Inducing the Truth: The “Soft Abortion” Policy of St. Joseph’s Hospital

Charles Lewis of the National Post wrote a column over the weekend about Fr. Michael Prieur, a theologian and medical advisor to St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in London Ontario.  It was prompted by an an eye-opening exposé by LifeSiteNews.com about some of the scandalous advice Fr. Prieur has been giving as a theologian and Catholic ethicist to couples about “early inductions”.  “Early inductions”, in case you are wondering, is a gentle way for the professional euphemists in our society to talk about abortion without actually saying the word. 

Charles Lewis tries to present Fr. Prieur in a favourable light, and of course, to the ignorant among his readership, he’s done a commendable job. However, the facts and the brutal truth, both about Fr. Prieur’s moral theology and the euphemism of “early inductions”, indicate a different story.

Let me take a moment here to comment on some of the more salient points in Mr. Lewis’ article.

A pro-life Catholic Web site, LifeSiteNews.com, launched a stinging attack and accused Fr. Prieur, along with colleagues at the Diocese of London and St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital, of secretly performing abortions over the past two decades.

The story, launched late last year by an online group whose views are considered extreme by many Catholics, went off like a bomb.

Bishop Ronald Fabbro wrote to the Vatican to say he was ordering a full review, though the Vatican had yet to express any concern. Seminarians at St. Peter’s Seminary, where Fr. Prieur teaches, were asking questions. A London anti-abortion group received calls from across the country trying to find out what the real story was. Fr. Prieur is still fielding calls.

Why is it necessary to call LifeSiteNews.com “extreme”?  Indeed, if it was so “extreme” why would it be necessary for the Bishop to order a “full review” of Fr. Prieur’s actions?   While Mr. Lewis is certainly within his journalistic boundaries to point out the general ignorance, and, in some cases, hostility to legitimate Catholic news sources, it is disingenuous to paint a news organization who has done nothing but fairly report on what the Catholic Church teaches on matters of sexual ethics as “extreme”.   He might as well be saying that “many Catholics” view the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “extreme”, which is closer to the truth, although, admittedly, it doesn’t serve Mr. Lewis’ brush quite the same way for his article.

St. Joseph’s performs early inductions when the fetus has a lethal anomaly, a situation that poses grave risks for the mother and child. One of the most common anomalies is called anencephaly, a disorder in which a major portion of the brain and scalp of the fetus fails to form. There are other situations in which vital organs – lungs and kidneys, for example – fail to develop, making life for more than a few minutes or hours impossible after delivery. The closer the fetus moves to term, the more likely there will result in another serious condition that could seriously injure or kill the mother, especially with anencephaly. One-third of the deaths of pregnant women is caused by lethal fetal anomalies.

Actually, it is not true that anencephaly poses grave risks to the mother.  According to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the diagnosis of anencephaly in the fetus poses a slightly increased medical risk to the mother. (Source) Nor is it true, as it is assumed throughout Mr. Lewis’ article, that these babies will die immediately or even for certain. An ethics report issued by the American Medical Association in 1994 (CEJA Report 5 – I-94)  admitted that ten percent of such babies survive for more than a week after birth.  Moreover, if Mr. Lewis had taken the time to do some research by searching the “extreme” LifeSiteNews.com website, he would have also read this interesting story published just last summer of a baby who had survived (at the time of the report) for a year and a half!

But Fr. Prieur worked out during that very first moral struggle, 24 years ago, that it was not abortion because the child would not be killed in the womb, but rather, delivered early…So I decided to travel around the world. I consulted with theologians. I went to Rome, Belgium, India, Australia. Each place I went I said, ‘I need one hour with your top moral theologian.’ Eighty per cent were in agreement with what we were doing at St. Joseph’s. The other 20% said it was only lawful [under Church teaching] if the woman was about to die – the risk factors have to be that serious.”

