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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  • Cindy

    I thought about this story a lot when I heard it for the first time. It really made an impact on me, because it was one of those stories where you are not sure what to think, or how to think. I concluded that the bishops would forceably marter women for the church. It would not be the womans choice, in the end, it would be the “Catholic” hospitals choice, to force women to be martyrs. It really saddens me. I can’t explain it, because I’m sure someone will become angry at my thoughts on it. How could I feel that the living womans life takes precidence over the unborns life? The thing is, I view it as her choice. Only the person in that situation and their immediate family members should make that decision. Not someone else. You know, you never really know how you will behave until the gun is at your head so to speak. I know that many will lament and say how wrong I am to view it that way. So be it.

  • Maybe he is spinning it to win sympathy, but the fact remains clear that the death of the child was caused directly as a moral object rather than as an indirect side-effect to some other necessary procedure.

    • M.Z.

      In fairness, both the hospital and Dr. Lysaught disagree with this assessment. Agree or disagree with her, she has put forward her argument in the paper I link to above. Given her credentials, I believe she is competent to make arguments over the matter. She addresses both Fr. Martin Rhonheimer and Germain Grisez.

      • Mr. Smith

        She maybe competent to make arguments, but not necessarily correct ones. I am no moral theologian so I can’t really argue to whether Dr. Lysaught has made a sound Catholic analysis of the unfortunate situation. As a lay person though I do have the responsibility to heed the actions taken by a bishop in a matter over faith and morals. It is of course a touchy issue, and I think we need to remember to pray for the woman and the child.

        In the meantime the bishop has the authority to act (right or wrong), and I have confidence that it wasn’t a decision made lightly (whether right or wrong). I am glad you recognize M.Z. that your statement about “intellectual honest” was “blunt” considering you haven’t really demonstrate how he has been dishonest. Is he allowing his personal beliefs to interfere with the truth of the matter (maybe)? Has he intentionally left out facts or misconstrued the information in order to mislead his helpless sheep? Or is he simply guilty of bad PR and/or an inadequate presentation of his justifications (to your expectations)?

        • M.Z.

          Intellectual dishonesty is
          1) not addressing the best counterarguments
          2) treating areas of dispute as settled in an argument.

  • Craig

    “Of course such a retort would elicit responses that I’m disrespecting the bishop.”

    Too late. As ought to be expected, you did in fact disrespect the bishop, but tried to pretend as if you didn’t.

    We all know his moral argument: you can not procure direct abortion. You disagree. So stop misrepresenting the context of his “nothing wrong with the pregnancy.” Good grief.

  • Paul

    M.Z., you have surely taken the Bishop to be saying something that he is not saying.

    When Bishop Olmsted says: “there were no problems with the pregnancy”, he is not denying that there were extremely grave problems of hypertension and other life-threatening problems (which he refers to when he simply says “the mother had a disease”). Rather, he is referring only to those kinds of problem that he has just described in the context of his immediately preceding sentence.

    For example, he gives the example of a problematic pregnancy because of a cancerous uterus. That’s the kind of problem with the pregnancy that can allow an indirect abortion — if both mother and child rely on a uterus, but the uterus must be removed because it’s cancerous, this will lead indirectly to the child’s death.

    But the hospital did not claim that a situation comparable to that existed. Also, they did not perform the type of intervention that might have been permissible. Instead, their chosen intervention included a direct abortion.

    Nothing in the medical facts as presented by Lysaught would change the Bishop’s conclusion about the hospital’s chosen intervention — the Bishop doesn’t need to dispute the medical facts to come to his conclusion.

    • M.Z.

      You are incorrect. If you read Lysaught’s analysis, she addresses every issue you mention and more. One can still of course disagree with her, but one cannot claim that she hasn’t engaged the best arguments against her position. One cannot do similarly with the bishop’s statement.

  • It is clear that the Bishop in question was ready, if not eager, to martyr both the woman and the fetus in order to play a game of ecclesiatical c.y.a. If the woman dies, the baby dies. The baby may die or be horrendously damaged, even if the woman is saved. But the Bishop (he supposes) can stand before the Throne and say, “It wasn’t me what done it, Lord.” It’s medieval.

  • The difficult dance for church authorities: how to be authoritative without being authoritarian.

  • Austin Ruse

    I have spoken to the priest/ethicist/theologian who advised the bishop on this. He told me over the summer that there are facts in the case that the Bishop may not divulge. They are limited in how they are allowed to make their case in the public.

    The default position of Vox Nova types and Dotcommonweal types, of course, is the suspect the Bishop is an idiot or an ideologue or whatever and not give him any benefit of the doubt. I cannot speak for the bishop but i suspect he knows that in the current climate this is inevitable, at least from certain rather bitter circles.

    • M.Z.

      I can only work with what the bishop puts forward. He was well aware of this paper since it was put forward by the hospital in its defense. The idea that he can’t substantively reply is nonsense.

    • Really, isn’t this like saying “there are facts point to WMD’s in Iraq I’m not allowed to disclose.” Or anything that could eventually sway public opinion that people just have to assume is there. It smells funny to me, and I think it should concern anyone on either side who is concerned with this case.

      When is a bishop just plum not allowed to put facts out there?

  • Charles Robertson

    You give their assessment of the situation, but what procedure was actually carried out? Was it the direct termination of the child or not? (By the by, Grisez is unreliable — he thinks that blowing up a fat spelunker blocking the cave’s exit is not murder.)

  • Bruce in Kansas

    I’m not sure.

    It seems that the case comes down to disagreement about whether the medical condition was such a threat that waiting would surely have resulted in the death of both mother and child.

    When one is not sure, does one kill?

    Sadly, doctors must weigh legal liability when advising patients and annotating the charts. So it seems reading the charts will frequently make the risk sound so that abortion appears reasonable. I know several women who have had some medical issue arise during pregnancy, and the doctors give them the option of abortion, or even recommend it, and had healthy, normal deliveries.

    In the USA, when there are medical complications for mother or child, even after a successful delivery, they sue. Aborted babies don’t sue.

    The teachings of the Church regarding abortion and the principle of double effect seems very wise.

    When one is not sure, one should NOT kill.

    I hope I’m mistaken, but it reads to me that we are accusing the bishop of intellectual dishonesty because he has not agreed to kill when we are not sure.

