Late last year, LifeSiteNews.com broke the scandalous story of the early induction procedures at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in London. In the context of this story, the “early induction” procedure relates to the induction of labour in pregnant women in cases of diagnosed “lethal fetal anomalies”. In an “early induction”, the mother is induced into labor at a point so early in the pregnancy that even a healthy child would be unable to live outside the womb without specialized intensive care; under such circumstances, a severely disabled child would likely not live more than minutes.
Needless to say, 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”.
The U.S. bishops recognized that a child may be permitted to die in a medical procedure only in circumstances which follow a clear set of moral conditions encapsulated in the principle of “double effect”:
1) The action contemplated be, in itself, either morally good or morally indifferent;
2) The bad result not be directly intended;
3) The good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result (i.e. evil may not be used to cause good);
4) The good result be “proportionate to” the bad result. (Note: the context of “proportionalism” understood within the context of all four conditions stated here is not the same situation condemned by John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor which sought to condemn this principle when applied apart from other moral considerations).
The most common application of these moral principles is in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. In the case of an ecoptic pregnancy, an ethical approach is to remove all or part of the fallopian tube i.e. salpingectomy, and to not attack the unborn child directly. See discussion of this approach here.
In regards to the principles listed above, they play out this way:
1) The act of removing the fallopian tube is morally neutral.
2) Removing the fallopian tube is for the purpose of directly helping the mother; not for killing the baby which is an unintended result.
3) The good result of saving the mother’s life is not caused DIRECTLY by the death of the unborn child. It is caused by the removal of the fallopian tube.
4) Saving the mother’s life is proportionate to saving the life of the child.
In the case of St. Joseph’s hospital, its guidelines on this subject do not even really broach this area, however, because the reasons for hastening the death of the child was not to address the pathology of the mother as in the case of an ectopic pregnancies, but rather the pathology of the child, so-called lethal fetal anomalies like anencephaly and trisomy 18. These are two separate and distinct areas for moral consideration and application. St. Joseph’s guidelines do not apparently make this distinction, and therefore they represent a significant point of departure from Catholic teaching. [Other pathologies affecting the mother include preeclampsia, pregnancy inducted hypertension, and other issues related to preeclampsia, such as eisenmenger’s syndrome and ballantyne syndrome. Other pathologies of the child include cardiac myopathy, fetal alcohol syndrome, turner syndrome, fragile X syndrome, triple X syndrome, etc.]
In point of fact, “early induction” for lethal fetal anomaly has been condemned as illicit by the US Bishops’ Doctrinal Committee and called “direct abortion” by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC). A more accurate description, however, of this procedure is to consider it fetal euthanasia as it is hastening the death of an unborn baby. As Dr. John B. Shea explains:
It should be noted that the fact that a fetus has a lethal fetal anomaly is not associated with a threat to the life of the mother. “Fetal viability” is the age beyond which the fetus has a good chance of surviving delivery. The normal fetus rarely survives at less than 22 weeks gestation, at which time it has a 10% chance of survival. In fact, he or she has difficulty surviving at less than 28 weeks. Estimation of fetal age is not precise and, depending on when tested for, can be plus or minus 2 to 3 weeks above of below the true fetal age.
Furthermore, the diagnosis of fatal fetal anomaly is not always correct. Since there is no risk to the mother’s life, the diagnosis of fetal disease may be inaccurate, and early induction cannot help the fetus with ‘lethal fetal anomaly’. Early induction is equivalent, not to abortion, but to euthanasia, if the baby does not die until after birth. If the infant dies as a result of the early induction before birth, early induction is an abortion.
On the information released so far by St. Joseph’s Hospital, their practice of early induction does not appear to be justified. (Source)
As a result of that original story by LSN, a mother came forward to testify about how she was pressured to terminate her pregancy of a Trisomy 18 child, despite her health or her life not being in any danger. And in spite of the expected disapproval by the Church hierarchy at these revelations, LSN stood its ground, and was successful in getting the bishop to start an investigation into the hospital’s guidelines.
This investigation was launched back in March, but it’s now November and we still haven’t heard about the results of this investigation.
Why not? What’s the hold up? It’s been long enough.
Is fetal euthanasia still happening at St. Joseph’s?
If so, why has there not been a moratorium put on the procedure, at the very least?
It’s time for answers…not delay, denial, and deferral.
See also Steve’s blog post on the subject here.