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Everything you need to know about the case of Sr. Margaret McBride.

You'll recall the controversy surrounding Bishop Olmsted's announcement that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself owing to her participation in a decision to approve an abortion to save the life of a mother. (We discussed it here and here last month.) If you've been struggling with the challenges posed by such a hard case, worry no more. The American Life League has produced a video that makes it all crystal clear. The piece is a touch long, and we're all busy people, so I've trimmed it to the essential bits, which I present here for your edification.



Commenting Guidelines

More scientific evidence that the placenta itself is part of the embryo/fetus . . . William,If the placenta is part of the embryo, how can it develop in the case of a molar pregnancy when no embryo develops? Or how can it continue to live when the embryo dies? Also, if the embryo is taken to be a person rather than just an organism, what is part of a person? Is a leg a part of a person? Is an amputee any less of a person for having lost one or more limbs? It seems to me, in order to discredit the decision by the ethicists in Phoenix, you must demonstrate not merely that the placenta is part of the embryo, but that it is such an essential part that it is the embryo. You must establish that to target the placenta for destruction is not indirectly killing the fetus, it is directly killing the fetus. You must demonstrate that one really can't say they wish to destroy the placenta without truly wishing to kill the embryo. If it is credible that one can remove the part of a fallopian tube with an implanted embryo in it, without wishing to kill the embryo, because the tube is damaged, then I don't see why it is not credible to wish to destroy the placenta to stop it from secreting life-threatening hormones without directly willing the death of the embryo. In the classic cases of indirect abortion, the death of the embryo is foreseen and inevitable. It is just not willed. I don't see why that cannot be the case when the placenta is what threatens the life of the mother. I think a good (although probably imperfect) test for indirect abortion is asking whether the medical intervention contemplated would be taken were there no embryo present. This is certainly the case with hysterectomy in the case of uterine cancer discovered during pregnancy. It would certainly be the case in the case of a molar pregnancy or in the case where the fetus had died but the "pregnancy" continued. From the tiny bit of research I have been able to do, is seems to me that a molar pregnancy (with no fetus present) could result in the same situation as in the Phoenix case -- that is a woman's life being threatened by the presence of a placenta. No one would suggest that under those circumstances that it would be illicit to remove the placenta. So it seems to me a solid case can be made for removing a placenta without willing the death of the embryo. Yes, you know it is going to die, but you do not will that it dies.

Im not sure how else to intepret the statement except as a confirmation that Bishop Olmsted approached the case from the correct doctrinal principles. Jim,The doctrinal principles explained in the bishops' document are well established, and the document contains nothing in the least new. It is not over doctrinal principles that the principles in this case disagree. I am sure Sister McBride and the remaining members of the ethics committee would endorse the document without reservations. The statement opens, "On November 5, 2009, medical personnel at the St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, performed a procedure [it does not say an abortion] that caused the death of an unborn child. Most Reverend Thomas Olmsted, the Bishop of Phoenix, has judged [it does not say he judged correctly] that this procedure was in fact a direct abortion and so morally wrong." If the bishops had wanted to declare Olmsted correct, it was open to them to do so. Why didn't they? Maybe I am seeing only what I want to see, but it seems clear to me that there is enough ambiguity in the document that for either side to use it to support their case, something unstated has to be inferred. On the one hand, I am glad that the Church often does not make unequivocal, definitive statements on hard issues like this. On the other hand, it can be truly annoying when it makes what appears to be a clear statement that actually has ample "wiggle room."

It looks to me like paragraph two is the key to explaining the "why" of the USCCB statement:

The position that Church teaching supports the direct taking of unborn life has been widely reported at the national level by media outlets, which has caused some confusion among the faithful as to what the Church teaches regarding illegitimate and legitimate medical procedures used in cases where the mothers health or even life is at risk during a pregnancy. In order to clarify doubt regarding the Churchs teaching on this important matter, the Committee on Doctrine, following its mandate to provide expertise and guidance concerning the theological issues that confront the Church in the United States, offers the following observations on the distinction between medical procedures that cause direct abortions and those that may indirectly result in the death of an unborn child.