  • Charles Robertson

    My point being that if the procedure itself was action taken on the fetus and not on the mother, that is sufficient to determine the moral object. There are two aspects of the object of a moral act when considering it in the order of intention. Its formal object, which is the end or form to be introduced into the world by the moral agent, and the material object which is the receiver of said form. The formal object is of course more important in defining the act as good or evil, but the material object needs to be in potential to receive the form introduced. So in the case of “therapeutic abortion” the remote end may be to save the mother, but the means of doing so is by introducing the form of harm into an innocent human being as material object (this is brought out by a complete analysis of the proposed course of action, that is, an examination of the means to be employed to bring about the desired end. Each means can be considered an end in its own right, and so must be analyzed in turn.). An innocent human being is not fit matter to receive the form of harm, hence the act is contrary to the order of reason. The intention of the agent is specified as good or evil by the external act as conceived; if it goes against the order of reason, the intention is disordered and specifies the will as evil. So, the fundamental thing to know in this situation is whether the procedure used was directed to the unborn child or not. If not, then it could be argued that the child’s death was an unintended consequence (double effect). If so, then it was abortion. The snippet you have pasted does not give the relevant information needed to make that determination. It only gives possibly relevant circumstances.

  • I also spoke to a very prominent and well respected moral theologian in DC. He told me that Olmsted got it totally wrong. Before now, his greatest error was declaring in public that Sr. McBride was excommunicated. This was outrageous, and simply not done. Even if she had excommunicated herself (extremely unlikely), you don’t go around announcing these things in public. It would be like calling somebody a mortal sinner in public. Olmsted is behaving more like a petulant prince than a wise shepherd. He has imbibed all the bad habits of both the American right and a certain breed of Curial clericalism (and he is a product of Rome, after all).

    • Molly Roach

      He’s behaving like an ambitious hireling trying to make a name for himself on the back of a mortally ill woman and her child. He is shameless on top of being intellectually dishonest.

  • M.Z.

    While I find the moral theology as interesting as the next guy, my criticism here is over the facts of the case. One would think that the bishop could honestly address the facts of the case. I haven’t seen anyone here argue so far argue that were the bishop to accept the facts as put forward by the hospital that he would have to change his moral argument. I have likewise indicated in my post that just accepting the facts as put forth by the hospital does not necessarily put the moral calculus in their favor.

    • Charles Robertson

      I think he did address the facts of the case. They performed an abortion. They have done other things contrary to the moral law. They have been obstinate in their refusal to change (he’s been talking to them for 7 years). They can no longer be considered a catholic health provider. These are the relevant facts of the case. Should he write a book?

  • Charles Robertson

    Having looked at the document, it argues that they were acting on the placenta, not the child, and performed a dilation and curettage procedure described thus: “In this technique, the cervix is dilated or stretched to permit the insertion of a loop shaped steel knife. The body of the baby is cut into pieces and removed and the placenta is scraped off the uterine wall. Blood loss from D & C, or “mechanical” curettage is greater than for suction aspiration, as is the likelihood of uterine perforation and infection.”

    So they were acting on the placenta by cutting up the baby?

    • Charles,

      You are ignoring paragraph after paragraph of the document dealing with what the moral object was. Also, if you wish to be taken seriously, you can’t dismiss the work of Grisez out of hand.

      • Charles Robertson

        No, I’m not ignoring it. I’m saying that it is fundamentally wrong. The reason it is wrong is that it does not take the material object’s capacity to receive the intended form into account. Consequently, the position they (Grisez and Rhonheimer) take threatens to destroy the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of human life.

      • Jeremy

        Moral Object? Talk about own facts – what about the Direct Object? Doesn’t the Direct Object matter?

        mz: You are quite frankly testing my patience since you aren’t engaging the material. There is no need to be abusive with the commenters, particularly in this instance when there is no difference between what the moral object of an act is and its direct object. Engage the material and other people’s comments or find yourself gone.

        • Jeremy,

          Suppose a pregnant woman has a cancerous placenta. May it be removed to save her life?

        • Jeremy

          Woops, just saw this. Now opting for gone.

        • Jeremy,

          Note the following from the document:

          This passage clarifies three essential points. First, “direct” is characterized as having the desire, intention, or will to kill. Actions in which the death of the fetus is not desired, intended, or willed cannot “be called a direct attempt on the innocent life.” Secondly, it suggests that the opposite of “direct” is “non-direct” rather than “indirect.” The term “indirect” suggests that an agent could “indirectly will” an end, which is not descriptively accurate, per Pius. Rather, the agent is not willing, desiring, or intending the “accessory consequence”; therefore, “non-direct” (or “non-willed”) seems more accurate. Third, Pius makes clear that the term “direct” is a description of a moral act, not a physical act; in other words, whether the operation/therapeutic application causes the inevitable death of the fetus in a physically direct or indirect manner does not enter into his argument.

          Also note that performing a D&C rather than a suction abortion indicates that the target was the placenta. not the baby itself.

          • Charles Robertson

            That is exactly the specious reasoning to which I object. To act directly on the unborn child is to directly will to introduce the form of harm. You can try to get around it by saying that the placenta is what is being directly acted on — this does not correspond to the medical description of a d & c, however. Further, the placenta itself was healthy, but was causing stress on her system. To remove a healthy organ, especially one that is fundamentally necessary to the child in utero, is a form of mutilation and an attack on the child itself. This issue is pretty clear, and the moral analysis of the hospital is faulty.

          • Charles Robertson

            A note of clarification here: the placenta is not an organ of the woman, but of the baby. Furthermore, it is a vital organ-to introduce a change into the placenta is to act on the child.

  • Charles Robertson

    I note also that they argue that the child was “in terminal condition” as if that justifies killing it. Their moral analysis is wanting.

    • Charles,

      The significance, it seems to me, is that Catholic medical ethics do not require extraordinary or heroic measures to prolong the life of a terminally ill person.

      • Charles Robertson

        However, it is prohibited to directly terminate the life of a terminally ill person, and that is the point at issue.

        • Yes, and the argument is that the life of the unborn infant was not “directly” terminated. It seems to me there are two ways to argue this. First, it was not the “moral object,” and “direct” here does not mean the infant must not be touched. Second, here is another description of D&C: “The doctor will begin to press the tip of the curette along the surface of your uterus to dislodge the placenta and the sac that contains the baby. . . . ”

          If the problem is the placenta, and the placenta is detached from the uterus as the first step in the D&C, then detaching the placenta is very much like removing a cancerous uterus. The infant is killed “indirectly” in that it isn’t harmed while it is alive by the surgery itself, even though after the critical part of the surgery (the detachment of the placenta), the infant may be removed piece by piece.

          • Charles Robertson

            The placenta is a vital organ of the child, not the mother. To act on the placenta is to act on the child. Intention is formed in the will by the intellect’s consideration of the external act; the real physical causes in the world thus enter directly into the formation of intention. The argument they are using, also, is not that they did not directly act upon the child, but that they did not directly intend/will the death of the child. The problem with this analysis is that it is an insufficient analysis. The relevant question is whether it is permitted to act upon the child in this way without having the death of the child as part of the intention. By choosing to act on the child, they introduced the form of harm into the child, that is, they intended harm to the child. It is morally impermissible to intend harm to another human being.

