Reflection by Mary E. Latela, May 5, 2016
In Intro to Bioethics: A Religious Perspective (Panicola, Anthem Press), the final test was to choose a case we had not studied, analyze it, and write a full report as if we were giving the results of an ethics board. Several students chose one haunting case, which I will describe. The reason I cannot put it away is that some obvious errors are present.
A young mother of three finds that she is pregnant again. The problem is that in her previous delivery, doctors discovered a cardiomyopathy which made trying to give birth very dangerous for her survival.
The ethics text talks about concepts and values and theories, asking what about terminating the pregnancy so that mother may live? What is the greater evil – to take the fetus, keeping the mother alive, or to do nothing but await the birth, hoping against hope that Mom will survive? The “parents” are described simply as “devoted” Catholics.
What is never mentioned is what used to be called a sin of omission. If Mom has a life-threatening heart condition, how will she, and how will her spouse keep her from getting pregnant? The RC church officially does not allow artificial birth control.
Allowed – the rhythm method is a very good way to become pregnant. Basal temperature charts indicate few “safe days” – perhaps one a month.
So should a couple practice abstinence? Abstaining would compromise the sacrament of marriage according to the RC church. In every intimate encounter the couple must be open to bringing “new life” into the world.
Such meaningless angst and there is a solution – not abortion but abstinence, or perhaps giving oneself permission to use ABC.
Default position is using ABC, which is not perfect, but quite effective. Tubal ligation in the mother will prevent future pregnancies. A father’s vasectomy will do the same. “Let your conscience be your guide… if your conscience conforms to R.C. teaching.” For more than fifty years this dilemma has been highlighted, based on the papal document Humanae Vitae.
In exchange for the ultra- fantastic experience of giving birth, people are torn between choices which are based, not on science, but on reverence for life. Surely, those who dare to enter into the Holy of Holies of having a baby already show that reverence. This is a problem not limited by religious affiliation, and it attaches to the concept of autonomy,the ability to make a decision which is strong, true, and mature. What is your position?
Mary E. Latela