So their objective is to clarify that the Church does not "support[] the direct taking of human life," contrary to what has been "widely reported." Has it been widely reported, though, or is that a straw man? I'm not sure what to think, given that, on the topic of health-care reform, the bishops keep making statements to "clarify" things that are not actually in dispute.

William, forgive my testiness. The point you were making was not the one I inferred in my irritation over the fact that the video and the USCCB's statement do not make it perfectly plain that there are some instances in which the Church would rather see a mother die (which will also often lead to the baby's death) than to end an unborn life or to face the fact that these instances do occur. What I object to most about the video and, to a lesser extent, the USCCB's statement is the way the Church pitches the abortion issue exclusively as a "saving babies because we're open to life" message.I have never heard any apologists or Church hierarchs face head on what this means, practically speaking, for a married woman. Being "open to life" means that she may not use artificial contraception, even if she is in a high risk pregnancy group. She may use NFP--and put up with a lot of wearing complaints about it if she has one of those "spontaneous" husbands. And she must be ready to die for the fetus if she gets pregnant without intending to and something goes wrong during the pregnancy.I'm not sure how you put a positive spin that, unless it's to hold out sainthood in the next life for being willing to give your life for your child.

I have never heard any apologists or Church hierarchs face head on what this means, practically speaking, for a married woman. Jean,They don't care. Women are at best second-class citizens. They can't possibly hope to compete with the unborn for the concern of the bishops and the pro-lifers. Even nuns are under investigation now. When a high-profile case like this (or the 9-year-old in Brazil, pregnant by her step-father), if any empathy or compassion is expressed at all, it is an afterthought. They don't care.

I've just read the Bishops' Committee on Doctrine's statement and I have to agree with Bernard Dauenhauer. The agonizing questions so many people have raised here point up the complexity and tragic implications of almost any course of action or inaction in the circumstances involved in the Phoenix case. The Bishops' statement reduces the matter to very simple terms and seems to be directed toward providing a guideline to satisfy their own felt need to be able assert that there is a guilt-free, correct, and easily attainable answer as to what to do in such circumstances, and they have it. After all, according to JP II what is licit or illicit here should be obvious enough, since " the Law of God is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church." If only it were that simple.

David--I have some background in physiology, but I'm not a doctor, and I don't pretend to know the obstetrical details of molar pregnancies. From what I gather, however, placentas, whether in a normal or a molar pregnancy, are formed from the trophoblast cells that make up the outer layer of the blastocyst that results from a fertilized egg. Whatever placenta that develops therefore arises from the embryonic process that follows fertilization. Molar pregnancies are the result, however, of a genetic defect that was present at the time of fertilization, and they rarely involve development of an embryo. The genetic defect produces grape-like, fluid-filled vesicles that usually result in natural termination of the pregnancy. While true that molar pregnancies occur in about 1 in 1,000 pregnacies, any placental tissue that forms is derived from cells that are part of genetically-flawed fertilized egg and blastocyst. I think I'm going to leave my inexpert foray into obstetrics right there. ;)

William,My advanced degrees in medicine and moral theology were acquired from The University of Google.

"They dont care. Women are at best second-class citizens. "I don't believe this is true of Catholicism or most Catholics; having Baptist in-laws gives me a different perspective on gender roles in various Christian denominations.I think the Church does, however, struggle with--and sometimes sidesteps--the fact that its teaching sometimes requires the death of a mother to avoid the death of a fetus.

"Im not sure how you put a positive spin that, unless its to hold out sainthood in the next life for being willing to give your life for your child."That it may sound strange to say this may itself be food for thought: sainthood isn't a neglible prize. It's the point of the exercise we call human life. Preaching sainthood isn't spinning.

"The Bishops statement reduces the matter to very simple terms"It could have been more pastoral.