  • Jeremy

    MZ – It seems clear that the object was the child – that the treatment was to remove the child. The “diseased network (of pulmonary arteries)” were not the treated. Therefore – it seems that what you are arguing is that Bishop Olmsted should publicly announce that abortion is ok if you have a really-really good reason.
    Do you think that would be a good idea?

    • M.Z.

      That is irrelevant to this discussion.

      • Jeremy

        Ok, then I’ll rephrase the question – Should Bishop Olmsted send a message that abortion is ok is some circumstances? Because that is what this was. The disease was not treated – the stress-er that was causing the problems was removed.

    • Jeremy,

      You seem to have skipped the part about the placenta being the problem. As is noted, the placenta is a distinct organ. The document says:

      It is likely that in this case as in many cases of natural fetal demise, the death of the fetus in se would have had no physiologic effect on the mother. In many cases of fetal demise, the pregnancy itself continues; fetal death is often not detected for weeks or months, although the pregnancy itself continues to proceed and develop because the hormones required for sustaining and advancing the pregnancy come not from the fetus but from the placenta.

      It seems difficult to me to argue that the object of the surgery was the infant when the same surgery would be performed had the infant been dead.

      It seems to me if you can answer “Yes” to the question of whether you would have done the same thing if there was no baby present, or if the baby present was dead, then you have already made a pretty convincing case that the surgery is not a direct abortion.

      • Charles Robertson

        The procedure was a D & C. This involves cutting up the baby and then scraping the placenta. They argued that the baby was terminal and so this was a legitimate procedure. In effect, they were engaging in “active euthanasia” as a means to save the mother’s life.

      • Jeremy

        As is noted, the placenta is a distinct organ.
        I don’t think the placenta was diseased – was it?
        It seems difficult to me to argue that the object of the surgery was the infant when the same surgery would be performed had the infant been dead.
        There is a difference between the goal of the surgery (to save the mother’s life) and the method used to achieve that goal (The termination of the pregnancy). The use of the same means regardless of the physical condition of the fetus is what is disturbing – extra reverence should be given when the fetus is alive.

        It seems to me if you can answer “Yes” to the question of whether you would have done the same thing if there was no baby present, or if the baby present was dead, then you have already made a pretty convincing case that the surgery is not a direct abortion.
        And I disagree because the intent was to terminate the pregnancy so that the underlying condition would on longer be aggravated.

        • Cindy

          So if they acted differently and the mother in fact died from it, that is fine with you? If it were your wife, or mother, you would be fine with that, knowing that you could have saved her? You can argue hindsight all you want. After what’s done is done, you can debate the ethics all you want. Again, I take these types of strong debates like a grain of salt, because unless one is really faced with that delimma at hand, one can never be so certain as to what they would do. Perhaps everyone can morally conclude that Catholic teaching would indeed let the mother die and possibly the child too for that matter. Yet, the mother lived and maybe the child would have died anyways. There could have been many outcomes. What I feel is that when the life of the unborn is held in higher regard than the life of a living person, that is what I can’t seem to square in my own mind and heart. I really can’t. I totally struggle with that. So if I can’t square it, then I am not ok with it. If I’m not ok with it, then I find a flaw in it. It’s not that I would ever want the unborn to die. But it some cases, to save the mother’s life I think the living takes precedence. That is what I really think this comes down to.

          • Cindy

            It’s like the whole priciples verses people. To be principled one acts in accordance with morality and showing recognition of right and wrong. But my question is, do principles come before people? I think in some ways, it really comes down to that. I think when I look inside of my own heart, I would probably conclude that at times, no, principles do not come before people. That is another part of what I can’t seem to square. When we lose sight of trying to save a life over princple and we would let both lives die, when we have the knowledge to save one of the lives, I would go with saving one of the lives.

  • Adolfo

    Obsequium Religiosum

    • Obsequium Religiosum [“Religious assent or submission]


      Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.

      While bishops have great authority in their own dioceses, I think they are owed religious assent when speaking collectively on matters of faith and morals. Whether or not the terminated pregnancy in Phoenix was a “direct abortion” is an unsettled matter. Experts disagree, and I am sure bishops disagree (although it is doubtful that any will speak up and say so). If religious assent were owed by the people of each diocese to their bishop on disputed questions, people in diocese A would have to assent to one thing, and people in diocese B would have to assent to another. Certainly what a bishop says carries great weight for those in his diocese, but individual bishops are not infallible, and I don’t think it would be correct here to say Bishop Olmsted is “teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff.” He clearly has the authority to do what he is doing, but I don’t think ethicists in his diocese are required to repudiate their own position and agree with him just because he is their bishop.

  • I don’t know whether the original poster read Bishop Olmsted’s full statement of why he revoked permission to use the title “Catholic”. However he makes it clear that it was not due to the abortion alone. The bishop’s statement says the following:

    “Here are some of the things which CHW has been formally responsible for throughout these years:

    “• Contraceptive counseling, medications, supplies and associated medical and laboratory examinations, including, but not limited to, oral and injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms, foams and suppositories;

    “• Voluntary sterilization (male and female); and

    “• Abortions due to the mental or physical health of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. This information was given to me in a meeting which included an administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital who admitted that St. Joseph’s and CHW are aware that this plan consists in formal cooperation in evil actions which are contrary to Church teaching.”

    He says that it is “[i]n light of *all* these failures to comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Church” that he revoked the name “Catholic”.

  • Have not read Lysaught’s analysis yet but I plan to. She is a good theologian.

    Even without reading it — and only having read her cover letter and Olmsted’s statements — it is clear that he was not interested in any serious analysis. He states clearly that he simply disagrees with Lysaught’s conclusion. In other words, the conclusion is not the same as his own. And his letters are saturated in every paragraph with assertions of his ecclesial authority. That, my friends, is the heart of the matter. He felt his authority was not being respected. The facts do not matter. His feelings were hurt.

    • Mr. Smith

      Right, I am sure that is as simple as it is. Hurt feelings…

      • No, hurt feelings are not the extent of it. The hierarchy’s near-pathological obsession with authority, black-and-white boundary drawing, and “correct” usage of the corporate term Catholic® is involved as well.

    • Charles Robertson

      Sigh. You don’t know who he had advising him or how carefully he read and responded to Lysaught’s (faulty) analysis. But you do know that he’s acting out of his feelings. Therefore….

