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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

Reducing the Church's treatment of this woman to a crude little chalk drawing, complete with knife and rope, illustrates more than was intended.

Isn't it curious--the stick figure bishop doesn't have any eyes--but he does have a mouth. I wonder why they drew him that way?

Another example of how the pro-life movement can self rightously undermine the message of life.

I know many have tried to discuss whether or not Sr. McBride could technically be excommunicated (or have excommunicated herself) according to Canon Law, and I appreciate those discussions.But what bothers me most about video above is that there's no real question about whether any of it is true, instead, all that's being asserted (from the edited clips) is Church teaching (on this line). I can't stand discussions that begin "Article x,y says and CCC 123 blah blah blah."As a committed pro-lifer, I'm still struggling with whether or not what she did was in fact recommend an abortion in the morally relevant sense. I'm struggling to understand if she did in fact, according to that "journalist," do evil so that good may come of it. It seems a case could be made that the sin of omission (letting two die) would have been just as morally problematic for the agent, if not more so, than the sin of commission. But I don't know. I really don't.So though Mr. Nunz uses this episode to make a snarky attack on the "pro-life movement" ("Another example of how the pro-life movement can self rightously undermine the message of life."), I'm more concerned with the lack of charity afforded to everyone involved. And I'm still trying to make sense of it all.

I suggest the American Life League end the video at 43 seconds.

Benjamin --Everyone admits, I think, that this was a hard case. That is, there were competing moral principles involved. In this case: the principles included "all mothers have a right to life", "all children have a right to life", plus other principles. e.g., "an end does not justify a means", and -- here's the hardest one, "moral principles sometimes have exceptions" Sometimes we do not see how these principles can be resolved. What is needed is needed is what the mathematicians call a "decision procedure", that is a meta-principle or set of meta-principles that is a means to discovering whether a given proposition is true or false. Sadly, it has been proven that there is no such decision procedure for arithmetic -- in other words, not every arithmetic statement can be proven to be either true or false. So the mathematicians can never answer all of their questions..Sometimes ethicians need a decision procedure -- a way of reaching a true conclusion about an ethical problem. Years ago a seminarian friend told me that Aquinas provided one. The seminarian didn't have a citation for it. I've looked for it for years in Thomas and not found it, but it certainly sounds like Aquinas == it makes a lot of sense, I think. It goes like this:When you have an ethical problem that seems to lead to contradictory or inconclusive conclusions, Begin by finding out what the experts say ought to be done and the reasons they give for their judgments. When the experts disagree or their opinions really don't make sense to you, consult people who have actually been in the same kind of circumstances. If those people don't agree about what ought to be done, then simply do what you are inclined to do after all your study.Pehaps Sr. McBride, after having studied both the experts and people in that existential position wasn't sure what to do and followed her inclination -- to save the one who could be saved. (I might note that it was a matter of arithmetic -- better to save one than none.)Granted, an "inclination" is a "wanting", and we are often told that we should base our ethical judgments on facts, not feelings. But I wonder if that is true. But that's another question, an extremely fundamental one that, I think, needs to be re-considered in depth. So many hard cases seem to involve it.Jesus never said to us "You will always be wise if you but try".

As a philosopher friend and neighbor once whispered to me at a pro-life weekend program more than three decades ago, "I think I've seen the enemy, and it is us!" It should be said this event was not sponsored by RTL but, instead, if I recall, by a group of Christian congregations. We attended as part of our efforts to set up a pro-life group at our parish.Ann, thank you for your professional philosophical perspective here. If the Phoenix case suggests anything, I think it's the need for our moral "experts" to decipher the reasoning behind the generally (overwhelming?) Catholic acceptance of the hospital's action as morally acceptable. Perhaps the moralists need to play "catch up" with the rest of us?"...[W]e are often told that we should base our ethical judgments on facts, not feelings." I think this observation is quite accurate. Regrettably (and for historical reasons with which I am not qualified to offer comment), the law and its cold-hearted reliance on pure facts and rational argumentation tends to overshadow the feeling part of our human nature. Or maybe it's hierarchs in certain quarters of the church who are so inclined. If Olmsted had been standing next to the gurney in the ER and had the power to do so, would he have prevented the medical staff from undertaking the lifesaving procedure? During those precious moments, would the good bishop have threatened excommunication on any Catholics participating in the abortion? Would Olmsted have stood there and watched the mother die???