David Nickol: "They dont care. Women are at best second-class citizens."There are no second-class citizens or first-class citizens in the Church; only saints. The situation would be the same for you yourself if somebody put a gun to your head and said, "Deny Christ or die!" You may not commit apostasy, not even to save your life. It's not because "they" don't care. It's just because Christ said "Be ye perfect, even as your father which is in Heaven is perfect."And if anybody can't manage perfection, there's the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jean: Im not sure how you put a positive spin that, unless its to hold out sainthood in the next life for being willing to give your life for your child.Jim: That it may sound strange to say this may itself be food for thought: sainthood isnt a neglible prize. Its the point of the exercise we call human life. Preaching sainthood isnt spinning.Jean: But, Jim, they DON'T preach this. Nowhere does the bishop's statement nor Mr. Video Head's spiel talk about the virtue of a mother who turns away from a life-saving abortion and allows herself (and likely her child in this case) to die so as not to actively end the life of her fetus. There is not one word about that kind of caritas or nobility of spirit. Not one.In fact, they talk very little about the mother at all. Or the father. What should they do in this situation? Perhaps this should be part of prenuptial counseling. Wives, you must be prepared to lay down your lives in pregnancy if saving your life would mean aborting your fetus at any stage. Husbands, you must be prepared to remonstrate with your wife if she is so fears and dreads death that she cannot set aside her life for her fetus.OK, sorry for hogging this thread and making this issue so raw. But I weary of airy theorizing and chalk-board drawings of issues that, in reality, mean sitting by the bed of someone who's dying and dealing with the real live realm of flesh, bood and bone. Am off.

The situation would be the same for you yourself if somebody put a gun to your head and said, Deny Christ or die! You may not commit apostasy, not even to save your life.Felapton,Denying Christ with a gun to your head is not apostasy. It is acting under extreme pressure. From the Catechism:

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

You can't act with deliberate consent with a gun to your head. Now, a heroic person may choose to face death rather than make an insincere and forced denial of Christ. He or she would, I suppose, be a martyr. But heroic martyrdom is not achieved by imagining God holding a gun to the other side of your head and saying, "Deny Christ and I will shoot." I recall a discussion on Vox Nova in which one side argued that Saint Maria Goretti -- the young girl who died resisting rape -- would have committed a mortal sin had she "allowed" her boyfriend to rape her at knifepoint rather than kill her. I have rarely heard anything more preposterous in my life.

That it may sound strange to say this may itself be food for thought: sainthood isnt a neglible prize.Jim,Is a woman who dies rather than have a life-saving abortion assured salvation? Is she a martyr? On the other hand, is a woman who consents to an abortion because she is afraid that without it she will die committing a mortal sin? Is it likely she is giving the kind of full consent required in my quote from the Catechism in the previous message? When you have four children at home to take care of, is choosing to save your own life necessarily selfish?

Thank you, David, for the scenarios. It affirms some thoughts I had when we first learned about Sr. Margaret. Re St. Maria, I believe she is a Saint because of the incredible forgiveness, mercy and love she expressed for her murderer. That's the only paradigm that adds up for me. A dear priest and I often spoke of our confusion on how one becomes a Saint while insisting to be murdered rather than raped. Seems most people and the social mores say murder is worse than rape, so she encouraged him to commit a greater sin. (That would be my choice as a potential rape victim but not b/c I want to be pure and holy or have concern for that but rather for my sanity and psychological pain.) Any rate, if St. Maria's canonization is viewed solely through the prism of virginity, many questions arise about the Church's unhealthy obsession with sex. Re the selfish aspect of leaving 4 children and hubby... I believe I lost a friend over this issue. I asked her opinion of Sr. Margaret and the tragedy and she seemed stunned there was even any question. She immediately stated I must not be pro-life and at that point I was. Then she explained in great detail how in this situation she would have insisted on being killed (aka allowed to die) and that if the physicians did not enable that she would likely kill herself. I was appalled at her extremism, first, but her selfishness, immaturity and insanity also. She obviously has an issue with this issue which defies reasoning. How she considers it holy to insist upon dying and imho escaping the pain, sacrifice and responsibility of living is something which eludes me and my faith. But if it comes down to a faithful using his/her informed conscience and that's what Sr. Margaret decided and if my prayerful friend chose otherwise at that moment of crisis, how is auto exco in effect? You pray to God to do the right thing and make a decision and then at that moment you simultaneously auto exco? All of this surpasses any of my understanding, and I thank God for that.