      I really don’t see the point of what you’re saying unless you are trying to create an ad hominem attack against the man. That’s not how catholic intellectuals are supposed to do their work. You can argue against his analysis (if you know it) and let us draw our own conclusions. Psychoanalyzing the man goes beyond your paygrade.

      • Charles – The bishop provided no response to Lysaught’s analysis and no analysis of his own. Bishops too need to provide the reasoning behind their pronouncements.

        On what grounds do you call Lysaught’s analysis “faulty”? Where is your analysis?

        • Charles Robertson

          a) in a pronouncement of this type, the bishop is not required to provide a detailed critique of Lysaught’s analysis. He gives his conclusion, namely, that this was an abortion. His juridical action is based on that judgment. It would be nice if he gave his analysis an rebuttal of the hospital’s reasoning. But that is beyond the scope of his pronouncement.

          b) my analysis, which is scattered throughout this thread, is that Lysaught fails to give the due weight to the material object of the act as considered and so comes to a faulty conclusion about what was intended. All moralists agree that intention specifies the will as good or evil. Intention itself is specified by the external act as conceived. In a proper analysis of the external act as conceived, we must consider the material object of our action; that upon which I direct my action in order to introduce into it some form. Whether this action is in accordance with reason is determined in part by the form I intend to introduce, in part by the matter into which I wish to introduce it. On the part of the matter, it must be in potency to receive the form I intend to introduce. In the case in question, the material object is the unborn child. The form to be introduced, however, is harm — in acting upon the placenta or the baby by way of scraping or cutting, I am harming the child. But the child is unfit matter to receive the form of harm.

  • Narly

    2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

  • Austin Ruse

    Minion et al,

    Readnthe whole statement. The bishop worked with them for seven years trying to correct their actions which are in violationmof church teaching. Seven years. In seven years theynrefused to make corrections. I would say this is textbook pastoral care.

    Also, the bishop made the excommunication privately.


  • Austin Ruse

    They sound like typical unfaithful nuns to me.

    • You sound like a typical sexist Catholic male online personality to me.

  • Austin Ruse

    The great thing is that the bishops taking these strong positions for the faith are young. The unfaithful nuns are old. Do the math.

    • Sexist and ageist.

    • Cindy

      So you are saying the younger you are the wiser you are?

      • Austin Ruse

        No. Just pointing out the newer generation is orthodox and the heterodox are older and happily fading from the from the scene. The nuns running that hospital have all the characteristics of the unfaithful generation. The revolution is over ladies.

        • Cindy

          Yes but when you look at the church in time and history, don’t you think the pendulum swings back and forth as necessary to fit the era of the times people are living in? What I am trying to say is, that maybe there is a time for more Orthodoxy, but when that starts to get out of control, maybe there is a time for Vatican II to remind us how to love one another again. I just think it swings back and forth to fit the needs of what is lacking in a specific generation.

          • Austin Ruse

            I guess i dont accept your premises that orthodoxy is without love or that Vatican II is in opposition to orthodoxy. All faithful Catholics support and accept Vatican II, properly understood.

      • Cindy – It’s simple. The professional “pro-life” activist Austin Ruse celebrates the deaths of his fellow Catholics who do not think like him, women in particular. And he isn’t even shy about it.

        • Michael writes, ‘The professional “pro-life” activist Austin Ruse celebrates the deaths of his fellow Catholics who do not think like him, women in particular.’

          Does this type of thing conform with the VN comments policy?

          • Apparently it does, as it was approved.

            I might add that I wrote the VN comment policy.

        • Cindy

          The revolution is over ladies? I don’t get the need for that one.

          • Austin Ruse

            Meant as a measure of disrespect to dissident nuns.

        • Austin Ruse

          Of course, Michael is among the most dishonest of the Vox Novans. He has said this before, that i want certain people to die. A lie. I said I and others look forward to them passing from the scene. This does not mean die. They have done such damage that is practically incalculable. I stand by what i said and Michael may continue to lie about it.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Bp Olmstead: call Dr. Phil.

  • I am not conversant with all the facts of the case, nor do I have the time to investigate it in detail. But I will respond to the content of the OP itself. Specifically, the excerpt from the report of the hired moral theologian does not convince me that the bishop’s judgment was wrong. On the contrary, I think it supports the bishop.

    The moral theologian’s excerpt basically says that the mother had cardiac problems that were exacerbated by the pregnancy. If she continued carrying the baby, it was nearly certain that she would die. If she died then the baby would too.

    All I can draw from these facts is that the hospital apparently made the calculation that it would be better to kill the baby and let the mother live, then to have both die. But we all know that we are not always allowed to make moral decisions based on simple math.

    MZ makes the accusation of moral dishonesty on the part of the bishop. I don’t see a clear elucidation of the precise point on which the bishop is allegedly being dishonest, so I can only try to put two and two together. Judging by the bold highlighting in the bishop’s statement, apparently MZ thinks the bishop is asserting that there was no grave malady nor any problem with the pregnancy, when the theologian’s excerpt shows that the situation was so grave that both mother and baby’s lives were in peril. MZ sees a contradiction here.

    But as far as I can see (again, based only on the text of the OP), the statement that there were “no problems with the pregnancy” is true: The problems were with the mother’s cardiac system, not with her reproductive organs. The statement that there was no “grave malady” apparently refers to the same thing.

    The mother’s body had a malady, not the baby’s. The baby’s existence within her body threatened to exacerbate her malady to the point of killing her. However if she had ended up dying it would have been due to the cardiac malady, not the pregnancy.

    Suppose a mother and child (say, a five-year-old) were on a liferaft in the middle of the ocean. They know somehow that they are ten days from land, but have only enough water to last both of them five days. The mother calculates that if she kills the child then there will be enough water to last her alone ten days. Why not let the child die and herself live, rather than both almost certainly die? Would that justify killing the child? If she refrains from killing it and they both die, the cause of the mother’s death is lack of water. You can’t say that the mother’s death was caused by the child’s existence or the child’s robbing her of water, because the child has the right to exist and as much right to live, for as long as subsistence is available, as the mother.

    By the same token, if the mother in this case had refrained from killing her unborn child, and later died, the cause of her death would be her cardiac malady. I don’t believe one would be justified in blaming her death on the child’s existence or its strain on her heart.

    • M.Z.

      Judging by the bold highlighting in the bishop’s statement, apparently MZ thinks the bishop is asserting that there was no grave malady nor any problem with the pregnancy, when the theologian’s excerpt shows that the situation was so grave that both mother and baby’s lives were in peril.

      This is correct.

      But as far as I can see (again, based only on the text of the OP), the statement that there were “no problems with the pregnancy” is true: The problems were with the mother’s cardiac system, not with her reproductive organs. The statement that there was no “grave malady” apparently refers to the same thing.

