An immoral ethical system

Really disturbing story in which a Catholic nun was excommunicated for allowing an abortion for a woman, 11-weeks pregnant who already had 4 children, to save the life of the mother.   Since the nun was the administrator of the Catholic hospital in Phoenix, she was forced out of her position and excommunicated from the Church.  And, just so we’re clear here, the mother would have died

According to a hospital document, she had “right heart failure,” and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was “close to 100 percent.”

and when she died, the fetus would have died too! So, in order to protect the life of the fetus, which was going to die anyway if the mother died, a woman should lose her life and four children would be motherless.  This is not even a close moral or ethical call.  I have no problem on an ethical and moral level with the Church’s opposition to abortion (and, in fact, support it on those levels– the politics is where it gets tricky), but this is taking a moral principle too far to the point of moral blindness.  Sure, I do get where they are coming from:

“She consented in the murder of an unborn child,” says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.”

But, damnit, its blindingly obvious that, certainly in this case, the ends do justify the means.  Much like, I think it is safe to say that killing Hitler would have been a good thing.  The perspective presented by Ehrich may be fine for esoteric discussions in Catholic ethics classes, but the real world is not so simple.   In truth, and here’s a phrase with wide applicability, context matters! To judge an action immoral or not outside of the context, is just so morally short-sighted.  How can any thinking and feeling person believe it would be a greater good for this woman to die, and her fetus die, and her four children be mother-less, all for a moral principle (abortion is never okay) that would make no practical differnence in this case (the fetus was going to die either way).

I won’t even get into the whole matter of the Church excommunicating this nun, but never actually using such punishment on pedophile priests, in which case there’s absolutely no question that what they did was wrong.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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