"My advanced degrees in medicine and moral theology were acquired from The University of Google."That's somewhere near Sydney, isn't it? ;)

The blood transfusion analogy doesn't work too well for me. Would a mom really refuse to donate a pint of blood to save her child's life? Wouldn't that be abnormal?How, then, is abortion normal?

Kathy, she wouldn't be REQUIRED to donate. Just as "most moms" would donate blood, "most moms" don't have abortions. It's an issue of interdiction and normative rulemaking not existing mores. And certainly, many moms might in fact refuse more invasive procedures: donating a kidney or part of their liver or even bone marrow. They don't "have to" and they aren't expected to if the donation would in any way compromise their own health.

"Is a woman who dies rather than have a life-saving abortion assured salvation? Is she a martyr? "No, I don't pronounce on assured salvation - I let the church do that. But ... such a choice would be a heroic witness to faith, would it not? If, as an act of faith, she makes this choice, then ... it seems to me quite possible - conceivable - that the church here on earth might discern, in due time and after the appropriate consideration and investigation, that she is one of the saints. "On the other hand, is a woman who to an abortion because she is afraid that without it she will die committing a mortal sin? Is it likely she is giving the kind of full consent required in my quote from the Catechism in the previous message? When you have four children at home to take care of, is choosing to save your own life necessarily selfish?"No, I don't think the two alternatives are symmetric ('choice A wins heaven; choice B condemns to hell'). I can't imagine that the woman would be fully morally culpable for any choice she made in this situation. It really is a "gun to the head" scenario in that sense.Sr. McBride's risk, so to speak, would be of a different order - no gun to her head. But based on information we have, I wouldn't make the pronouncement that Bishop Olmsted made.

Barbara,The other aspect of the analogy that fails is this. If a child requres a kidney transplant and the mother doesn't want to give it, she does not ask someone to directly kill the child. For Catholic moral theology that is an all-important distinction. For consequentialism, it's, well, an inconsequential distinction.

Jean, I agree with you that there are a number of important things to say that, thus far, have not been said (or at least said with adequate words). We've had ample pronouncement on the doctrine - thank you, legal analysts and textbook writers. Now, it's time for someone to gather up the strands of this tragic situation and try to find a way to preach some Good News - that's what our hearts really hunger for.

Catholic teaching as it now stands says that that a fetus, as the most helpless form of human life, must be protected from destruction by any intentional act to destroy it.Moreover, I think Kathy finds the analogies that might provide some "wiggle room," as my friend David N. calls it, unsatisfying because, at least in the first 26 weeks, the fetus cannot live outside the womb. There really ARE no analagous medical situations to pregnancy.I find it unsatisfying that the Church, in taking this line, does not therefore seem to be adequately preparing women to accept that their deaths are expected in these situations as part of their faith formation. Nor does it seem to be providing training to religious like Sr. McBride about how to do the hard work of helping these women make the decision to give up their lives.Moreover, the bishop's statement refers to "widely reported" caveats that allow for abortions in certain circumstances, and I think they must bear some large measure of responsibility for not making Catholic teaching and the consequences for women clearer. Most of my cradle Catholic friends were stunned to learn I had stopped receiving after having a tubal ligation; they had no idea that this was against Church teaching. I know two cradle Catholic women who had abortions in their 50s because of they had diabetes, and their doctors advised them against trying to bring the pregnancy to term. Their priests told them that having an abortion in such circumstances was morally neutral.(Sorry, can't leave this alone.)