      The mother’s body had a malady, not the baby’s. The baby’s existence within her body threatened to exacerbate her malady to the point of killing her. However if she had ended up dying it would have been due to the cardiac malady, not the pregnancy.

      This is the crux of the matter. To me, the question of whether the cardiac condition or the effects of pregnancy would have killed her is a medical question and not a moral one. I’m not speaking about morality here. I’m speaking as to how a coroner or a doctor would have interpreted as the cause of death.

      Are we to understand that the bishop would support procedures used to perform abortions were he satisfied of medical necessity? I’m thinking the answer is no which is why I really don’t understand his insistence on asserting the absence of medical necessity when those competent in deciding medical necessity very much disagree with his assertion.

      • Charles Robertson

        It seems to me you’ve highlighted the wrong parts. I would suggest that the morally relevant point was “that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness.” Removal of a gravid cancerous uterus, for example, is an action that terminates in the woman’s body, not in that of the baby. Hence the consequent death of the child falls outside intention – you have a case of double effect. He is not disagreeing with the medical assessment. It’s the treatment that was carried out that was the problem. The death of the baby was not an unintended consequence of treating the mother’s illness, but the very means used to treat her. The hypothetical coroner’s report is irrelevant. Even if it was the baby who was killing her (say, by being in the wrong place) it would still be impermissible to harm the child. You can perform a surgical act on the mother, but you cannot harm the child. Direct abortion is a form of harm, and so is permissible in no circumstances.

        • Well, there’s no need for me to respond after that. Thanks Charles. 🙂

  • Hmm. It seems here important to know (according to Charles’s arguments) whether the D&C was preformed after the baby had already died (from detaching the placenta) or whether the baby was cut apart while still alive.

    I’m not saying it would change the ultimate conclusion, but it might definitely change the moral and ethical analysis quite a bit.

    Surely if the baby was viable, the baby could have been delivered early to take the stress off the woman’s system.

    “Removing the baby,” then, is not the same as “killing the baby” as either an intent or as a moral object (this is one of the huge purely secular arguments, for me, against any post-viability abortions; after viability, a woman’s “right to not be pregnant” does not have to conflict with a right for the baby to continue living…)

    Now, surely, if someday an artificial womb is invented, these cases become a non-issue. The baby could just have been transferred, and surely they would have done so.

    So, for me, I guess the question is whether “removing the baby” has to be the same moral object as “killing the baby” just because the technology doesn’t yet exist to save a fetus so young.

    If they had removed the fetus ALIVE and then done “everything possible” (not that much at this point) to save it OUTSIDE the womb too (even though it almost certainly wouldn’t have worked)…would that have been morally okay?

    And, given that nothing really is possible at this point in technological development, is detaching the placenta which was stressing the mother’s system and then letting the fetus die within the uterus before removing it…equivalent to removing it alive and doing all possible to save it? (given that “all possible” is currently nothing)??

    I suppose the situation could be reversed by analogy: a woman is dying, but her unborn child is fine in itself and alive in the womb. There is some emergency (the ship is sinking, perhaps) and the whole woman cannot be brought along (perhaps she is already unconscious) but if they cut her open and took the baby, the baby itself could be saved. Now, with appropriate technology, of course, the cesarean could be performed and the mother then sewn up and treated and also saved (or, at least, made so that it wasn’t the cesarean she died from). In this case, however, there are no sutures or stitches. If they cut her open to get the baby out safely, she will remain with that wound and may die of bleeding out (though may also die of her disease, or of drowning as the ship sinks, whichever comes first).

    Are the people on the ship required to let the baby die or drown with the mother? Merely because they don’t have the technology on board to sew her back up (rather pointlessly) after the cesarean? Surely the cesarean in this case is intended to save the baby, not kill the mother. And surely the moral object of giving a cesarean isn’t intrinsically evil.

    And yet, if we were talking about a perfectly healthy mother who couldn’t leave the ship…I could see objecting to this. To simply slicing her open and not sewing her up, even if directed at getting the baby out (and even though in circumstances where she could be sewn up afterward, it would be totally unobjectionable…)

    All very tricky…

  • rcm

    The Bishop doesn’t want to deal with the facts because they are not really relevant. Once a woman is pregnant she is merely a means to an end. Her right to life, to health care, does not matter. All that matters is the child’s right to life. Once we get this through our heads, it will become much easier to understand.

    • Charles Robertson

      This is pure pro-choice nonsense and has no place in a civilized discussion.

      • Even if rcm is going too far — and I think a lot of people would say she is not — there is no denying that an acceptable outcome (and the predictable outcome, in this case) was that both the mother and the unborn child die rather than the mother be saved. Olmsted is making it very clear that in cases like this — where there is no option but to do something that would terminate the pregnancy — the pregnancy must continue and both mother and unborn child must die. This is a very hard teaching indeed, particularly if you are the woman, or the woman is your wife. Even if Olmsted is right (and I don’t believe that he is) in order not to appear like a cold-blooded, heartless misogynist, every single time he speaks or writes on this issue, he should acknowledge that what he requires of people is to make extraordinarily difficult, heroic, gut-wrenching choices in life-and-death situations. Most of the “conservative” commenters on this issue write as if the doctors, nurses, and ethicists at St. Joseph Hospital should have just matter-of-factly said to the pregnant woman, “You and your baby are going to die, and we can’t do anything to help you, because this is a Catholic hospital. Hope you have somebody lined up to take care of your four children. Have a nice day.”

        • David writes, ‘“You and your baby are going to die, and we can’t do anything to help you, because this is a Catholic hospital. Hope you have somebody lined up to take care of your four children. Have a nice day.”’

          Or they could say instead, “We will do our best to treat your cardiac condition, but unfortunately it appears to be fatal. While it’s true that killing your baby might save your life, that would be immoral and therefore out of the question. If you choose to pursue that course you may go to a non-Catholic hospital.”

          It’s all in how you word it. : )

          • M.Z.

            Your wording at least has the benefit of being honest about the situation at hand.

          • Cindy

            Ok. You state they could take her to another hospital. Did they have time to do this? If they prolonged her to get her life flighted out and into another hospital, and if she did, are they accountable? To let her die in transport? I see you could say that, but in life or death moments, is that really feasible?

          • Cindy

            I meant to say if she died. Why isnt her life worthy? I really don’t understand that.

          • rcm

            Agellius: This woman was SO critical they could not even move her to another hospital. So, no, she did NOT have the option to fight for her life in your theory.

          • Angelius,

            I am glad you get a smile out of the idea of telling a woman she is going to die, but you have your facts wrong. The woman was not only too ill to be moved to another hospital, she was too ill to be moved to the operating room.

