Re-reading, I have been struck by the quality of discussion in the Phoenix mother and baby case: A distressing decision. At the time of my writing this, the majority of you lean to the hospital’s side. But there are contributors who are concerned about precedent, or about how our opponents might use such a decision against us. And one contributor notes that there have been a number of issues in which the hospital appears to have ignored Catholic teaching. But I wonder whether anyone will be willing to give a full blooded defence of settled Catholic teaching here.
It would seem that we are inclined to regard sufficient motive as an excuse for a chosen act. Orthodox moral teaching maintains that if the act is wicked in itself no motive whatsoever can justify it.
To test this further I want to propose a problem which looks again at the question of the ectopic pregnancy which I have already mentioned. On July 9 2009 I was writing about the proportionalist approach to moral decisions. I quote a couple of my paragraphs:
“And a human act can only be judged as a whole: that is, taking into account circumstances and intentions. Thus we subscribe to the principle that abortion is gravely wrong. But we accept that, in the case of a pregnancy which develops in a fallopian tube, it is legitimate to remove the diseased tube although that leads immediately to the death of the baby as a regrettable, but proportionate, side effect.
This principle of “double effect” is well established. But it would not cover the circumstances where it is medically possible to remove the baby from the tube, leaving the woman with an intact tube – in some cases her only one. Again the baby dies. We correctly class this as abortion, but is it justifiable when the baby is destined to die in either case and the alternative procedure preserves the mother’s fertility? I leave you to think about that.”
While this is similar in some ways to the Phoenix case, an important difference remains: the mother’s life is not in question here. The complexity lies in the two ways of dealing with the problem. One requires the direct killing of the baby to preserve the mother’s fertility (I noted the possibility that she might have only one fallopian tube): the other not only kills the baby indirectly but endangers or removes fertility.
I think this realistic dilemma brings out strongly the contrast between what appears to be commonsense and the requirements of Catholic orthodoxy. Would this set a precedent, and what would it do to the Catholic position of abortion where the medical interests of the mother are pressing?
Now, how about Captain Oates?
(If you want to see the quoted passage above in context, the easiest way is to put Morals in proportion into the search box.)