It strikes me that the USCCB statement doesn't really resolve the issue of whether any abortion is ever permissible and this discussion will go on.It also strikes me that the USCCB statement cited here was an attempt to get past the reporting of Cardinal George's private remarks to his fellow bishops in Florida and the putative leak thereof.I think that raises an important presuppositional discussion question.The new NCR has an article on the US Bishops sending a group to the Catholic Media convention in early June. Bishop Zavala, chair of the communications comittee, gave a major address. He's quoted as saying"First, Catholic Media should work from a Catholic perspective, not the so-called"objective" perspective of the secular media(and of course we know that secular media are not objective anyway...)Second, Catholic Media has a responsibility to the larger Catholic community. Two useful words here are loyalty and service."I'd be interested in how our reporting folks here at Commonwel feel about that and do they think abut those issues as say they report USCCB statements.Since the Cardinal is also concerned about Catholic universities and their relations with Bishops, I wonder how many of the instructors at Catholic colleges look at that kind of presentation.These are clearly hard tiumes for our Church. We talk about truth (and justice).Issues of life, sexuality and justice dominate lots of the discussion.I think it's important to be clear what we bring to the table on those issues.

Jean, I guess here's my worry with your approach: I think it doesn't account for the capacity of the tradition to use its fundamental premises to reflect upon, nuance, and develop its approach to particular cases. I think John Courtney Murray saw the potential for development in the Church's teaching on religious liberty--advocated for it, and the teaching developed--in an authentic manner.And I think he--and the Catholics who agreed with him--who advocated for religious liberty as consistent with the deepest commitments in the Church in the late 1950s were doing the right thing --even if the institutional church itself rejected it. I think one of the jobs of a moral theologian is to reflect on hard cases and show how they can be resolved in a way that is consistent with church teaching and with the best insights of human experience. That's what natural law is about, at bottom.I think that's what it means to apply a hermeneutic of charity in interpreting church teaching. But if I get to the point that I can't do that anymore --that I think it's foolish-- I too will leave the church.And I think that is what it means to integrate faith and reason.I can't stand the image of faith and reason as two wings seamlessly integrating their flight path. It's never been like that--the movements forward are jerky and ungainly. The seamlessness doesn't come until the beatific vision.

I cant imagine that the woman would be fully morally culpable for any choice she made in this situation. It really is a gun to the head scenario in that sense.Jim,What about a hospital ethics committee?

"What about a hospital ethics committee?"Indeed. What is their role in this situation, and what should we (including the bishops in that "we") expect of them?It occurs to me that there are at least three things the ethics committee is not:* The patient, the patient's family, or anyone else burdened with making the actual decision. The ethics committee can not and should not make the decision, even if the patient is distraught.* A provider of health care. Medical advice should come from the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.* A hospital chaplain / one whose primary function is to provide pastoral care. Empathy is the chaplain's job.I believe Bishop Olmsted said she excommunicated herself for formal cooperation. Apparently his expectation was that she would take part in the decision in a way that did not entail formal cooperation in an abortion.

By the way, has any information come to light about the precise needs of the patient--whether death would have been imminent, or would have necessarily followed from the pregnancy? Not that it would make a difference to a moral theologian.

Kathy,According to several accounts, the pregnant woman was not merely too ill to be moved to another hospital, she was too ill to be moved to the operating room. One can only conclude that she was in imminent danger of death.

The ethics committee can not and should not make the decision, even if the patient is distraught.Jim,I don't understand the role of the ethics committee if they are not to decide what the hospital is going to do. The woman was too ill to be moved to another hospital. If the ethics committee had merely advised the patient of her options and she had decided to have an abortion, what would have happened then?