          • Agellius,

            One other point. I am sure in the kind of hospital Bishop Olmsted wants, good Catholic doctors would not mention the possibility of abortion to the patient. Also, anyone who assisted her in moving to another hospital for the purposes of an abortion would be materially cooperating with an abortion and would be excommunicated. Following Catholic teaching, the only appropriate choice for the doctors is to say, “This is a very risky pregnancy, but we are going to do everything possible to save you and your baby.” Pro-life groups are adamant about the right of medical professionals not to discuss abortion with their patients and not to refer patients for an abortion.

            Catholic doctors strictly following Catholic teaching could no more tell a pregnant woman one of her options was abortion than they could tell her that a way to solve her marital problems was to kill her husband.

            I, of course, think it would be outrageous for a doctor to withhold from a patient the fact that an abortion could save her life, and even you seemed to assume by your little speech that a doctor in a Catholic hospital would bring up the possibility of an abortion, but I am reasonably sure if one of our professional pro-life advocates (Austin Ruse or Matt Bowman) wishes to weigh in here, they would insist that a Catholic doctor has a right not to bring up the topic of abortion even in a case like this and should be exempt from any legal action if they do not present the option of abortion and the patient dies.

      • rcm

        Wrong. *Not one of you* have argued for this woman’s right to life. Instead we have tried this nonsense of what was *really* the cause of the woman’s problem. The woman’s problem–according to ALL the medical authorities on this case–was her pregnancy. Once the pregnancy was ended, her health returned and she is alive and well. It is this simple.

        The reality is that sometimes pregnancy, the unborn child being present, IS life threatening. This is reality. Catholics have come up with this moral gymnastics to figure out how to kill the child to save the mother. In the case of a tubal pregnancy, Catholic women cannot take the latest drugs b/c these drugs attack the child directly. Instead women have to undergo a surgery that INCREASES their chances of further tubal pregnancies all in order to play into these gymnastics.

        Doctors/science know that it is not a diseased tube that is the problem, it is the child latched in the wrong place.

        The point is that according to you and Austin Ruse this woman SHOULD have died! How dare she have a right to life AND a right to protect it from harm.

        I honestly do not understand why a self-defense argument could not be used here. The child was literally killing its mother.

        What a terrible terrible situation. And for all these men who argue the theory, this ALMOST happened to me. This is REAL LIFE for women. This is LIFE. By God’s grace my pregnancy turned out ok, but these things do happen.

        • Cindy

          That is just it RCM. What any of us would really do when faced with that situation is not so easily spelled out in black and white. I see it as self defense. Thanks for your post.

          • Melody

            I have always wondered in a case like this why it is not self-defense. We justify killing in war as self-defense (or defense of others) even though in some instances it stretches the definition to the breaking point. Yet no one is pushing to excommunicate military men and women; and for good reason. Why can’t we cut this poor woman the same slack we would, say, a bomber pilot in war, who will almost certainly kill innocent people?

    • Is it just me, or is there a lot more oversimplifying on the anti-bishop side of this argument? ; )

  • Joshua Brockway

    I am not sure that any of this theological/moral wrangling does any good. Unless one of you is ordained and consecrated a bishop in the next year, there is nothing that we say that impacts this case, nor the related questions.

    What the Bishop has made perfectly clear is that someone not present or charged with making medical and moral decisions in the midst of blood, life and death decides if the decision was morally right. From this, it seems that if Catholic Hospitals want to keep their status within the Church they need to have bishop on staff. Maybe when these men in offices surrounded by books and clerics actually enter place where life and death are held in seconds “doctrine” will actually attend to real life.

    • Bruce in Kansas

      Absurdity noted.

      But that’s precisely why there are policies and teachings developed in the clarity of reflection and thought in order to guide those in the blood and urgency of the moment – moral and theological wrangling, as you put it.

      Deliberate abortion is always wrong. Cutting up and removing a fetus’ healthy placenta, even for the purpose of removing them as the primary stress on the mother’s heart, is a situation doctors and administrators should have thought through and have morally licit options available and morally illicit (though legal) options articulated as unacceptable at a Catholic hospital.

      And don’t you suppose a bishop has a bit of context in “real life”, like say, having years of pastoral experience hearing about the deep and personal struggles and problems of faithful Catholics?

      On the other hand, shouldn’t doctors and administrators, particularly those in Catholic hospitals, undergo training to understand, learn, and follow the Catholic teaching regarding morals and ethics?

      Moreover, as I understand it, the woman did not show up at an emergency room and force a time sensitive snap judgement from the doctors and administrators in this case. The situation was being monitored by the doctors and staff for some time and there was ample time to discuss options and make a deliberate decision about this procedure.

      • Joshua Brockway

        “But that’s precisely why there are policies and teachings developed in the clarity of reflection and thought in order to guide those in the blood and urgency of the moment – moral and theological wrangling, as you put it.”

        I am afraid my comment was misconstrued. By theological/moral wrangling I was referencing the conversation here between laity. The later part of my comment is to highlight that even if the hospital staff were trained in theological ethics, their decisions would always come under secondary observation by the bishop.

        In fact, if my memory is right, the hospital did have an ethics committee and the staff person on call had her judgment over ruled by the bishop.

        I wish I could say that pastoral gifts were required by the office. In fact, in the modern Church we have too frequently conflated the ministries which Paul references. Rather than recognizing and permitting Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers we have collapsed them into one office. In fact, as a the teachers of doctrine, often bishops are called on account of academic abilities rather than pastoral skills.

        Your last paragraph is precisely where you and I will continue to pass in disagreement. I do not think that the best moral judgments are constructed in policies divorce from real life. Orthodoxy may have been best established in such a way, but when it comes to moral choice assuming that there is a parallel nature to doctrine is to ignore the roles of confession and grace in the life of faithful living.

  • Dan

    I don’t think any of us are in the position to be armchair theologians on this one. This is not some knee-jerk judgement on behalf of a vengeful Bishop. This has been seven years in the making. If he had any vendetta, he certainly took his time. We must assume he had the best of intentions, and enough information to warrant just cause. I’m sure this decision didn’t come easily, and I think it borders on uncharitable to accuse him of impropriety. If we think that, by examining a few documents here and there, we are in a better position to judge than those directly involved in the situation for years, and whom understand the gravity of what they have done, then we’re the fools.

    • M.Z.

      I have not been arguing the theology in this post. That Bishop Olmsted has other disputes with St. Joseph’s is immaterial.

      My judgment that his medical judgment leaves room to be desired is grounded in my experience and the thorough detail of the year-old case that has been given. While not pleased to have made the judgment that he’s intellectually dishonest, I am comfortable that I have sufficient evidence to ground my claim.

