No Entitlement To Own Facts

No Entitlement To Own Facts December 21, 2010

As most are probably aware, Bishop Olmsted has revoked the status of catholic to a hospital in Arizona.  (This is a continuation of the situation addressed here.)  In particular, I want to draw attention to a statement in his press release.

It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.  (emphasis added)

In my more sarcastic moments, I’m tempted to retort, “Well isn’t that special?  Bishop Olmsted believes that medical professionals are incompetent to diagnose medical situations.”  Of course such a retort would elicit responses that I’m disrespecting the bishop.  But there is no argument here to respect or disrespect.  There is a bald faced assertion that is vociferously and repeatedly denied by the other side.  Independent and competent third parties have likewise found the medical evaluation of no grave malady and no problem with the pregnancy to be wrong.  And while I have no doubt the bishop had medical professionals advising him, we have not been given their arguments or the justifications for their arguments.  Perhaps, maybe even likely, the moral analysis in the end would not have changed, but there is a certain arrogance to privileging your beliefs against competent professionals.

These are the facts according to St. Joseph hospital’s independently hired moral theologian who reviewed this case:

A cardiac catheterization revealed that the woman now had “very severe pulmonary arterial hypertension with profoundly reduced cardiac output”; in another part of the record, a different physician confirmed “severe, life-threatening pulmonary hypertension,” “right heart failure,” and “cardiogenic shock.” The chart noted that she had been informed that her risk of mortality “approaches 100%,” is “near 100%,” and is “close to 100%” if she were to continue the pregnancy. The chart also noted that “surgery is absolutely contraindicated.”  ,,,

… The physiologic changes accompanying pregnancy at ten weeks initiated the emergency situation. These changes not only put the mother’s life at risk. Rather, they put the mother’s life in peril.

Moreover, the life of the fetus was equally in peril due to the pathologies of right heart failure and cardiogenic shock. Oxygen delivered to the placenta and fetus is dependent on maternal arterial oxygen content and uterine blood flow. Decrease in maternal cardiac output and decrease in blood oxygenation can adversely affect fetal oxygenation; the uterus and placenta number among the organs becoming hypoxic during this crisis.  Further, maternal hypotension may constrict the uterine artery, decreasing blood flow to the fetus.

Admittedly, this analysis contained footnotes to the authoritative medical literature.  M. Therese Lysaught is also a professor at Marquette University and an expert in medical ethics, not that this is really relevant toward establishing the relevant medical facts.

With these situations, it isn’t like there aren’t respectable arguments around.  I can’t speak to Bishop Olmsted’s medical analysis myself, but as I noted above, this is more of an issue of privileging.  No one can reasonably claim that Bishop Olmsted has addressed this case with intellectual honesty.  Yes, that is a blunt statement.  But if you are going to maintain that he has been intellectually honest, you not only have to claim Dr. Lysaught is incorrect in her findings of fact, you have to find that they are unreasonable.  For all the respect people rightfully want to give Bishop Olmsted’s opinion, it is simply non-responsive to the argument put forth by Dr. Lysaught.  Such is not a claim that he couldn’t prevail in he desired to actually address her argument, but he has not done so.

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