Let's step back and consider for a bit what would happen if our moral theology always began with a presumption for compassion. Love must come first, and not just abstract love, but actual cherishing of the real human beings involved--in this case, the mother, her husband, their 4 other children, and, sure, the doomed fetus. Even if we wish to embrace the Church's strong stance that any embryo/fetus should be regarded as a person (and thus the subject of rights,) would we really stand by and multiply this tragedy by forcing the mother to die as well as the doomed embryo? Really? Who will explain to grieving young children that their mother had to die in order to uphold a moral theological distinction between direct and indirect abortion? Who will tell the husband that the notion of the embryo as a materially unjust aggressor was tossed aside with a mere rhetorical question by the magisterium, so his wife and partner in raising their kids had to die? As a moralist , I appreciate (and teach!) our tradition's moral distinctions, its short-hand decision trees like double effect, cooperation and just war. They are useful in helping us navigate difficult moral territory, and help us think clearly about tough cases. But when our moral tradition is no longer in synch with the basic Christian requirement of compassion,then our moral theology is no longer compatible with the example of Jesus, who was willing to ignore the requisites of moral and religious law in the name of compassion. Compassion is not the only requisite of good moral reasoning. But all good moral reasoning must be compatible with basic human compassion. Same as just war thinking must begin with an abhorrence of killing.

Fr. Girzone's unfortunate statement has two problems, IM (not so) HO:First, he raises an alarm that (some) people aren't reproducing enough. Sorry, celibates and others childless by choice really don't get to criticize others, even abstract others like "Europe," or "England and Ireland," for not having enough kids. It's a put up or shut up thing, especially since he asserts that it's God's will that Europeans and Brits and others have big families. He could lament, he could encourage, but he cannot criticize the discernments of others, especially since his own discernment led him to believe that God wanted him to remain childless. Second, while I don't believe Girzone's intent was to make a racist statement, he really treads that line very closely. He complains that it is Europeans and Americans not having enough kids that requires, i.a., "35,000,000 Mexicans" to come work here, which is a threat to "civilization." Huh? I thought 35,000,000 Mexicans could also be described as brothers and sisters in Christ, forced to migrate here because of hard economic times at home. Our receiving them as neighbors in need would be a tribute to our civilization, not a threat to it. Alas, we haven't done so well.

Cathleen, I believe that the Church has a special mission as the repository of the Truth of God. But I also believe that in some cases that Truth is only partially uncovered. I do not presume to say where, but I have my hopes, fears and opinions.Truthiness aside, my beef (that no one seems to want to chew on here) is that IF the Church insists that no fetus die by intentional human intervention for any reason whatever, and IF it insists that abortion is the single sin that brings down instant excommunication on anybody who has one, encourages anyone to have one, or assists anyone to have one, THEN it needs to make it much clearer in its faith formation that women of child-bearing age are expected to die for their fetuses if the fetuses can't be delivered with any hope of living outside the womb.If the Church is NOT willing to beat that drum a lot louder than it does, then it needs to re-examine its teaching, either on abortion to save a mother's life or on sterilization for women with conditions for whom age or illness would make childbirth a grave risk.I like your image of the herky-jerky flight of the Angel of Faith and Reason. I feel like that every day as a bad limping lapsed Catholic.

Lisa, excuse my bluntness, but "compassion" is a weasel word. A compassionate act is predicatedon where you draw the line about abortion. Those who believe there must be no intentional abortion would have to consider morphine and valium compassionate care to help the mother die.Those who believe that it's unreasonable to expect a mother who can be saved to die for a fetus that will die when she does might consider abortion compassionate.

Very true, Jean! I agree and believe we must make it our mission to insist this is specifically covered in Pre-Cana, Pre-Jordan and all religious education classes at the appropriate age level.Anyone want to bet that when a similar or age-appropriate simple scenario is presented to a child, without hesitation they scream, "Save the mother!"

May we revisit Sophie's choice here? The Nazi tells mother Sophie that she has to kill one of her two children, within minutes, or he will kill them both. She kills her daughter, saves her son, and lives with the guilt the rest of her life. The pertinent question here is: Does anyone not pity Sophie? Or even her son? Does anyone (other than the authorities) not understand that Sophie's choice was tragic, as was her predicament? The evil here rests solely on the shoulders of the Nazi authorities, who had no feeling, who made decisions based on facts not feelings. That cold-blooded, lifeless regime had no pity for any of the humans involved, assured solely by the soundness and superiority of their facts.