      • Charles Robertson

        You simply have not presented the evidence though! You simply point to Lysaught’s analysis and leave it rest at that. I have argued that that analysis is deficient, and that the moral law prohibits harming an innocent human being. You can either show me where my reasoning is faulty, or that I don’t understand the conditions of double effect, or you can try to defend doing harm to innocent human beings. I don’t think that you can do any of the above. But nothing you have posted in the course of this discussion leads me to believe that you have the competence to say that Olmstead is being intellectually dishonest.

      • M.Z.

        When one makes an accusation of absence, one’s evidence is the absence. When I speak of the bishop, I can only speak of what he has produced. A careful analysis addressed to his counterparty has not been produced.

        You keep thinking this is a moral theology discussion. Some folks are engaging in it. I’m not. I don’t suffer fools lightly, and a man who claims this baby and pregnancy were fine in the face of reasonable evidence – the actual standard in rational debate – to the contrary is playing me as a fool. That this evidence isn’t just reasonable but not even an issue of controversy in the medical community is pretty damning of the bishop.

        • Charles Robertson

          Look, MZ, whether you like it or not this is a moral theology discussion. I have said that the bishop is not obliged to trot out all the details of his analysis in his public statement. The proper response of the faithful is to try to understand his conclusion in light of the moral principles involved. If that is found wanting, then the discussion can resume from there. But that is what I have been engaged in this whole time, namely, laying out the response to the faulty analysis of the Marquette prof.

          • How can people try to understand his conclusion, when he is not obligated to give a detailed analysis?

    • I don’t think any of us are in the position to be armchair theologians on this one.

      Why not? Each one of us is certainly in the position to be a thoughtful disciple, always. Some among us might even have some theological training.

      • Dan

        Simply because we don’t have enough information to hold a fully qualified opinion on this matter.

        Anyone can open the Bible and claim to know what happened 2,000 years ago. But without knowledge of the historical context or traditions, the opinions are malformed at best – which leads to 30,000 branches of Protestantism all laying claim to having “the Truth”.

  • Charles Robertson

    I would like to address the objection that those of us who agree with Bishop Olmstead’s judgment don’t care about the right of the mother to live. First, I have the same concern for the mother as for the child; it is gravely immoral to intend harm to either one. However, it has also been asked whether the person or the principle comes first. This, I think, is a false dichotomy. The principle is fundamentally about safeguarding the dignity of the person, who must never be subordinated to the private good of another. If the mother chooses to harm her child to save her life, she subordinates the child to her private good, and thus puts herself in the place of the common good, thus offending against the common good. Likewise, if the doctor harms the woman, he raises a private good above the common good and commits a sin of offense. Allowing oneself to die rather than raising oneself above the common good may be a difficult choice, but it is not heroic. It is simply the demand of justice.

    • If the mother chooses to harm her child to save her life, she subordinates the child to her private good, and thus puts herself in the place of the common good, thus offending against the common good.


      She had four other children. One can easily imagine that a woman in this situation would be willing to risk all to try and have her first child, but when she has four children already, she may not be thinking of her “private good” in wanting to live. She may very well be thinking of her four other children.

      Also, what you say is an affront to those who respect the Jewish tradition, in which the life of the mother is considered paramount, and not, I am quite sure, for her “private good.”

      Allowing oneself to die rather than raising oneself above the common good may be a difficult choice, but it is not heroic. It is simply the demand of justice.

      What if she had been your wife?

    • Charles:

      Do you have a blog by any chance?

  • Cindy

    Charles, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Human nature makes us want to live, not to die. To ask us to be martyrs for the demand of justice is just not easy. Why is the principles verses people thought false though? What you are stating is that, mothers must always give their lives for their unborn. In any circumstance if it becomes a grave situation of life and death. The only way around it would be to not harm the child. If they gave her the C-Section and tried to deliver, she probably would have lost so much blood, she couldnt have lived. The infant probably wouldnt have made it anyways. (As to what I remember from the case)… So again, it comes down to principles over saving a life. I just have a hard time accepting that. So they chose to save the living mothers life. How do you safeguard the dignity of the mother by letting her die when you could save her?

    • Charles Robertson

      Principles are the basis for human dignity. If you do away with the principles, human dignity is worthless. The fundamental question this comes down to is “what is the basis for human dignity?” Is the human person “an end in himself”, or is he (or she) a part of a whole that is ordered to an end that is above and beyond it? What is the role of the common good in ethics? How does the good of the individual stand in relation to the common good? These are matters that pertain fundamentally to justice.

      • Cindy

        I sort of think about the martyrs for the church that were killed by others. If they could have lived and if they were given that choice, I would bet they would have taken the choice to live. It does get down to the stuff that martyrs are made of. When you find out that maybe you don’t have the stuff inside of you that martyrs are made of. What if I seriously consider this, and find the human dignity that we so strive for wanting? To me it’s just strange to feel that human dignity does conflict with the human heart. Maybe that is where the problem lies for me personally. If the woman is not given the choice to have her life saved, how can that be considered ethical treatment? It’s a dishonest avenue because they would not be giving the whole scope of the picture to the family. It limits freedom.

  • I’m wondering if physicians working in Catholic hospitals are exempt from malpractice suits? It would seem to me, from what I’ve read above–and especially since this was a Catholic hospital–that the odds, as calculated by the physicians in charge of this woman’s case, were weighted strongly toward the probability that she would die if the she carried the pregnancy to term. No physician in a Catholic hopistal would resort to abortion frivolously. If her physician, having made this determination, fails to do that which would mitigate, or eliminate, that immediate risk to the patient’s life, would that physician not be guilty of malpractice, or at least vulnerable to a malpractice suit?

  • Paul

    In order for the Bishop to issue a teaching, he only had to discern two things:

    (1) Did the Catholic Church have an established teaching on the matter? It did, and has had one in place for about a hundred years — since the time that medicine had advanced far enough that these issues arose. Medical interventions that are direct abortions are not permitted.

    (2) Was there anything in the medical facts that meant that the hospital’s chosen intervention was analogous to (e.g.) a cancerous uterus, which could amount to an indirect abortion. There was not.

    Hence the teaching.

    Lysaught’s analysis contradicts that long-held understanding by (in essence) assigning a new and incompatible meaning to the word “direct”. Why is it necessary for a Bishop to produce a detailed rebuttal to a long and complicated argument, when it’s quickly obvious that the argument produces the wrong answer? It might be profitable (though perhaps only for a few) if all the errors were carefully detailed. But it’s not necessary for Bishops to do it — it’s within the remit of theologians.

    • M.Z.

      At this point the CHA has weighed in also in favor of the hospital. For an obvious point, the matter seems quite disputed amongst those competent in this area.

