Posts Tagged ‘Pulmonary Hypertension’

Well, this was only a matter of time. An NPR article questions the justice and integrity of Phoenix Bishop Olmsted in declaring that Sister Margaret McBride incurred automatic excommunication when she gave her approval for an abortion in an 11-week pregnant 27 year-old woman with pulmonary hypertension judged to be near death. The article questions the excommunication of a nun trying to save a life, while pedophile priests incur no such penalty.

Good question for a canon law seminar or a social justice seminar, worthy of great consideration. However, in this case, and in all others dealing with excommunication, it is a dangerous and illogical conflation.

A child was killed in a Catholic hospital. The moral dimensions surrounding that decision stand on their own merits and do not rely on the merits of unrelated human rights violations. 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.

So let’s return to matters at hand.

Regarding Sr. McBride, the issue here is not medical, but administrative.

The Catholic Church has clear guidelines in moral theology and bioethics about what is, and is not permissible. A Catholic hospital’s administration is responsible for communicating those boundaries to the attending physicians, who are then responsible for respecting those limits, and communicating them to their patients.

This woman didn’t go from totally healthy to needing an abortion overnight. In going for her prenatal care, the physician no doubt was treating her for the hypertension, and should have communicated that the pregnancy could exacerbate the condition, presenting the dilemma of abortion v. danger of maternal mortality prior to viability at 25 weeks. Further, the physician should have communicated to the parents that if the condition did deteriorate, presenting at St. Joseph’s would preclude abortion as a therapeutic option.

In the time it took to go to St. Joseph’s and wait for a round of medical/ethical consults, the couple could have gone to another hospital in a city of 1.5 million, with a metro area of 4.5 million.

It isn’t hard to see that there was a breakdown in the communication of clear limits regarding abortion. Someone needed to be held to account for that breakdown. Sister McBride’s decision could not be left standing as a precedent for the future in a Roman Catholic Hospital.

There are plenty of other hospitals where this is an acceptable procedure. The clear communication of these limits by the administration and OB/GYN’s on staff would direct patient management in cases like this toward facilities offering the abortion option, if that is an option that the couple wishes to hold in reserve.

That said, this was a case tailor made for more Bishop bashing by abortion’s apologists who would love nothing more than to see Catholic hospitals forced through law, or bad administrative precedent, into performing abortions. Bishop Olmsted is to be commended for his moral clarity.

{HT: Jill Stanek}

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