Ethical Dilemma

Sr. Margaret McBride

Mark from Proud Atheists tends to draw much criticism from me. Mark is a bit childish in his arguments against religion in general, and Christianity in particular. The set of atheists who continually refer to God as “Sky Daddy,” “Sky Fairy,” or compare the evidence for the existence of God to the evidence for the existence of garden gnomes do tend to be childish. These are also the same ones who refer to God as “your god” when addressing my rebuttals and accuse me (without proof) of believing that people who don’t adhere to my “concept of the Christian god” will go to hell. Because I’m just that mean and arrogant, I guess. As such, their arguments tend to be less than compelling. Or even outright stupid.

Mark holds a special place in my heart because he makes misunderstandings and mischaracterizations of Christianity into an art form. I’m currently working on answering this post bullet point by bullet point, and the misrepresentation would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying. If you’re going to criticize a position, at least have some basic understanding of it! Mark shows no evidence of understanding anything about God or Christianity.

Ready to give up on Mark yet? Well, I’m not. In a world of unbelievably dumb blog entries about the existence of God, this is, quite frankly, a stand out post. And I mean that as a compliment. Mark raises some good issues that should be considered from an ethical perspective.

Typical of Mark, he block quotes the meat of an article, this one from The Arizona Republic. Sister Margaret McBride, a high ranking administrator from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, was demoted because she allowed the doctors to perform an abortion to save the life a critically ill patient.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

Mark touched the subject (by bolding the article’s mention of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix diocese), but didn’t quote the prelate’s words. Bishop Olmstead said of the case:

I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese. I am further concerned by the hospital’s statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother’s underlying medical condition.

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.

This statement annoys me. No one at the hospital, especially not the good sister, ever said that an unborn child was a disease. In this instance, pregnancy rendered an otherwise benign condition fatal, and the only two potential courses of action were to wait to see what happened (in which case both mother and child would probably die) or abort the child (in which case the child dies but the mother makes a complete recovery).

Remember that stupid game that everyone played when they were 14 and testing out “going steady?” One of the lovebirds (usually the girl) would ask, “If we were on a sinking ship, and you could only save me or ____________, which one of us would you save?” Well, this situation is exactly like that situation, only with actual consequences.

Dr. James Walter

Knowing with certainty that one patient will live by the death of the other, or else both will die, do you end one life to save the other? The writer interviewed ethicist James J. Walter, asking him if it was permissible to end the life of one in order to save the other. He said that was a tough argument to make.

He said a pregnancy may be terminated only in limited, indirect circumstances, such as uterine cancer, in which the cancer treatment takes the life of the fetus.

Catholic teaching, he said, is that a pregnancy cannot be terminated as a means to an end of saving the life of a mother who is suffering from a different condition.

Asked if the church position prefers the mother and child to die, rather than sparing the life of one of them, Walters said the hope is that both would survive.

At the end of his post, Mark asks three vital questions that must be addressed. The Catholic Church, represented here by Bishop Olmstead, fails to touch these issues. And Dr. Walter isn’t any help either.

Mark asks (boldface), and I add some of my thoughts, purely as an amateur philosopher.

How could anyone know if the fetus wouldn’t have miscarried later anyway? Not really a good question. I would rather deal in facts to decide the ethical course of action.

The fetus was at its 11th week(approximately 2 months, 3 weeks). The chances of its survival if the pregnant woman died…are fairly slim. Very true. This is a good fact to keep in mind when deciding what the ethical course of action would be. The fact is that if the mother were to die, the child would also die, and then two people are dead for the price of one.

Whose life is more important…the woman or the 11 week fetus? Perhaps the woman had other children to live for and nurture? More “ifs.” We don’t know because of HIPPA laws. I hate “ifs.” But, I do think that the first question is the more important. Who is more important?

I may finally be starting to see what some atheists are talking about concerning a super-staunch pro-life position. They say that a pro-life position is inherently evil and unconcerned with the mother. I don’t think that pro-life is evil, but I’m beginning to see why they say pro-lifers are unconcerned with the mother. In this case, the powers that be (especially Bishop Olmstead) are far more concerned that the baby had to be terminated than they are about the well being of the other patient, the mother. Why? Are both not equally important?

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on May 21, 2010, in Morality, Pro-Life Issues, Roman Catholicism. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A couple of comments. First of all, there is exactly as much evidence for God as there is for garden gnomes (except the ceramic ones; they do exist), so even if it is hyperbolic, it is true; evidence has stringent qualities about it which religion does not cater to. However, don’t get muddled by atheist hyperbolic phrasings; even though “Sky daddy” isn’t the proper title of your God (and yes, he *is* yours, not mine, no matter how much theological epistemology you want to use to tell us otherwise; a truth in a world-view that’s famous for the lack of empiricism does not hold up as truth in one where it is physically present), it is mostly used to point out a) the origin of his placement (early Jewish and Christian beliefs in a physical firmament in the sky), and b) his ontological importance (what does it mean to be a father, and / or a daddy?). They may be presented in a slightly funny and non-revered way, but don’t for a second dismiss it as nonsense and silliness as the undertones are dead serious and worthy of long philosophical beard-stroking sessions.

    Anyway, the main point for me this time is at the end of your post; “How could anyone know if the fetus wouldn’t have miscarried later anyway? Not really a good question.”

    Actually, it is a darn good one, because in this postulation it is the hypothetical conundrum which *is* the ethical consideration; we *must* look beyond mere facts, and look for patterns, preferably of previous similar hard facts that can guide us when we don’t have the facts in this case. And that’s just the thing; the nurse in charge is a trained medical person that comes with a set of ethics and oaths, and does know a heck of a lot about the physical possible outcomes of the case. What we see here is a conflict between two sets of ethical stands, and where the notion of a religious medical hospital is a bit of an oxymoron that leads to situations like this. I’m glad the outcome for the patient played out the way it did, no matter how much we can regret and feel sorry for the loss of a potentiality. And *that* is important; a person is a person, while a fetus is a potential person. Weighing substance against possibilities should always pull ethics in the direction of substance and knowledge. (Btw, why are Christians so concerned about the unborn? They get a free pass to heaven anyway, no? There’s tons of theology that claims so …)

    As for the two other questions you answered, you did a great job, and I’m glad you’re seeing that dogmatic and absolute ethical notions can be quite harmful, and can work against their perhaps well-intended purpose.

  2. Exactly, I think the whole idea of how much evidence there is lies in one’s definition of “evidence”. Scientists and religious folks don’t agree on that, héhé…
    I’m happy to see that you’re not hardcore pro-life like the Catholics.

  1. Pingback: Sister McBride vs. Bishop Olmsted: Round 2 « Josiah Concept Ministries

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