Ann,I understand what you are saying. I do. I wonder, though, if "decision procedures" fit facts into a schemas where they don't necessarily fit, but rather are made to fit based upon whatever narrative one wants to offer. You intimate that this is a problem, albeit differently.I think you should wonder if this statement is true: "we are often told that we should base our ethical judgments on facts, not feelings." Neuroscience continues to suggest that our supposedly rational evaluation of the facts of ethical reasoning is not based on any cold arithmetic or purely rational analysis, but based upon, in large part, our deeply held emotional convictions. I doubt Sr. McBride turned her analysis into a hard utilitarian calculus, by the way (one better than none, regardless of means chosen, regardless of emotional concern); I imagine the inclination was "let's do what we can in an impossible situation." There's a fine difference, wouldn't you think?(From a religious perspective, I sometimes wonder about the intellectualist tradition bequeathed to us from Aristotelian Thomism: I don't necessarily believe our natural gift of affective perception is somehow lower and less Godly than our rational capacities.)Anyhow, regardless of my critique of decision-making narratives, I'd still be curious if there ever were some serious discussion from more of the hierarchy about this matter, apart from Bishop O. All the papists seem to want to repeat is that the Church says abortion is murder/abortion leads to excommunication. Yeah, we all know that already.

Ann, your reference to a hypothetical "decision procedure" reminds me of an HR resource found in all federal (civilian) personnel offices, the Guide to Processing Personnel Actions. A sample entry can be found (I hope) at .Benjamin, I think you have alluded to the question of "values", and arguments over values are the most difficult to resolve --- if they can be resolved at all!Regarding McBride's supposed excommunication, I think we've seen how one person in a position of authority can effectively ostracize another person in the church --- without any of the "heavy lifting" required to directly excommunicated her. In this scenario (unless I'm otherwise mistaken), the target of the "latae" announcement has no opportunity to challenge the bishop in a church court but must, nonetheless, suffer the fallout including the besmirching of her good name. This is not right! I'd suggest the Phoenix case is a good example of the need for Rome to jettison such excommunications from the code of canon law. In this particular situation, the bishop enjoys little credibility in a larger Church of Rome whose hierarchs already have damn little credibility --- moral and otherwise --- remaining.

My link includes "decision logic tables" that the government began using ca. 1980 to make it easier to document various personnel actions and capture data for OPM's Central Personnel Data File. Surely moralists could use a similar approach to help various folks in the Catholic community.Of course, "values" would necessarily enter the picture in developing such a resource :)

If this video is targeting primary school students, its content and animation might not be out of line.

Everyone admits, I think, that this was a hard case. Ann,I don't think there would still be such a fuss going on if everyone admitted this was a hard case. Many people seem to be quite sure that direct abortion is never permissible, that this was beyond a shadow of a doubt a direct abortion, that Sr. Margaret McBride knew very good and well that it was a direct abortion, that she should never have permitted it, that both the mother and the unborn infant should have been allowed to die if that was how the Good Lord wanted it, and that Bishop Olmsted was exactly right to announce publicly that she had excommunicated herself. What is so appalling to me is that so many people never conceded Sr. Margaret McBride had a "hard case" on her hands, and some who did nevertheless claimed that although the circumstances were emotionally difficult, the choice was nevertheless crystal clear. Someone asked me what Jesus would have recommended, and I said, "He was a Jew. He would have recommended that the unborn infant should be sacrificed to save the life of the mother. That is what Jews have always believed and still believe." I know abortion is forbidden in the Didache, but that is a Christian document, not a Jewish one.

Ann, regarding facts and feeling: Research into the psychology and neurobiology of decision making has found that people who can't tap into their emotions find it almost impossible to make important decisions. Rightness is NOT just an exercise of analyzing the facts. If that were the case, it seems to me that the fact of one being dead is better than two being dead. Indeed, the principle upon which Olmsted based his assertion that Sister McBride was wrong was NOT a fact -- it was a doctrine. The presupposition is that doctrine is correct, but that presupposition may depend greatly on how one views the emotional and value laden components that went into the construction of that doctrine ab initio. One can properly think that these were incorrect because, for instance, they reflected bias or insufficiently valued the mother's life or put undue emphasis on the action of the doer at the expense of the person who is the subject of the action. Lots of people (lots of lawyers) can easily trick themselves into thinking they are making rational judgments because the values and emotions that went into making the rules they are asked to apply preceded them by years if not generations. These feelings may now be accepted as facts but that doesn't make them so.

