Thursday, January 20, 2011

Save both Mother and Baby

I recently came across the following extract from an address given by Pope Pius XII to the Association of Large Families, in November 1951.   It struck me that the wording of the pro-life clause in the Irish Constitution of Ireland resembles very closely the words of the Pope.  Here is some of what he said:

‘ Never and in no case has the Church taught that the life of the child must be preferred to that of the mother.  It is erroneous to put the question with this alternative: either the life of the child or that of the mother.  No, neither the life of the mother nor that of the child can be subjected to direct suppression.  In the one case as in the other, there can be but one obligation: to make every effort to save the lives of both, of the mother and the child. 

‘In some instances the child is looked upon as an unjust aggressor.  In other cases the child’s right to life is considered to be inferior to the mother’s right to life.  A further problem arises in the assumption that there are medically warranted situations in which the mother’s life can be saved only by a direct attack upon the child – to kill the child “in order to save the mother’s life.”
‘The only ethically justified understanding of this much-celebrated exception shows that it is not an exception at all!  The classical example of an ectopic pregnancy or the example of the cancerous uterus, which allow the surgeon, ethically, to remove the woman’s damaged reproductive organs in order to save her life, should not be used as examples of abortion, even though a baby’s life is terminated in the progress.
‘It is true that early medical terminology speaks of natural miscarriage as abortion, but it does not refer to the above examples by the name of abortion.  In the case of the uterus, the usual name hysterectomy would be used, and the pregnancy would be noted in the pathology report.  Both medically and legally, for the purposes of discussion, abortion is a direct and fatal attack upon the life of an unborn offspring of human parentage.
‘It becomes necessary now to see why a medical procedure, such as the excision of a cancerous, pregnant uterus, is sometimes ethically permissible and should not be called an abortion.
‘What is involved here are two individuals, the mother and her child, having equal, inalienable rights to continue living.  If it can be established that the mother’s life demands the removal of the diseased uterus, she has a right to this necessary means of preserving her own life.  The surgical removal is not a direct attack upon the child, either by intention or by the nature of the procedure.  Therefore, it should not be called an abortion. …
‘The enactment of laws prohibiting abortion should be carefully formulated whenever the law provides the clause: “except in order to save the life of the mother.”  If abortion were understood in the sense stated above, there would be no need to use the exception clause.  Moral and medical prudence would be sufficient, as it has been in past centuries, to guide the doctor in the performance of his duties. …
‘In this day of presumed “options,” additional care must be taken to insure the complete and accurate legal recognition of each individual human being’s right to life.  In phrasing the prohibition against abortion, it would be wise to define abortion as the direct and wilful killing of an unborn offspring of human parentage from the time of fertilization.  … ‘