Thursday, July 22, 2010

Phoenix Bishop Failed to Grasp "Toxemias of Pregnancy," Denver Physician Tells NCR

A posting here in May covered the unfortunate case of Mercy Sister Margaret Mary McBride, declared excommunicated by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead, who said she had endorsed an abortion to save a mother's life. Olmstead based his position, in part at least, on advice given him by Rev. Brian Johnstone, the diocese's ethics advisor.

The July 9th print edition of the National Catholic Reporter had a letter to the editor from Denis L. Keleher, a medical doctor from Denver, which challenges Olmstead and Johnstone's understanding of the medical condition which the mother and her developing child both faced.

Keleher's input is important in two ways: first, it shows that Sr. McBride was misjudged; second, it highlights the inadequacy of the official church policy on abortion in such circumstances. Keleher sheds major new light on the issues in the case. His letter deserves a lot more attention than it has received.

I re-publish his letter below. (I'd provide an electronic link, but I can't find one on the NCR website.)

When I was a seminarian in the 1960s before I studied medicine, I was taught that theology proceeded by close analysis of valid distinctions. Both Bishop Thomas Olmstead (broadly) and Fr. Brian Johnstone (subtly) have not made the essential distinction (NCR, June 11). The bishop has said, "A child is not a disease," and Fr. Johnstone said that the danger to the mother's life is the presence of the embryo in her womb. Wrong. It is the pathological process of pregnancy iself that threatens both mother and child in this case.

It has been known for ages that some healthy women will sicken and die in pregnancy and it is not caused by an identifiable disorder of the child. I'm a physician, and I own an obstetrics textbook from the faculty of Johns Hopkins more than a century old that devotes several hundred pages to the "toxemias" of pregnancy from which the mother will die unless the pregnancy is interrupted. These still occur. The child that this woman was carrying was also a victim of this disease state, distinct from itself. The ethicists and bishops of this world should meet their obligation to know the science and medicine about which they judge. Canon law is not enough.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the hierarchy grasps toxemia of pregnancy perfectly well. They hope for an anti-abortion martyr somewhere.

Failing that, they'd settle for plausible deniability through a quiet transfer of the sick woman to a non-Catholic hospital for the procedure.

brooke said...

Abortion is not a sin. If your body aborts a fetus due to illness or other issue it is the way of nature. If the child will be harmed or damaged by the birth but the body is not prepared to term the child God gave medicine the tools.

Brookehttp://momentsofelegance.com

Cammie Novara said...

"Thomas Olmstead, who said she had endorsed an abortion to save a mother's life. Olmstead based his position, in part at least, on advice given him by Rev. Brian Johnstone, the diocese's ethics advisor." Fully coherent with my own experience.