The speaker doesn't blink. Should we be concerned?

The BVM appeared to me on a partially-eaten taco shell from KFC (don't ask.)She said this: "Abortion is a sad situation in all cases. Life is precious --- all life. There are times that the hard choice to be made is one that one normally would not make. However, in the case in which Sr. McBride was involved, the lesser of two evils was chosen, sad though that decision was.My Son has approved of this message."

Having been involved in the pro-life movement for many years, this situation does not seem to help the pro-life cause and is undoubtedly being used by pro-choicers to confuse the issue in order to protect our current national policy of abortion on demand. While, I am not a Catholic, I have never heard that it is a Catholic mother's responsibility to die for her unborn child if her death is imminent and is directly linked to the continuation of the pregnancy. If I am to believe what the articles have stated, which is a big if (as the Teri Schiavo case has shown), Sister McBride may have been confronted with a choice of choosing one life over another: a difficult and heart-wrenching decision. So I dont believe that it helps to second guess her decision which appears to have been made in an effort to maximize life. Nor do I feel there is a lack of casuistry within the Catholic Church to allow for moral understanding in this case. This whole idea of automatic excommunications in this case is just not helpful.Nevertheless, I truly feel that these extremely rare cases are simply diversions which take our eyes off a national tragedy and the greatest civil rights issue of our day: 1.2 million children killed by abortion each year in the US.

I just love clear teaching on clear matters.

"I have never heard that it is a Catholic mothers responsibility to die for her unborn child if her death is imminent and is directly linked to the continuation of the pregnancy."--------- Even in the good old days when abortion was rarely mentioned, people knew that a Catholic mother WAS required to die rather than end a pregnancy.See, e.g., the bestselling novel of 1950, THE CARDINAL, by Henry Morton Robinson, in which that was made abundantly clear.

"While, I am not a Catholic, I have never heard that it is a Catholic mothers responsibility to die for her unborn child if her death is imminent and is directly linked to the continuation of the pregnancy.Well, you learn something new everyday. Under Catholic teaching, no abortion can be performd even to save the life of the mother. To do otherwise is to get on the slippery slope and it's more important to be consistent than to resolve tough cases.Under Catholic pro-life circles, you're a backslider, only a pro-lifer when it's convenient for you./sarcasm/

Under Catholic teaching, no abortion can be performd even to save the life of the mother. No direct abortion. It makes a difference.As I have pointed out before, removing a pregnant woman's uterus in order to terminate the pregnancy and sterilize her would be the exact same surgical procedure as removing a pregnant woman's uterus because it was cancerous. The first would be a direct abortion (and sterilization, to boot) and would be prohibited. The second would be an indirect abortion and would be permitted.

Actually I think the word is abortion. There's no medical term that qualifies as as "indirect abortion" a theological term at best. The Church simply defines medically necessary uterine or fallopian tube removal as "not abortion."

Pulmonary hypertension causes distension of the lungs so that breathing is labored and will eventually press on the heart and cause heart and lung failure. Clots and massive strokes can also occur.Many women have early C-sections, as early as 26 weeks, when the fetus is viable, to alleviate the condition. However, at 11 weeks, the fetus was not viable. There are some medications and treatments that can be used to treat pulmonary hypertension, but the video does not indicate whether mother in question had tried those medications or whether her condition was too far along to respond to those meds or treatments.Cathleen Kaveny, cited in the video, seemed to be trying to draw a parallel with this abortion and the removal of a fallopian tube containing a fetus in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, which is allowed by the Church. (Cathleen, please correct me if I'm wrong.) I infer that this did not satisfy the video man because what was removed was not an organ gone awry that happened to contain a baby, but the baby itself.Clearly, the hospital could not remove the mother's lungs or heart. Could the hospital have removed the woman's womb that just happened to contain the baby and satisfy Catholic teaching that way? I doubt it, since the affected organ (lungs) were not the ones containing the baby.I think the only Catholic solution here would be to keep the mother as comfortable as possible and allow her to die with her baby.I don't think there's any question that Sr. McBride has excommunicated herself according to Catholic teaching as it stands. To say that, in what sounds like an impossible situation, she has "fallen from grace" of God Almighty, seems like incredible hubris.One of the many reasons I'm a bad Catholic and don't receive anymore.

