Tuesday 20 November 2012

Pius XII's teaching on double-effect did not allow induced delivery of non-viable children

Further to SPUC's statement and my blog on the sorrowful death of Savita Halappanar and her unborn child, Anthony McCarthy, SPUC's education and publications manager, has written a letter to The Catholic Herald,  explaining that the principle of double-effect, specifically as taught by Pope Pius XII, does not justify induced delivery of non-viable children. The Catholic Herald has kindly given us permission to publish the full text of Anthony's letter - see at the end below.

Anthony's letter is very timely, considering that today the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has issued a statement in response to the Savita case, in which they re-state the important principle of double effect. But, as I blogged last week, the Church's Magisterium made clear over a century ago that double effect does not allow induced delivery of non-viable children, where such delivery is itself intended. Saving the mother’s life or health is a further intention (a good intention, which should be pursued in other ways) but the immediate intention and immediate effect of induction is the termination of the pregnancy. In the case of a non-viable child, this is abortion.

By the way of summary, here are some key points about the Savita case:
  • the full details of this case are not yet known, so we must await the investigations which have been launched before we can make definitive comments
  • miscarriage and infection can be managed by proper medical treatment
  • abortion is not medicine - it does not treat or cure any pathology
  • many women have died from infection or other causes because of supposedly safe and legal abortions
Letter by Anthony McCarthy to The Catholic Herald, 18 November 2012:
SIR - The sad and painful death of Savita Halappanavar, in a country whose maternal health record far excels that of Britain, is prompting discussion of abortion definitions in regard to pre-viability induced labour. It is worth getting this issue clear, even if, as some doctors believe, it is doubtful whether removing the baby earlier would have saved Savita.

Of interest here are the words of Pius XII in his Allocution to Large Families in which he refers to life-saving interventions on a pregnant woman, "independently of her pregnant condition" , which are permitted, even if they have the unintended, but inevitable, effect of causing the death of her baby. These words were cited by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as recently as 2009.

In contrast, an intention specifically to expel a pre-viable child, perhaps without the intention to kill the child, is impossible to justify, as witnessed by Church teaching over the past hundred years and more (carefully tracked by John Connery S.J. in his book Abortion: the Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective). Abortion is not always defined by the Church in terms of deliberate killing, but sometimes in terms of deliberate expulsion or "acceleration of birth" before viability, which has been excluded even for the good end of promoting a woman’s health. Good ends must be promoted by good means, which good doctors can and must employ.

Where the woman’s own body needs treatment of a kind which does not target the presence of her child, all would agree that such treatment ought to be provided. That could include the giving of antibiotics or blood transfusions, the clamping of the woman’s blood vessels to prevent bleeding, hysterectomies for uterine cancer and, for ectopic pregnancy, the removal of a damaged fallopian tube. Irrespective of the unborn child’s continued presence, the damaged tube or uterus would need to be removed: an operation which targets the woman's body alone, and is therefore legitimate, despite its impact on the child.

In short, it is extremely important to distinguish between deliberately abortifacient procedures which are aimed at removing a pre-viable child (though in practice they also require a harmful separation of foetal tissues) and procedures which may result in a baby's removal via miscarriage as a genuine side-effect of treatment aimed to help the pregnant woman (in the words of Pius XII) "independently of her pregnant condition". Foetal removal should not be deliberately intended, any more than foetal death.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony McCarthy
Publications and Education Manager
Comments on this blog? Email them to johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk
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