Catholic Church: Double Effect is wrong

Well, they didn’t really say that. But they effectively stated as much when they stripped an Arizona hospital of its affiliation with the church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In fact, the woman was virtually guaranteed to die if she continued to carry the 11 week old fetus much longer. Now keep that in mind:

Double effect is the ethical principle which says something is ethical so long as it conforms to these four conditions:

1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent.
2. The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect.
3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

This case in Arizona is textbook. The first condition is satisfied because the act was to save the mother’s life. The second condition is satisfied because the means is the removal of a physical condition, not the explicit murder of another person. The third condition is satisfied because the doctors only want to save the mother’s life, not destroy the fetus. The fourth condition is satisfied because even if the fetus is a human, the mother’s life must be equally considered.

In fact, double effect isn’t really important here because the fetus is not a human being, but I digress.

The church stripped the hospital of its status (and, really, that’s a good thing anyway) because it thinks the woman should have risked certain death (which isn’t really a risk, now is it?). We know the end result would be the death of her and her fetus. How that is considered good is a mystery.

And that raises another point, doesn’t it? What methodology, what guidelines, what anything does the Bible (or any holy book) offer in this situation? One person unfamiliar with basic, classic philosophical examples couldn’t come up with an answer. (In fact, he might say the problem here was just logistics.) It doesn’t look like the Catholic Church has an answer either.

It’s unfortunate that the hospital says it will still follow Catholic Church guidelines (not Biblical guidelines…since they do not exist), but this is an overall good incident. While I hate to see the sort of irrational arguments that say the saving of one life is really just abortion of another, it’s fantastic that the Church has severed its formal ties with an institution committed to actually helping people. I hope that whenever necessary the hospital will not hesitate to continue saving living humans.

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One Response

  1. Clearly the Catholic Church there is pro-killing pregnant women.

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