Thanks David and Gerelyn,You learn something every day. BTW David, the Jewish faith has a long history of prohibitions against abortion ref. Gorman, Abortion and the early Church Wipf and Stock, 1998 and my book, A Love for Life. Wipf and Stock, 2008.

Oh, I do love the chalk cartoon! (Sarcasm? You bet'cha!) Note that, rather than help the woman who had fallen down after she "cut herself off from grace" (itself a ridiculous notion--I'd go so far as to call it blasphemous,) the cartoon bishop wags his cartoon finger and folds his cartoon hands to pray cartoon prayers to his cartoon God.Hmmm, it reminds me of a parable...But yes, the cartoon speaks volumes--some truer than the text.

I share Unagidon's concern that the speaker in the video does not blink. I wonder if he's animatronic, or bad CGI? If he's real, he should beware of drying out his corneas.If he's CGI, then the ALL should get better producers Pixar does more morally nuanced productions--"Up," e.g., and the surprisingly rich "Toy Story 3."

BTW David, the Jewish faith has a long history of prohibitions against abortion ref. Gorman, Abortion and the early Church Wipf and Stock, 1998 and my book, A Love for Life. Wipf and Stock, 2008.Dennis,I was speaking only of abortion in cases where the mother's life is at serious risk. To the best of my knowledge, as close as Jewish and Catholic thought may be in other cases of abortion, Judaism has never contended that the unborn child's life was of equal value to the mother's, and that if an abortion is the only way to save the life of the mother, then both the mother and the unborn child must be allowed to die.I think I was in error for a number of reasons in bringing up the Didache, but if everybody else is going to overlook it, I am not going to point out where I was wrong!

No, Jean, I was trying to say that both clearing the fallopian tube with methotrexate and this sort of situation, and crainiotomy do not count as an intentional "abortion." With Grisez, I do not hold that the physical structure of the act is determinative of intent: rather intent is tracking the immediate purpose of the human act --which is by its nature a purposive act. (That's why the serial killer making the identical cut as the surgeon don't engage in the same human act.I think the tradition always holds out the possibility of internal critique--thinking more deeply and soundly about particular cases. That's what happened with Ligouri and cooperation with evil. I believe that's possible here too.At the same time, I also believe it's necessary to prevent people with mistaken notions of what's morally necessary from harming others (by act or omission). So I would not allow a Catholic hospital to operate an emergency room if it it was going to let women in these situations die, any more than I'd allow Christian Scientists to operate an emergency room. I think it's essential to clarify what the hospital will do in the next case.

More about "The Cardinal" -- the 1963 movie version of the 1950 novel: "The Vatican bankrolled some of the film, and the Vatican liaison was a young Joseph Ratzinger".

The USCCB's Committee on Doctrine has issued a statement in response to the Phoenix abortion case: am grateful for this statement.

With all respect to the committee on doctrine, I see nothing that convinces me that Aquinas was wrong when he wrote:Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of ones life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor. Therefore this act, since ones intention is to save ones own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being, as far as possible. Summa theologica Part II.2, Question 64, Article 7: Whether it is lawful to kill a man in self-defense?

Jim McKay--The official position of the Church on this is that the child is not an aggressor. But even if it isn't, it seems to me that it is the moral equivalent of an aggressor, so the argument should apply. The child causes the ill health of the mother, and even though the child doesn't intend to threaten the mother, in fact it does.In war, an enemy soldier might in good conscience threaten you to kill you, and thus being an innocent threat to your life. Yet the official position of the Church is that he can be treated as an aggressor, even though he does not intend to do something wrong. It seems to me the moral status of the child is no different: it is an innocent threat to the mother's life.

Well, about that statement from the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, when they cite JP II writing "It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision [...] is not made for purely selfish reasons [...], but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family." -- he forgot to add "important values such as her life". In the text that is quoted, he does not seem to have considered that possibility.And when the statement says: "The first scenario describes a direct abortion. The surgery directly targets the life of the unborn child. [...] The surgery is likely to improve the functioning of the organ or organs, but only in an indirect way, i.e., by lessening the overall demands placed upon the organ or organs, since the burden posed by the pregnancy will be removed. The abortion is the means by which a reduced strain upon the organ or organs is achieved." -- they forgot to add "thus saving the mother's life."So it appears that the statement forgot to put the mother's life into the equation. It may cover most cases, but it is incomplete with regard to the specifics of the Phoenix case.