Fr. Michael Prieur has had a long history of unorthodox beliefs in the area of sexual ethics, including his support of the infamous Winnipeg Statement which effectively opened the floodgates of abortion in Canada through its dissent from Humanae Vitae. Furthermore, Fr. Prieur’s moral theology is rooted in proportionalism, which maintains that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition against certain type of behaviour or actions which are inherently evil.  In 1993, Pope John Paul II condemned this thinking in his monumental encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

But as part of the effort to work out such a rational morality (for this reason it is sometimes called an “autonomous morality” ) there exist false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action. Some authors do not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the will is involved in the concrete choices which it makes: these choices are a condition of its moral goodness and its being ordered to the ultimate end of the person. Others are inspired by a notion of freedom which prescinds from the actual conditions of its exercise, from its objective reference to the truth about the good, and from its determination through choices of concrete kinds of behaviour. According to these theories, free will would neither be morally subjected to specific obligations nor shaped by its choices, while nonetheless still remaining responsible for its own acts and for their consequences. This “teleologism”, as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called — according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought — “consequentialism” or “proportionalism”. The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the “greater good” or “lesser evil” actually possible in a particular situation.   (Veritatis Splendor, 75)

In fact, we see proportionalism all over the ethical guidelines of the hospital in this case.  St. Joseph’s policy on the matter states: “An early induction may be permitted after viability for a proportionate reason which can include grave physical, psychological or psychiatric considerations.”

It is only now, some 40 years later, that the bishops of Canada have finally begun to shake off the pastoral disaster of the Winnipeg Statement and the failed proportionalistic philosophy undergirding it, and declare their unequivocal support for Rome’s absolute teaching against contraception (and abortion).  Fr. Prieur would be well advised to update his understanding of Catholic teaching and take their lead.

On Dec. 11, 2008, LifeSite ran an explosive story under the headline: “Exclusive: Twenty Years of Eugenic Abortion at Ontario Catholic Hospital.”…”We’re smarting under the article,” Fr. Prieur said. “We’re pro-life. Early induction is not abortion.”

Fr. Prieur is “smarting under the article” because the article was an accurate description of what he has been doing these past 35 years and it’s very clear that the euphemism of “early induction” just isn’t holding up with Catholics. If a medical procedure is inducing babies with the express purpose and intent of ending their lives (even prematurely) for so-called “proportionate reasons”, that practice qualifies as abortion.

Father William McGrattan, rector of St. Peter’s Seminary, and another member of St. Joseph’s ethics committee, concedes there are some people within the pro-life movement who come to a “premature conclusion and judgment that this is direct abortion.” “But the action being done is not an action that is direct killing of the child,” he said. “It is an action that is trying to recognize that the life of this child is dying and we’re trying to support that process in a natural way and balance that with the complications to the health of the mother.”

Excuse me?  Trying to support the process in a “natural way”? What kind of “natural way” is that?  By definition, “induction” is something OUTSIDE of the natural order, otherwise it would not be called induction.  It is morally unlawful to use another human being – whether that is killing him or ending his life prematurely (even by one second) – so that another good may occur.  In other words, there are some acts (i.e. “early induction”) which are disordered by their very nature and no intention or consequence (however positive) can change their disorder, as John Paul II said in his encyclical:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”. (Veritatis Splendor, 80)

Reformulating the moral scenario at the hospital, consider this situation:  Two men stand before you. The first man is going to die within a week. The second man is sick and in need of an organ which only the first man can supply, but he must have it now to avoid serious complications in the future. Should we “induce” the first man to his death to help the second man? After all, he’s going to die in a matter of days and the second man can be saved serious problems in the future if things are “expedited” along.

For the euphemists on this question of “early induction” of unborn babies, the answer to the above hypothetical scenario is in the affirmative.  It is no surprise, therefore, that this is the type of thinking which leads to euthanizing our elderly population. It’s all about squeezing out the undesirables and the consequent sacrifices from our meaningless lives.  It’s all about eugenicizing us.

There are no specific Church guidelines in Canada when it comes to early induction. So LifeSite looked to guidelines laid out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. National Catholic Bioethics Center to draw a judgment about what was going on at St. Joseph’s. It cited Directive 45 of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which states: “Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.” The St. Joseph’s guidelines for early induction says the same thing: “Procedures whose immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability are considered direct abortions.” The hospital’s guidelines also tackle the extremely rare situation in which intervention is necessary before the fetus is viable. “Medical treatment is permitted to prevent or cure a grave illness in a pregnant woman that cannot be deferred until the unborn child is viable even though the pregnancy may be endangered … even though they will result in the foreseen but unintended death of the unborn child.”

