In the fall of 2009, woman patient 10 weeks pregnant was diagnosed with severe pulmonary arterial hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension impairs the function of the heart and is exacerbated during pregnancy by increased hormonal activity of the placenta. In this case the medical records state that the mother had right heart failure and cardiogenic shock. The medical team caring for the woman informed her and the ethics committee of the hospital that both the mother and the child would probably die unless the infant were taken from the mother’s womb. The mother originally did not wish to lose the infant but consented to the surgery when she heard the pregnancy was life-threatening.
The ethical code for Catholic hospitals allows the early delivery of a viable infant for a proportionate reason. At 10 weeks, the infant is far from viable. The code also allows an indirect abortion, that is, when the direct effect of a procedure is the cure of a serious pathological condition, for example removal of a cancerous uterus, and the infant dies as a result of the procedure. The code does not allow a direct abortion, however, in which “the sole and immediate effect of the procedure is termination of a pregnancy before viability.” Think-ing that both mother and infant would die if nothing were done, Sister Mary Margaret McBride, speaking for the ethics committee, gave permission to the medical team to terminate the pregnancy.
Within a few months Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, after learning that this procedure had been performed in the Catholic hospital, interviewed the chief executive officer of the hospital and Sister McBride, who had given permission for the surgery that terminated the pregnancy. The bishop declared that the sister had incurred an excommunication because she had cooperated in procuring a direct abortion.
For those of you who believe the hospital should not have terminated the baby’s life, would it have made more ethical for both of them to die when it could have been prevented? The pregnant woman in question was on her fifth child, hardly what you would call an anti-family person. Would some of you at least admit that this particular case gives one pause? Or is it a moral no-brainer for you?