I am grateful for this statement.Stephen,I was interested (and relieved) to see that the statement you brought to our attention is not a ruling on the Phoenix case and leaves open the possibility that Sister Margaret McBride and the ethics panel made a correct decision. According to an article in America, the target of the surgery approved by Sister McBride and the ethics panel was the placenta. "The placenta produces the hormones necessary to increase the blood volume in pregnant women; in this case, the additional volume put an intolerable strain on the womans already weak heart." It was the placenta that had to be removed, and the death of the unborn infant was not directly caused or willed. The reasoning seems to me at least as sound as the reasoning that justifies a partial or full salpingectomy in the case of ectopic pregnancy.

David, interesting take. Though I never find legalistic thinking particularly helpful in situations where both a mother and baby will die without some action helpful, think you can look at the placenta in two ways:Is it part of the mother that happens to contain a fetus, so it can be removed like a fallopian tube with an ectopic pregnancy as in an indirect abortion?Or is it part of the baby (which is how I would construe it; it is expelled after birth), in which case removing it and the baby would constitute a direct abortion?Pope John II's statement and that of the bishops who quote him in the link leave the hard words unsaid: If treatments do not work, and the only option left is a direct abortion, then the mother must die. Sad, tragic, worthy of our prayers. But die she must.I presume that if the mother were to die, but could be placed on artificial life support to bring the fetus to a viable stage as has happened sometimes when mothers have strokes or accident that render them brain dead, that would be permissible.Church teaching seems to be aimed at protecting the most defenseless forms of human life, whether they constitute full human being-ness or not. Since the fetus is not in a position to make its wishes known, whereas the mother, in no less danger of losing her life than the fetus, can speak and make decisions, she would be less defenseless and less in need of protection. Which boils down to being more expendable.What am I missing here?

Jean--I agree your characterization of the placenta. Though a remarkable physiological and morphological tissue that provides the vital two-way conduit between developing fetus and mother, there is a placenta-womb barrier that does not allow a complete connection between the fetus and the mother. Nutrients dissolved in the mother's plasma, and oxygen carried by her red blood cells, can traverse the barrier (and, conversely, carbon dioxide and waste products (e.g., urea) can pass from the fetus to the mother), but the barrier when functioning normally prevents the mixing of the mother's and the fetus's blood. The reason is obvious--not all blood types can be mixed without very serious, often fatal, consequences. The only place where I'd disagree with you is your characterization of the fetus as not yet "constitut[ing] full human being-ness." From the time of conception, the embryo and fetus possess full human being-ness. An embryo-fetus-child-adult has the same unique configuration of DNA throughout its entire existence, and the DNA is genotypically "human."I don't think the issue is human being-ness, it's whether all of the developmental stages of a human being should be recognized as a "person" under the law. As the law now stands, the unborn are not persons entitled to the law's protection, but laws change for all kinds of reasons (slavery, child labor laws, moratoria on deep sea oil drilling, etc.), and I think that the unborn will one day--when a tipping point is reached as to people's perceptions--be regarded as persons under the law.

David, I understand the efforts you are making to soften the effect of the Church's otherwise incredibly harsh doctrine, but I think you (or America) are engaged in a case of wishful thinking. Second, if the "placenta" theory is deemed to be "acceptable" sort of like removing the fallopian tube, all I can say is, it's another victory for deception and denial that excuses the Church from fully grappling with the unique biological nature of pregnancy and the moral complexities that flow from it. Since a determination to impose this rule would be a disaster for Catholic hospitals, like St. Joseph's, that run high risk pregnancy units (their website doesn't have an asterisk that says your options might be limited due to Catholic theology), I have to believe that a lot of doctors are going to funnel their truly high risk moms to non-Catholic hospitals if they can. No one should have to worry about whether the Church will consider "removing the placenta" to be an acceptable workaround, however dishonest it seems to people like me.

Leaving aside this particular case, there are other questions that are not settled under American law. I myself do not think personhood settles this issue. Why does the mother have a duty to provide bodily life support to the fetus at great harm to herself when there is absolutely no other instance of a parent being required to do so. If a pint of blood is required to save a child, there is no requirement that a parent give it to the child under American law.The church's answer seems to be that women have a duty to do this because they're women. That's not an answer that flies under American law.

