child have equal human identity and moral standing as human beings, as human persons. It is impermissible to deliberately kill the one in an attempt to save the other. Bishop Olmsted, a Doctor of Canon Law, understands the rationale behind this better than most. Sister McBride too understood this, as well as the penalty for formal cooperation in procured abortion. The penalty is automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication. It is not imposed by a bishop or court, but is an automatic cutting off of oneself from the Body of Christ by one’s very actions. It ranks with desecration of the Eucharist and murdering a Pope.

As for your gratuitous dig regarding pedophile Priests not having been excommunicated, that is a line of argumentation made this week by NPR.

The line of argumentation in the NPR article that suggests as much illustrates a dangerous conflation of issues and ignorance of morality and justice.

There is no doubt that the sexual abuse of children is truly horrifying, whether by a Priest, a parent, a school teacher, scout leader, or any other person betraying a position of authority and trust. Whether or not that abuse merits excommunication is an argument that I would love to see vetted by moral theologians and canon lawyers.

Suppose it were an offense that merited excommunication? Further suppose that pedophile Priests incurred the penalty. Excommunication is a penalty intended as a medicinal remedy. Readmittance to the Church is made through confession to a Bishop (unless he delegates that authority to his Priests). Even if all of that were already operative, it would have no bearing on the intrinsic merits or demerits of the case in Phoenix.

Further, the Pope is the one with the authority to promulgate canon law. The NPR piece deceptively leads one to the erroneous conclusion that Bishop Olmsted, or any other Bishop, has discretion in excommunicating pedophiles, when in fact he doesn’t. Bishops can only adjudicate as much as Church law allows them to adjudicate, and I have not heard of Bishop Olmsted being implicated in cover-ups of pedophiles.

Yet this will be the new narrative when going after other abuses, “But what about the pedophiles…?” The pedophiles are now being dealt with decisively.

Returning then to your concerns, I do believe that I characterized your position well from your initial comments. If I have not, please detail for me how this is so.

I take issue with the following that you wrote:

“Fortunately it is uncommon, BUT THAT IS VERY DIFFERENT FORM CONTENDING IT IS NOT LIKELY TO HAVE HAPPENED IN THIS CASE. If it was a common enough occurrence a consult to the ethics committee would not have been necessary.”

In your initial comments, you claim to have seen only three sudden, acute cases of PHT in twenty years as a specialist. That’s one case every 6.7 years, which qualifies as rare. Though there are medical treatments both standard and experimental, you stated in your original post:

“2 – An abortion early in the pregnancy of a patient like this is far safer than taking a wait and see
3 – To deny this mother lifesaving medical care at the time of the admission denied her access to long term therapies that might save her life.”

However, Catholic bioethics and morality requires that every effort be made to save both patients’ lives. Your approach in #2 is a direct contravention of this principle and practice.

Further, the convening of a bioethics panel for something which is expressly forbidden is an exercise meant to give cover to the institution for something a priori known to be morally evil. We do not engage in morality by consensus in the Catholic Church.

The ethics panel made a decision, and now would mandate that the entire Magisterium of the Church be guided by their decision’s precedent, effectively usurping Apostolic Authority, particularly divinely instituted Papal Authority of the Pope as the sole law-giver.

No. The answer is no.

This same group has engaged in a slow, selective leak of information to carefully craft a narrative wherein they are the heroes. Along the way they have essentially betrayed this woman’s identity by divulging her age, month of admission, pregnancy, condition, and course of action. Anyone who knows this woman knows the identity of the individual being discussed, and can divulge that to all the world if they so choose. It’s a dirty, scummy tactic that may well comprise a violation of HIPAA law. To say the least it is unethical, but to quote Scarlet O’Hara after she murders the Yankee soldier in Gone With The Wind,

“I done murder; I can do anything.”

And they will do anything, including this smear campaign against Bishop Olmsted.

I suspect that what hasn’t been said of this case says much in defense of Bishop Olmsted’s actions in removing this excommunicated nun from her post.

The hard reality, Dr. Becker, is that we simply do not see the child as lacking humanity or full moral worth. That’s the real issue between us.

Read Full Post »

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

A recent graduate of my alma mater writes a few comments to tell me that she was taught in college that Catholic doctrine actually allows for abortion to save the life of the mother. Her other, more extended comment is here, along with my reply.

Frankly, it comes down to this:

A pregnant woman would have almost certainly died without an abortion. Had she died, her baby would have died as well. With the abortion, she had a chance to live. Either way, the baby is dead.