"Who will explain to grieving young children that their mother had to die in order to uphold a moral theological distinction between direct and indirect abortion?Who will explain to grieving young children that their mother had to die in order to uphold a moral theological distinction between direct and indirect abortion?"Lisa --I do not agree with Bishop Olmstead. However, let's stick to the realities. The issue was not whether or not to uphold at theological distinction. It was whether to kill the baby or let both mother and child die. For the sake of argument, let's say the mother had agreed with the bishop and accepted death. Then what to tell the other children? If it were I, I would insist that my other children be told that I would not kill the baby in my womb anymore than I would kill one of them. I think that puts a different light on Bp. Olmstead's position. I still don't agree with him, but I think it makes his position more understandable.

Funny stuff. Expecting someone to die for an unborn child just because the Church says they should doesn't pass the giggle test.

Jean and Carol --You upset a hornet's nest when you raise the issue of the role of feelings in moral choices. I"d say that these days the most common philosophical ethical position is that we ought to be lead by our feelings, and that most people put compassion at the top of the list.However, as Jean points out, different people see compassion as calling for diametrically opposed actions? It follows that that feeling alone is not enough to tell us what is right or wrong in that given situation with those particular moral factors.Further, as the Sophie story shows the *feeling* of guilt is not the same thing as actual guilt. Something else besides feeling must be involved. However, there are those who disagree. I knew a psychoanalyst who said "If you feel guilty, then you *are* guilty". Oh, yeah??? In other words we cannot rationally say that in every case feelings tell us what is right and what is wrong. On the other hand, they do sometimes help us get to the truth of an issue. I'm even convinced that there are some feelings that are not simply subjective reactions to evil doing or virtue, but rather, some feelings have something to do with an affective grasp of evil and good. The problem is I know of no way to distinguish what I would call merely subjective feelings from what might be called objective feelings, that is, feelings which reveal a fact. (And doesn't the latter sound like an oxymoron!) For instance, I can't prove to my own satisfaction that torture is evil, abut I'm convinced purely on the basis of my feelings about it that it that it has got to be wrong.Eichmann felt it was good to kill Jews. Surely that didn't make it right.

"The issue was ... whether to kill the baby or let both mother and child die. "Ann, thank you - that is the best, most succinct statement yet I'cve seen of this predicament.

I've already commented on this situation, and haven't changed my views. If anyone cares what those are, they can re-read prior threads at dotCom. Having said that ...I agree that love needs to underlie our moral choices. And that love isn't always compassionate. It can be stern and terrible.Bishop Olmsted could mount an argument that, in trying to prevent the woman from committing a mortal sin (and in what was, by all accounts, a near-death situation), his desired guidance was the loving guidance.

I found the story of the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride, announced by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix reprehensible, and it represents the worst of institutional religion. Jesus castigated religious leaders who imposed heavy burdens of law on others and did nothing to lift their burdens.Where is the compassion that Jesus showed to every sinner andsuffering person? How does the suffering and death of an unborn and mother give glory to God? The decision was to save the life of a mother of four, not lose two lives. There was no mention about the anguish in the hearts of the mother and sister McBride, who ministered to her, having to make such a decision?The bishop said an evil means cannot be chosen to accomplish good. What about the illegal and immoral war in Iraq? Where there any statements by his office condemning those who kill for the alleged purpose of national security?If I were to be judged by Jesus in this matter, I would rather stand in the skin of this nun and mother, than in the skin of those who have condemned her. I pray that her religious community will stand firmly behind Sister McBride.Fr. Rich BroderickCambridge, Ny 12816

Bishop Olmsted could mount an argument that, in trying to prevent the woman from committing a mortal sin (and in what was, by all accounts, a near-death situation), his desired guidance was the loving guidance.Jim,The only solution I see for those who agree with Bishop Omsted is simply not to tell the dying mother she has an option. If you tell her an abortion can save her life, she chooses abortion, and you refuse to perform one, you have put her in the position of wanting to commit a mortal sin on her deathbed (which intention, presumably, could be considered a mortal sin) and then letting her die. Better not to say anything to her and the family at all. Unless you believe you should let others make life-and-death moral decisions for you, this seems to me a very good argument for avoiding Catholic hospitals. Perhaps every Catholic medical facility should have a sign saying, "We will not perform direct abortions, even to save your life. If our ethicists have any doubts at all regarding a medical procedure, your case will be referred to the local bishop, who will make a decision on your behalf and on behalf of the ethics committee."