Jean says: Or is it part of the baby (which is how I would construe it; it is expelled after birth), in which case removing it and the baby would constitute a direct abortion?William says: I agree your characterization of the placenta.There are at least two cases in which there is a placenta without a baby: (1) molar pregnancy, in which a genetic error takes place in fertilization, resulting in a "pregnancy" without a developing embryo, and (2) missed miscarriage, in which the unborn infant dies in the womb but is not expelled, and the "pregnancy" continues. That would indicate to me that a placenta is not part of the baby. It is more akin to the uterus, and if there is something like cancer of the uterus, the uterus can be removed whether or not a baby is present. It seems to me the same argument can be made regarding the placenta.Also, what does it mean to be "part of the baby"? Fetal surgery can be performed to remove a tumor, and the tumor is part of the baby. Certainly an arm or a leg is part of a baby, but if for some sound medical reason it had to be removed before birth, that would not be prohibited. If by "part of the baby" you mean "essential to keeping the baby alive," then the uterus is part of the baby. It seems to me that targeting the placenta in the Phoenix case is more defensible that targeting the fallopian tube in the case of ectopic pregnancy. If the embryo in the case of an ectopic pregnancy were not going to continue to grow, there would be no reason to remove the fallopian tube. The danger to the mother is really the embryo's development, which must be stopped. I think the removal of a placenta to prevent its hormonal effects in a woman with pulmonary hypertension is a more plausible application of the law of double effect than the removal of a fallopian tube in the case of ectopic pregnancy.Personally, when a mother's life is in danger from a pregnancy, I don't believe it is necessary to invoke the law of double effect or other rather esoteric principles of moral theology to justify saving the mother's life. However, the Phoenix case is a Catholic controversy, and I think the actions of Sister Margaret McBride and the rest of the hospital ethics panel are defensible based on well established principles of Catholic moral thought.

Thank you for the link to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine. This would seem to be a very important development, in that it raises the defense of the decision from that of an individual bishop (who might be engaging in idiosyncratic reasoning) to that of (at least by implication) the entire college of bishops.

it raises the defense of the decision from that of an individual bishop (who might be engaging in idiosyncratic reasoning) to that of (at least by implication) the entire college of bishops.Jim,I disagree. The document does not take the side of Bishop Olmsted in the Phoenix case. The particulars of the case are not discussed, nor is the rationale for the decision of the hospital ethics panel. The document restates what well informed Catholics already knew about abortion. Direct abortion is impermissible, indirect abortion is permissible under certain circumstances. Nowhere in the document does it say the Phoenix abortion was a direct abortion.

William, I understand that the Church does not see a distinction between the fetus and the mother's human-ness. I also understand that the Church would see the direct abortion as a murder, whereas the mother's death--and almost surely the fetus's--would simply be the sad result of a medical condition. So the upshot is that it's better for the mother and baby to die of the medical condition than to actually murder one of them.What I object to about the video is that it focuses solely on the destruction of the fetus and ignores the spiritual, mental, and physical suffering of the mother. It also purports to know where Sr. McBride stands with God; as far as I know the Church can only say where someone stands with any particular teaching of the Church.Yes, I realize that my distinction between human life and human being does not tally with Church teaching, and it is something I struggle with. However, I do object to the implication--if that's what you're implying--that this puts me in the same camp as those who promote slavery, child labor, eugenics, whale slaughter, and drill, baby, drill.

Thanks to all for insights and takes, gets me pondering, as medically ignorant and Canon Law, dogma, doctrine, etc... distinterested as I am. I'm one of the millions of simple minds and hearts in the pew with the forest through the trees vision, of saving the life that could have actually been saved.Btw, was surprised by this sad assessment from Fr. Joe Girzone, always loved his Joshua books...

David Nickol has a good point. The conclusion of the USCCB statement may be sweeping, but it is clear from the discussion preceding it its reach is actually incomplete: the document forgot the (rare) cases when the pregnancy is causing the death of the mother. Catholics believe in the sanctity of human life, so such an important fact can not be left aside as ancillary. So the rules in the statement cannot be applied to the Phoenix case.