So, in other words, “early induction” is only performed on “pre-viable”, disabled babies, but not on viable, healthy babies.  Is this not a form of eugenics?  Of course it is.

But just to be clear, the Catholic Church’s position is unmistakable.  In 1996, the US bishops issued a statement titled “Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly” that declared, “it is clear that before ‘viability’ it is never permitted to terminate the gestation of an anencephalic child as the means of avoiding psychological or physical risks to the mother. Nor is such termination permitted after ‘viability’ if early delivery endangers the child’s life due to complications of prematurity. Only if the complications of the pregnancy result in a life-threatening pathology of the mother, may the treatment of this pathology be permitted even at a risk to the child, and then only if the child’s death is not a means to treating the mother“.

This, of course, correctly draws on Humanae Vitae where the Church definitively proclaimed the absolute prohibition on abortion, in particular so-called “therapeutic abortion”. 

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.  Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (Humanae Vitae, 14)

This “therapeutic” justification of “soft abortion” (i.e. inducing the child’s death) is the same one that is being used by St. Joseph’s.  What is the MEDICAL REASON for inducing the child?  It’s certainly not in the child’s best interest since it would hasten death, and it’s most likely not in the mother’s interest either, all things considered.

The Church uses the same kind of absolute language about the inviolability of the child from the moment of conception in other documents dealing with sexual ethics and the transmission of life. There is therefore no mistake or confusion on the question: 

From the moment of conception, the life of every human being is to be respected in an absolute way because man is the only creature on earth that God has “wished for himself ” and the spiritual soul of each man is “immediately created” by God;  his whole being bears the image of the Creator. Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves “the creative action of God”  and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being. Human procreation requires on the part of the spouses responsible collaboration with the fruitful love of God;  the gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union. 

 …

Thus the fruit of human generation, from the first moment of its existence, that is to say from the moment the zygote has formed, demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality. The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. This doctrinal reminder provides the fundamental criterion for the solution of the various problems posed by the development of the biomedical sciences in this field: since the embryo must be treated as a person, it must also be defended in its integrity, tended and cared for, to the extent possible, in the same way as any other human being as far as medical assistance is concerned. (Donum Vitae, 1)

The Catholic Church’s teaching is very clear and very simple.  It involves accepting the principle that every human being has eternal and unfathomable and timeless dignity. To deprive or diminish the life of a human person even for one-millionth of a second – and even if it were to advance another good, no matter how wonderful or commendable – would be an attack on the Creator and His Creature WHO IS MADE IN HIS IMAGE FROM THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION and whom He loved from the beginning of its existence.

One need not be a bioethicist or a theologian or a bishop or a main stream media reporter to understand this teaching and its application to this case.

Sadly, as this case of St. Joseph’s hospital aptly demonstrates, these days, judging by the kind of advice that is being given and being permitted to be given, it is safer for one’s immortal soul to be none of the above.

John Pacheco
The Rosarium

2 thoughts on “Inducing the Truth: The “Soft Abortion” Policy of St. Joseph’s Hospital

  1. As we move forward from the pastoral errors of the Winnipeg Statement and the CCCB’s full support of Humanae Vitae, there seems to be a lot of thawing out and mopping up to be done from the past. May I suggest that this problem with Fr Prieur’s actions and the actions of St Joseph’s Hospital in the London diocese is just one of the tips of the iceberg throughout Canada. I hope Bp Fabbro’s request for assistance is granted and that it is supported by other Canadian Bishops so that it helps any Canadian diocese find this path to the teaching authority of our Mother church which the CCCB proposes to support ………to their benefit and to the benefit of all the faithful.

  2. The CCCB has not fully supported Humanae vitae with it’s Pastoral Message “Liberating Potential” because they failed to correct the error in the Winnipeg Statement which has been embraced by the large majority of Catholics and that is that conscience does not need to confom to truth; rather truth needs to conform to conscience. (This error is the ethical form of the Kantian redefinition of truth as conformity of reality to the mind, not of the mind to reality. The Second Vatican Council stated in Gaudium et Spes, “[C]onscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law” (n. 50).)

    Until the error on conscience is revoked by the Canadian bishops the error will continue and intellects will continue to be blinded. A small child can tell you what has been carried out at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital is the direct killing of an unborn child and is wrong because God allowed that child to be concieved and that child has a right to life.

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