In November, 2009, an abortion was approved by the ethics committee of the large and long established St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, but the case did not come to public notice until May, 2010. Involved was a 27-year-old mother of four children in the 11th week of a pregnancy who was near death because of heart failure and cardiogenic shock. There was no possibility of the fetus reaching viability nor could the pregnancy continue without leading to the mother’s death. The hospital claimed that this was not an instance of direct abortion, which is condemned by the Catholic Church, but the bishop of the diocese judged otherwise.
For most people, I think, plain common sense would say that preservation of the mother’s life is the only good thing to come out of this situation and that the termination of the pregnancy is reasonable and morally justified. It is also probably true that in many difficult moral dilemmas the decision is made as it were intuitively or instinctively, and that only afterwards are arguments supportive of the decision developed and refined. The lively and sometimes acrimonious debate that followed the publication of this case well illustrates the often extremely complex nature of moral argumentation and for this reason it may be of interest to outline it here.
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Photo: AlicePopkorn, flickr CC