In this case, members of the hospital's medical team clearly felt that they could not save both the life of the mother and the baby, so they made the decision to end the young woman's early-term pregnancy so that at least one of the two could live. Clearly, they had evidence that the mother would not survive without their intervention and that if her life had not been protected, two lives would have been lost instead of one. The doctors and ethics committee decided that the best they could do was to cause the least harm.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that when dogma gets in the way of our best thinking, we may well be sacrificing ourselves to narrow thinking and knee-jerk reactions and, in this case, the loss of two lives instead of one. The loss of any life is a great sorrow; but the loss of a life that could have been spared, such as that of the young woman in this case, is a tragedy. Let us hope that in the future clearer minds and hearts by people of faith will prevail in such decisions.
The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
What an incredibly thorny issue, and there may be no right answer. To begin with, as a progressive Protestant, I am not opposed to abortion. There are better forms of birth control, of course; but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, I am pro-choice. I believe no government or no church official should force a woman either to give birth or to have an abortion.
As far as government stepping in to save the life of a woman in a Catholic hospital, part of me wants to say, "Do it!" But another part of me thinks this is a church-and-state issue, and I am definitely a supporter of church/state separation. So maybe the government does not have a right to force a Catholic hospital to do what the government believes is the right thing.
This issue reminds me of a topic that the In Theory crowd has commented on before: whether it matters what your doctor believes. In this case, it looks as though it matters very much what the doctor believes, and certainly what those who run the hospital believe. I personally think the Arizona hospital made the right decision in saving the life of the mother, but in doing so, it appears that the hospital went against what Roman Catholics believe generally. So it does not surprise me that the hospital's Catholic status has been withdrawn. But it's a sad case all around — sad because the hospital is being punished for doing what it thought was the right thing, and sad because those in power couldn't show a little flexibility in this situation.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
As past vice-president and five-year board member of Avenues Pregnancy Clinic in Glendale, I have a very strong opinion on the issue of abortion. The question always comes down to this: "What is it?" Of course, it's always a human being, as human beings only conceive human beings. So the clinic serves as an alternative to killing the smallest human beings among us by providing medical attention and personal support for gals in crisis situations. But having a dim view of abortion doesn't mean I oppose abortive measures absolutely, and the case mentioned in this week's question is the primary exception that pro-life people in general will agree is justified.
St. Joseph's was between a rock and a hard place in this one, and some leniency ought to be forthcoming from the Roman Catholic credentialing committee. Whenever the difficult choice must be made between saving two lives balanced in this situation, the life of the mother takes precedence. Why? Because a grown woman is established; she is mother, wife, sister, aunt, niece, daughter, employee, etc., to the rest of the community. The woman is a solid fact.
The unborn, while an equally valuable human being, is a hopeful on-deck. If all goes right, the born child will take her first breath and go on to live a fruitful life, but 80,000 babies die annually before their first birthday, and most of those are preemies. Many don't make it through the delivery itself. Rather than possibly losing two lives, the doctors chose the best survival candidate for their saving efforts. Their religious convictions may preclude elective abortions, as do mine, but this was no convenience, this was a genuine emergency. They are accountable to God, and I am confident they did good.
If an ethic is believed to be divine, what should rightfully interfere with its expression, the government? Do we want the feds forcing rejection of God's will upon any institution? I would advise the ACLU to stay out of it, the federal government to watch itself, and the Catholic Diocese to repent.
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Editor's note: This is a corrected version of the article. The original question stated the emergency surgery took place in the 12th week of the woman's pregnancy.