      • Dan

        Fair enough. But we’re all acting like the revocation was based on this case in isolation. Even if this case were mishandled, we need to trust that this was symptomatic of a greater problem that was not being rectified. This may have been the symbolic straw: even if the medical facts don’t justify the outcome, the intangibles involved in the process may have warranted such an action. Was there disregard for open dialogue? Was there rebellion on behalf of the administration, unrelated to the facts? We simply don’t know. But if this has been a seven year process, I think we can safely say there’s more to the story than just this circumstance.

      • Paul

        I believe that the authority given by Jesus to the apostles was passed on in succession to the Bishops, who alone can give authentic interpretations. So when a Bishop teaches something that is entirely consistent with a hundred years of other authentic Catholic teachings (i.e. since these kind of medical issues came up), I’m not left in any doubt about what the correct teaching is.

        But I can also agree that understanding the intellectual and philosophical framework that is built around those teachings is sometimes a very difficult task indeed. Ideas such as “intention”, “direct”, and “side-effect” are not at all easy to get straight. But Bishop Olmsted doesn’t have to do that in order to give the correct teaching — he was faced with a set of circumstances where the teaching has long been understood.

        Some of what Lysaught claims can’t possibly be consistent with that Catholic teaching. It’s as if someone came up with a long and complicated argument the result of which is to claim that 2+2=5. It’s not necessary to carefully examine every part of the argument and respond to it — it just can’t be a correct argument.

  • Its a bit hard to find now, but wikileaks broke a story about Catholic hospitals in Texas performing abortions. Not in certain situations, but just for whomever wanted them. The original link is:

    In this case, I think Olmstead is wrong, but I suspect this may actually be a bigger problem in Catholic health systems.

  • Rodak

    It is truly amazing to witness how little the typical Catholic seems to know about what he call “Protestantism.”

    It is frightening to think that a woman brought into a Catholic hospital, for whom the diagnosis indicated the need for an abortionin order to save her life, might be condemned to die bythe theological/philosophical games being played by a priest.

  • Focusing on and publicizing cases like this really just undermines the Catholic position in the end. It makes us seem so bizarre and out of touch with reality as well as gives fuel to the fundamentalists’ fire of excluding all the “false Catholics” from the Church. Really, such extraordinary cases should be handled behind closed doors with much discretion. As for the bishop, he needs to learn that sometimes one must “let the laws sleep”, to quote Marcus Aurelius. That doesn’t mean that the law isn’t the law, it’s just that the law cannot be applied justly to each and every situation that might arise. No harm in just looking the other way when faced with a lose-lose situation.

    On the other hand, there is a sort of vulgar cult to motherhood/virginity that has arisen in Catholicism in the last one hundred years. Look at the cultus to Maria Goretti; what does it say to women? Ultimately, when faced with a rapist, one must fight him to the death or one is no better than a whore. Well, maybe not a whore, but one is somehow “impure” because of it. (This was also seen in early Christianity, but that is another topic.) On the other hand, you have the canonization of Gianna Molla, wherein the lesson is that a woman MUST immolate herself on the altar of fertility no matter what the cost. Think about it, if this mother had died and her child miraculously survived (not in tune with the facts, but still), she would be a hero and possibly on the way to the altars. If both had died, she would have had her name in a paper and commemorative posts on conservative Catholic blogs, but she would have been forgotten, along with her four kids and widower husband. And now because she didn’t willingly die, she is excommunicated. Like I said, it would have been better to let the law sleep on this one, and wait for the Final Judgment.

    • Melody

      “…it would have been better to let the law sleep on this one, and wait for the Final Judgment.”
      It does seem that God would be the only one who could sort this situation out justly.

  • Charles Robertson

    The fact that the point is hotly debated by experts is disconcerting. But experts are not always right. Further, the difficulty with ethics is that it admits of less certainty than other sciences because it is so enmeshed in particular matters. However, Bishop Olmstead listened to the arguments on the hospital’s side, found them contrary to the mind of the church, and as the local ordinary, urged them to think and act with the church. It’s lovely that academics can sit around and argue till they’re blue in the face about these things, but in the meantime babies are being killed in hospitals that are supposed to be catholic. Bishop Olmstead’s course of action was truly pastoral: he made it clear that this hospital was not acting with the mind of the church. This really comes down to a matter of ecclesiology, as so many ethical matters do.

  • Adolfo

    St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

  • Thales

    Let me propose a hypothetical:

    A woman and her child are trapped in a cave-in. There is sufficient food for 1 person to last 6 days, but if both people eat, the food will only last 3 days. It will take 6 days for rescuers to dig a tunnel. The woman is the mother to 4 other children on the outside. If the woman does nothing, she and her child will definitely die. If the woman peacefully smothers her child with a blanket, then at least she will live.

    What should the woman do?

    • There is no need to kill anybody here. All that is necessary is that the mother eat all the food, or let the child eat all the food. Then one of them will survive.

      • Thales

        So are you saying that the mother can morally hoard all the food and not give any to her child who is hungry and doesn’t want to die, and is attempting to reach the food? Are you saying that the mother can morally prevent the child from eating and force him to starve? I don’t think that can be right.

    • Becky

      This hypothetical doesn’t correlate, because in this case there was NO chance of the child surviving, since the mother was actively dying. If she died, the baby died. There was no chance of getting along until viability.

      Moreover, this example also doesn’t take into account that the baby is directly threatening the mother’s house through the burden of the pregnancy. A better example might be that of conjoined twins, where one twin is “parasitic” and is putting too great a burden on the heart and lungs of the other. What does the church demand here? I know modern medicine would separate the twins, in the hope of saving one.

      • Becky

        Um, that should be “mother’s health.” I think I need some coffee.

      • Thales


        I don’t know why the distinction you are making matters.

        I think in the case of “parasitic twins”, the Church permits separating the twins, even if that means the other “parasite” twin will necessarily die – because the parasite is not directly killed and the parasite’s death is not intended, although the death is inevitable once separation occurs.

        The reason for my hypothetical is to illustrate a situation where sadly, two people are going to die if nothing is done. I think that scenario, though very sad, is still the morally correct one, as opposed to the alternative of killing one person so that the other person can be saved.

  • David writes, “I am glad you get a smile out of the idea of telling a woman she is going to die,…”

    Nice, David. Real nice.

  • One of the things that really disturbs me about this conversation is the way that people act as if the baby is not really human.

    If these were adult conjoined twins rather than a mother and child…does anyone think that there would be a right to tear one twin apart limb by limb, against his will, even if without doing that both would die??

    How, then, is an unborn child any different?

    • Becky

      I think many would believe that it would be acceptable to separate the twins, surgically, even knowing that one would almost certainly die.