I was listening to NPR driving home from store, half-listening to the news when I heard the words: "Sister Margaret McBride has been excommunicated." Suddenly, the radio had my full attention, and what I heard made me want to pull over, stop the car, raise my fists to the sky and rail against all the craziness and injustice in the world.
Sister Margaret McBride was a hospital administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was also the liaison to the Catholic diocese there. When a 27-year-old pregnant woman was admitted to the hospital with near heart failure, the doctors told her she had a "close to 100 percent" risk of mortality if she continued her pregnancy.
With four other children at home, the woman decided her to terminate the 11-week pregnancy. It was not a decision she made lightly, but it was a decision that made the most sense. Sister Margaret McBride agreed. The only obstacle is that St. Joseph's hospital is Catholic and the official church position would be to let both the mother and child die.
But an exception in the Catholic Church's ethical guidelines for health care providers gave the hospital some room around the dilemma. In certain medical situations, Directive 47 allows certain procedures to save the mother even if it means aborting the fetus. Sister Margaret consulted with the woman, her family, her doctors and the hospital's ethics committee before making her decision to grant the woman an abortion.
When Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, heard that Sister McBride had granted permission for an abortion, he automatically excommunicated her despite the provision of Directive 47.
Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, told NPR, "She consented to the murder of an unborn child. . . There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But -- this is the Catholic perspective -- you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."
But who defines good and evil? What about those four little ones at home who need their mother? Isn't letting someone die when you can save her just as evil as aborting a fetus?
I argued with Rev Ehrich the rest of the way home. A canon lawyer, Rev. Thomas Doyle also argued that the bishop had other alternatives than to declare Sister McBride excommunicated. After all, he noted, no pedophile priests have been excommunicated.
In his statement about his decision, Bishop Olmstead wrote, "We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman there are two patients in need of treatment and care; not merely one. The unborn child's life is just as sacred as the mother's life, and neither life can be preferred over the other. A woman is rightly called ‘mother' upon the moment of conception and throughout her entire pregnancy is considered to be ‘with child.'"
So the preferred course of action would be to let both of them die, which doesn't make sense in the pro life scheme of things. But the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been fighting like the devil to ensure that the new health care legislation includes the most restrictive abortion measures possible. If excommunicating Sister Margaret McBride was a way to prove their point, they also made it clear that young pregnant women needing medical care have no rights when it comes to making their own medical decisions with the support and guidance of family and physicians.
Over 11,000 child sexual abuse allegations have been made against Catholic priests, some have been defrocked, none have been excommunicated.
But nobody died -- just thousands are damaged for life.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.