Sensus Fidei,Father Joseph Girzone writes as if he has not read any of the excellent articles on the Phoenix case in America, The National Catholic Reporter, and First Things (to name a few).And very strangely, he says, "Performing the abortion is done by crushing the skull of the fetus, thereby directly killing the unborn baby. No matter how one looks at that, if we are honest it is barbaric." We don't know how the abortion was performed in Phoenix, but we do know it was an 11-week-old fetus, which would be about about 1.75 to 2.4 inches long and weigh about three-tenths of an ounce. The only reason to deliberately crush the skull of a fetus during an abortion would be if it were too large to be easily extracted. This would not be the case until much later in pregnancy (say, after 21 weeks).

Jean: I, too, make a distinction between fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, baby, and I know that the distinction between human life and human being does not tally with current church teaching. I cannot embrace the personhood of the fertilized egg and it leaves me as perplexed as, say, the incredible story of the resurrection of Lazarus. I understand that I am supposed to believe both but find myself incapable to assent and am reduced to silence. Maybe we need grace to be able to see that a fertilized egg is a person just as much as any person on the street.

Jean--I wasn't implying anything, but if I created the impression that I was, I apologize. I limited my comment to the status of an embryo/fetus as possessing, to use your term, "human being-ness" and how that issue and personhood, while they have some overlap, are distinct. That's all I intended to address with my post, and I certainly was not characterizing your position in any way as being in any "camp." My references to slavery, child labor. etc. were merely illustrations of instances where the law has done an aboutface as society's perception of the issues changed. I think that aboutface will one day take place as to the unborn, but I am also fully cognizant of, and struggle with, the primary other interest you raised, i.e., the mother's interest. In addition, I try never to make ad hominem criticisms--though I may slip at times--preferring instead to argue the issue. And besides, I would never imply anything with you, Jean, because I'm still trying to convince you of the literary worth of a certain British author's 20th century trilogy. ;)David-- Re the placenta...You make a number of good points, but on a purely anatomical basis, the placenta develops from embryonic tissues (though the uterus undergoes changes where the placenta connects), and its DNA structure would be the same as that of the embryo's somatic cells. More scientific evidence that the placenta itself is part of the embryo/fetus is that significant numbers of parents are having umbilical cord blood preserved for possible use later in the child/adult's life because the cord blood contains stem cells that have proven useful in treatments for leukemia, for example.

Thanks, David, for your opinion on Fr. Girzone's take. You relayed my concerns too. I even wondered if it was really he, seems so different from what I inferred from his TLC, creative novels. Couldn't inquire as comments aren't enabled there.It was pretty much a very odd mix of factors he tried to force together, while ignoring the critical points in question. I wonder if he has been ministering lately as he sounds disconnected from laypeople and their realities.

"The document does not take the side of Bishop Olmsted in the Phoenix case. The particulars of the case are not discussed, nor is the rationale for the decision of the hospital ethics panel. The document restates what well informed Catholics already knew about abortion. Direct abortion is impermissible, indirect abortion is permissible under certain circumstances. Nowhere in the document does it say the Phoenix abortion was a direct abortion."Hi, David, While I agree with you that the Committee on Doctirne statement doesn't deal in great depth with the circumstances of the particular case, I'm not sure how else to intepret the statement except as a confirmation that Bishop Olmsted approached the case from the correct doctrinal principles. Compare the bishop's explanation of his decision to the Committee on Doctrine's statement. It seems they're very much in accord.If there were doctrinal principles that would lead to Sister McBride's decision, this statement would have been the opportunity to point them out.

I have just read, first, the USCCB's Committee on doctrine's June 23, 2010 document to which Stephen M. O'Brien provided the link, and second Richard Alleva's review of the film "Please Give" in the June 18 issue of Commonweal. I haven't seen this film, but I am struck by what Alleva says about it. The film certainly presents a very different view about how one ought to try to address hard ethical issues from the way the Committee on doctrine addressed the Phoenix case.Would that there was some evidence that the USCCB Committee had tried to meld there two very different ways of addressing these hard cases. Of course, if you believe that all moral issues have one uniquely right answer and that you possess the analytic resources with which to derive those right answers, then obviously you would have no reason to look anywhere else. Why would you complicate things! For some of us, though, there are many, many issues in life that strike us as tragic. Tragic issues are those for which all available responses are bad and there is no clear way of assessing which of them is unequivocally "least bad." Phoenix, I believe, is one of them.Reflecting on tragic cases, Alber Camus concluded that when we confront them the most we can aspire to is what he called "reasonable culpability." I think he's right about this.