I think Thomas Aquinas's view of abortion is the morally correct one. St. Thomas Aquinas says abortion was not homicide unless the fetus was "ensouled," and ensoulment, he was sure, occurred well after conception.

Forgot to add that the following was issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas (28 January): "with his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he (Thomas Aquinas) offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith".

Joseph, Thomas would have thought that ensoulment occurred well before 11 weeks. He was basing this idea on faulty Aristotelean biology which modern science proved wrong some time ago.

Kathy,While it seems to me safe to assume Aquinas would not have based his views regardin ensoulment on Aristotelian biology if he had known modern biology, I don't think it is safe to say when he would have thought ensoulment takes place. And in any case -- correct me if I am wrong here -- the Catholic Church does not claim to know when ensoulment takes place, and consequently the Catholic position on abortion is not based on the idea that it is acceptable to abort before ensoulment and unacceptable after.

Oh, PLEASE, let's not drag Thomas Aquinas into this discussion yet again.Neither St. Thomas nor the Church knows for sure when a fetus is ensouled, so to cover all contingencies, the Church teaches that we must consider a fetus a human being at the moment of conception. Based on the assumption that a fetus is ensouled at the moment of conception, the Church considers it a human being in full. Church teaching further extrapolates that as a human being in full, and wholly defenseless, the fetus deserves the same protections as any other human being and that no one may intentionally destroy it, even to save the life of another, born or unborn.I do not think it is a sin for a mother to have faith that the Church is correct and to die with her unborn baby rather than let it come to harm. However, neither do I believe that, based on assumptions and unknowns undergirding this teaching, a mother or those who carry out an abortion to save her life when no other help is at hand, has necessarily lost God's grace.

I think it is possible that "abortion on demand" -- which accounts for 99 percent of abortions in the United States -- is such an overwhelming issue for those who are pro-life, that it becomes difficult for them to consider lifesaving, therapeutic abortion dispassionately. In 1902, the Holy Office forbade intervention in an ectopic pregnancy until the sixth month. It was not until the 1930s that moral theologians came up with what we now consider the classic example of "indirect abortion" -- the removal of the fallopian tube (or some part of it) with the implanted embryo. As with the rationale of the Phoenix ethics committee about the removing the placenta, the idea of removing part of the fallopian tube with a living fetus in it was probably not greeted with universal cries of, "Yes, that's it!"

Oh, let's do drag Aquinas into it, and all of his interpreters! Why not? A 1940s Jesuit Aquinas scholar whose name I forget but whose four volume interpretation I studied for years, interpreted Aquinas on original sin, saying it is directly linked to the sexual intercourse which leads to conception. His explanation involved the statement that were it possible for a child to be conceived in a test tube, THAT PERSON would be without original sin. At the time he wrote, test tube babies were science fiction. I don't recall the Vatican verifying that theory--and citing Aquinas scholarship--once the test tube babies became reality. The moral of that story is that purely academic explication of moral theology doesn't satisfy any goal, especially one leading to a life-or-death action. And of course moral decisions can't be made purely on the basis of feelings, any more than they should be made solely on the basis of rational/factual/emotionless void. The food pantry I volunteer for has as good a solution as any. People sign up to qualify for food & emergency assistance. One never knows, of course, if a con man is filling out our forms...just as the con men used to go rectory-to-pastorate telling the same fictional sob story, collecting from each minister. But our motto is: "Err on the side of compassion." I think it's the most sensible choice: Christlike, yet allowing for our own fallibility.