I understand your belief that it is better to let two people die “naturally” than deliberately end the life of one who was going to die anyway to save another.

However, let us consider this from the question of choice. Consider the fact that this woman was placed in a Catholic hospital and *could not be moved* due to the very serious condition she was in. Is it legitimate to say that regardless of what *she* wants, what *she* believes, regardless of the four living children she has waiting, a HOSPITAL (where she has gone for *life-saving* treatment) can deny her a procedure that would save her life? The end doesn’t justify the means? The “means” was going to happen either way! The baby was going to die!

I am very pro-choice but I do support the right of a religiously-affiliated hospital to choose not to provide abortions, birth control, etc. And yet, in the situation where a patient is dying, has absolutely no other options in terms of getting treatment, what then? I also cannot believe that a sister would flippantly “o.k.” an abortion if she did not clearly see that it was fit. I genuinely believe that her excommunication indicates an ongoing distrust of female opinion, particularly in the Catholic church.

Mr. Nadal, do you think you could stand there and tell that woman she could not continue to live because you couldn’t justify ending the life of a baby that was doomed to die in the next few hours anyway?

I would appreciate if you would read the post in the following link and share your thoughts:

Gerard M. Nadal
Hi Erin,

Congratulations on your graduation!! It’s hard work, but ultimately worth the sacrifice. What was your major?

You raise several great issues. Let’s tackle them individually.

First, I read the NPR article and wrote a post on it:


I beg you to remember that because of HIPAA restrictions, it is interesting to note the level of detail being released by the hospital. In truth, nothing at all ought to have been released. They are leaking just enough information to spin the story their way.

Next, NPR is hardly the authoritative source of information when it comes to Roman Catholic Doctrine. Actually, the most authoritative voice in the matter is being dismissed, and that is a Roman Catholic Bishop, who is an Apostolic Successor speaking in his capacity and with authority as such. Bishop Olmsted also possesses a doctorate in Canon Law (Church Law). So, as both a doctor of Canon Law and a Bishop, I would expect that HIS would be the voice considered most authoritative on what the Church accepts as permissible. Instead, it is being derided by a media that thinks they know best what the Church teaches.

Next, I believe that you labor here under a false and misleading notion of what the Church teaches, specifically as you recall your education on the matter at St. John’s Univ. Either you were taught the principle of double-effect and you are making a mistaken application here, or you were taught erroneously by a theologian who was substituting their preferred view of the universe for established moral dogma and Canon Law.

As for the particulars of this case, as I have written, it is highly unlikely that this woman suddenly found herself in this condition at 11 weeks of pregnancy. You’ve seen the comments here on this blog from a pediatric cardiologist, who in her 20 years of this specialty has only seen three cases of sudden pulmonary hypertensive crisis, essentially one case every seven years. So my comments in the link provided above stand. It is highly unlikely that this woman suddenly found herself in this situation.

The position of the Church is clear. We do not directly and intentionally kill the baby to save the mother. If you ask if I were a physician, could I stand and tell the mother she had to die?

That’s the wrong question. As her physician, I would have told her from the outset that I do not abort babies. Period. I would have told her that St. Joseph’s will not abort babies. Period. I would have stressed that my job is to do all that I can to save BOTH mother and child and that I will do all within my power to do so. I would have advised that if the couple wanted to hold out therapeutic abortion as an option, that they see another physician with privileges at another hospital that permits abortion. (Not hard in a city as large as Phoenix). That’s the exercise of the woman’s legal choice in the matter.

I would refer you to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists for further inquiry from actual pro-life OB/GYN’s:


Again Erin, this is a very bad situation, made so by the failure of the hospital administration to lay down clear limits. Bishop Olmsted represents those limits with great fidelity.

Finally, I refer you to the case of Dr. Gianna Beretta Molla, a physician, wife and mother who chose the life of her baby over the abortion recommended to her. It cost her nothing less than her own life. Read about it here:


Her whole life was a protracted preparation for that one heroic and love-filled decision. Her life illustrates what is missing in this story, and that is the daily practice of virtue on the part of the nun who allowed for the direct and intentional death of the baby, as well as the physician who did the killing. Consider this quote from former US Senator Dan Coats:

Character cannot be summoned at the moment of crisis if it has been squandered by years of compromise and rationalization.

The only testing ground for the heroic is the mundane.

The only preparation for that one profound decision which can change a life, or even a nation, is those hundreds of half-conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private.

Habit is the daily battleground of character.

That’s why Sr. McBride has been excommunicated and Dr. Molla has been canonized a Saint.

God Bless.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: