THE CASE OF Sister Margaret Mary McBride’s decision to sanction an abortion of an 11-week-old unborn baby, due to the poor medical condition of the mother, and the nun’s subsequent excommunication, is indeed heart-wrenching.
The publication of its story has sparked emotional responses, ranging from those who felt she did the right thing, to those who felt her action to allow a preborn child to be killed could never be justified.
There are a few principles we need to follow in deciding what the ethical course of action and appropriate action would be for the case of the mother with pulmonary hypertension.
1. In deciding whether an act is morally right or wrong, we must take into account not only the intention behind the act, and the end that is sought, but also whether the act committed is bad in itself or not.
2. The lives of both the mother and child are important. We cannot prefer one to the other.
3. We cannot commit evil to do good. The end does not justify the means. Hence we cannot intentionally and directly kill one life (an intrinsically evil act) to save another.
We do not know what the exact medical condition of the mother was at the time of the abortion (11 weeks). Despite some articles claiming that “near-certain death” will befall on the mother if she were to continue the pregnancy, it appears that she did not seem to be in immediate danger of death at the time when the abortion was committed.
There are varying grades of severity of Pulmonary Hypertension. While maternal mortality may be high (up to 56 percent in some studies) in intra-partum pulmonary hypertension, it is usually due to the increase in maternal blood volume, reaching a maximum of 30 percent at approximately 28 to 32 weeks of gestation.
What should we do then? The guiding principle here is to try to treat and stabilise the mother’s condition to the best of our ability, and bring the pregnancy to as far as possible, hopefully to a point when the baby is able to survive outside the womb. We will then try our best efforts to care for the baby.
Every case would be unique. Hence each would merit separate evaluation, based on the medical facts available, and according to the principles outlines above.
“God, the Lord of Life, has entrusted to man the noble mission of safeguarding life, and man must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 75)
With these gentle words from our Church, let us remind ourselves that we are indeed, called to be responsible stewards of life, not the arbiters of who is to live and who is to die. That prerogative belongs to God, and God alone.
Drs John Hui and Colin Ong