May 17, 2010
For those of you who are not Catholic (and maybe even for those of you who are) this may seem like splitting hairs but the Bishop in Phoenix (who was in Wichita, KS before transferring to Phoenix) did not excommunicate Sister Margaret McBride. According to the Diocese, Sister McBride was a Catholic who substantially assisted another in an abortion and thus incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
The Bishop’s statement simply reflects that such a sentence of excommunication is incurred “by the very commission of the offense,” (CCC 2272) and does not require the future particular judgment of a case by competent authority. The Diocesan statement points to the canon that she did this to herself.
The hospital’s position is that two ERDs (Ethical and Religious Directives - Catholic hospital rules) were in conflict with the particular condition of the patient. One directive (#45) states that abortion is never permitted, even to save the life of the mother, while the other (#47) notes that "operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted...even if they will result in the death of the unborn child."
The Diocese either disagreed about the procedure being necessary at the time it was allowed (11 weeks and unable to be postponed until “the unborn child was viable”) or it read the “conflict” between the ERDs differently.
The Ethical and Religious Directives are produced by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops - a national organization. But each Bishop has authority in his “see” or Diocese. It is unknown, at least at this reporting, how involved the Bishop’s office was in the decision of the Catholic hospital to permit the abortion, but given the Diocesan statement it’s not likely that it was a lot.
The church’s official position on abortion is univocal. You may remember the 2009 case of the 9 year old Brazilian girl who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather and was pregnant with twins. Clergy in Brazil and at the Vatican supported statements that the mother of the young girl (not the twins’ mother) and the doctors were excommunicated because of their proactive stance - taking the fetuses prior to any required life saving intervention.
The actions of the step-father (rapist) in the judgment of many adults, was far more morally reprehensible than the deliberate taking of the innocent babies by those acting on behalf of the young pregnant girl.
My concern is that thoughtful compassionate leaders on both sides of this issue will continue to disagree on the intersection of science and religion, and that Catholic Hospitals will struggle with what it means to be or remain Catholic or to abandon the label altogether and claim only to having once had a Catholic tradition.
Labels: abortion; ethics committees; medical ethics; bioethics