Runaway trolley problem


It comes close to the gray line and is debated. Some say there is no removal process that is directed to the good of the child. I think I have read another take which accepts removal.


As noted in a prior post, the above is not Catholic teaching. As the teaching is settled, the procedure which excises the mother’s diseased tissue, indirectly causes the death of the infant. Please argue in reverse. How is the bystander’s act also indirect? If not the bystander’s act then what directly causes the death of the innocent person?

I only conclude that the bystander’s act is evil. Whether the bystander sins is between the bystander and God.


This is getting absurd. If the doctor doesn’t operate today the fetus will not die today. It may not die for several weeks. The death of the fetus is a direct and inevitable consequence of the operation. If this wasn’t so it wouldn’t be necessary to invoke the principle of double effect to justify it. If the doctor was not responsible for the death then we couldn’t say the death was an evil effect of the act: the act would have no down side, but this is ridiculous. The down side - the evil effect - is precisely the death of the fetus, and that comes directly as a consequence of the operation, for which the doctor is responsible.

The doctor is directly responsible for the death. What excuses the operation is that the death is not voluntary.


Once again, your argument is with your bishop, not me. I do not think the bishops’ teaching is absurd.


This misunderstanding of “voluntary” has been challenged in prior posts. You will not see a theological explanation such as yours as to why ectopic pregnancies may be licitly treated.


You have applied the wrong reason to justify the operation. The church does not allow it because the death it is indirect but because it is involuntary. Yes, the church does allow the operation, but there is no rational argument that the death somehow doesn’t flow directly from the act. The death of the fetus is as inevitable as the death of a fish pulled out of the water and left on the bank. The initial act is directly responsible for the death regardless of the fact that death does not occur immediately from the act.


As others have I think pointed out to you, your understanding of “voluntary” is flawed. “Voluntary” refers to the act, not the unintended outcomes.


It is not a case of either/or. Both must be good, object and intention. The death of the fetus must be both indirect and unintended to justify the surgery.


Interesting metaphor. To be more precise, the metaphor ought start with the fish already on the bank, that is not in its natural location.


Find a post what seems to you to be the Catholic explanation for the licitness of this operation. Here is one that seems valid to me.

According to traditional Catholic teaching, the only morally licit procedure is a salpingectomy: removing the portion of the fallopian tube in which the embryo is implanted. It is considered morally illicit to perform a salpingostomy: a small incision is made in the side of the fallopian tube and the implanted embryo is removed. It is also immoral to treat the ectopic pregnancy chemically by administering Methotrexate, a drug which causes the embryo to be expelled. The latter two are considered illicit because they are “direct abortions” while the first is licit because the procedure removes a damaged fallopian tube which threatens the life of the mother (due to inevitable hemorrhaging and infection), with the unintended but foreseeable consequence of killing the embryo.

This has been precisely my point: killing the embryo is foreseen (and flows directly from the operation) but is unintended.


In moral theology, such is an “indirect” killing because the death is not in the moral object, but in the consequences (only). Where do you see “voluntary” act mentioned?

The death is intended if it is the motivation for the act, OR if it is the moral object ie. the end in terms of morality to which the act is inherently (ie. by the nature of the act, not necessarily the motivation of the actor) directed. [It is often the case that the meaning of “intended” is unclear - does it refer only to motivation?]


I believe what you cite is not Catholic teaching but Patheos’ incorrect interpretation of CUF’s article on the topic. The Pathoes article argues against Catholic moral theology.

For an accurate explanation of Catholic teaching see:

> This threat is addressed by removal of the tube, with the secondary, and unintended, effect that the child within will then die. In this situation, the intention of the surgeon is directed towards the good effect (removing the damaged tissue to save the mother’s life) while only tolerating the bad effect (death of the ectopic child). Importantly, the surgeon is choosing to act on the tube (a part of the mother’s body) rather than directly on the child. Ad- ditionally, the child’s death is not the means via which the cure occurs. If a large tumor, instead of a baby, were present in the tube, the same curative procedure would be employed. It is tubal removal, not the subsequent death of the baby, that is curative for the mother’s condition. Some say that cutting out a sec- tion of the tube with a baby inside is no different than using methotrexate because, in either case, the baby ends up dying. Yet the difference in how the baby dies is, in fact, critical. There is always a difference between killing someone directly and allowing some- one to die of indirect causes. We may never directly take the life of an inno- cent human being, though we may sometimes tolerate the indirect and unintended loss of life that comes.


While that is true, I believe the licitness of various medical treatments on mum that will prejudice, perhaps end, the life of an unborn does not depend on an unnatural or pre-existing terminal position of the baby.


We must try to focus Ender. Suffice it to say that the foreseeable life of the fetus or mother must be in jeopardy as the fish on the bank is in jeopardy.


So, in light of the above teaching and back to the bystander’s act: If the bystander’s act is not the direct cause of the innocent person’s death then what is?


This is an assertion. If you want me to accept it you’ll have to cite something other than your own opinion.

Voluntary, unintended, unwanted, undesired.

And this is precisely analogous to the trolley case where the switch is thrown because four lives are threatened, with the unintended but foreseeable consequence of killing the person on the other track.

Death is not the motivation for throwing the switch. As for being inherently directed at the death of the one, that is no more true here than in the case of the operation which will inevitably take the life of the fetus. Both acts are undertaken with the object of saving life, both have the unwanted consequence of causing a death, and both equally meet the conditions for an act to be justified by the principle of double effect.


Then answer the question about throwing the switch in the example I described where the track is circular. What is your position on that one? Do you throw the switch or not?


Again, this goes back to the definition of “direct”. If it means “the immediate effect of the act” then no, the death is not direct because the person does not die when the switch is thrown. If we mean by “direct” the “inevitable consequence of the act” then yes, the death is direct. In either case, however, the definition applies equally to the bystander and the surgeon, and will reach the same conclusion in both cases.


While that is false, all attempts to explain the difference have not struck a chord with you. Directing a moving trolley at a safe but immovable person is akin to pointing a firing gun at the innocent. I explained earlier How inevitability of death is not the key issue for directness. Recall methotrexate vs tube removal. One is direct, the other indirect.


Or if it means what your interlocutors have told you?

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