However, two obstetrician-gynecologists from the Diocese of Phoenix’s Medical Ethics Department said Sr. Keehan was misrepresenting both the facts of the St. Joseph’s Hospital case, and the ethical principles of Catholic health care.
“It goes back to the basic issue that you can never do an evil, to achieve a good,” Dr. William Chavira told CNA on Dec. 22. “The act is inherently evil.”
Although the hospital maintains that the abortion occurred as part of a “placentectomy” – the removal of the placenta that connects a developing fetus to the mother’s uterus – Dr. Chavira explained that the placenta of the woman in the St. Joseph’s case “was not diseased,” though it may have been producing hormones that aggravated the woman’s heart and lung condition.
“If something’s not diseased,” he explained, “then we can’t act on it – as opposed to a cancerous uterus, or an infected placenta.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Chavira stated, the “placentectomy” – which killed the woman’s child– could not be regarded as a necessary medical treatment. The medical condition threatening her life was not the pregnancy, but the preexisting heart and lung condition.
The removal of the placenta, he explained, could not have been intended to treat that condition. Rather, it was intended to mitigate the effects of the woman’s heart and lung disease – by ending her pregnancy through an abortion.
As such, he said, the abortion was direct and intentional, and could not be compared to other necessary medical procedures that might cause the death of an unborn child.
Dr. Clinton Leonard, another OB-GYN who belongs to the medical ethics board in Bishop Olmsted’s diocese, stated to CNA on Dec. 22 that Sr. Keehan and other defenders of St. Joseph’s were attempting to distract the public from a fundamental moral principle.
“They’re making it too complex,” he said. “It’s really a simple issue: the ends never justify the means. And the means that they used was a direct abortion,” Dr. Leonard stated. “That’s not a treatment for pulmonary hypertension.”
“I would do everything possible to offer her cardiac support,” Dr. Leonard said, when asked what he would regard as an appropriate treatment under the circumstances. “If it’s pulmonary hypertension, generally you use medications that are going to reduce the work that the heart has to do.”
But, he clarified, even under those circumstances, authoritative Catholic teaching would not have permitted the hospital to consider abortion as a form of necessary medical treatment. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” stated that “the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit … (even) as a means to a good end.”