Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sad, But a Good Sign?

Quite an interesting ethical debate has broken out in the comments on this Vox Nova thread over the St. Joseph's Hospital case. Originally I was quite adamant that no argument could be made to justify what happened, but the arguments presented in the comments have made me see that it isn't at all as black-and-white as some are making it out to be.

I think I still ultimately agree with the bishop about this case since, as far as I can tell, the baby was torn apart while still alive, and I think the arguments of the "independently hired moral theologian" that "since the baby was already dying" this didn't make the death of the child part of the moral object...are horribly wrong.

But, on the other hand, I could perhaps now see an argument that if the fetus had been removed alive and intact, and if they had then done everything possible to save it outside the womb too (though it almost certainly wouldn't have worked, since artificial wombs haven't been invented yet) that it may then have been possible to separate "removing the child" to take stress off the woman's pulmonary system from "killing the child" as a moral object (in fact, for me, that's one of the greatest purely secular arguments against post-viability abortion: after viability, a right to "not be pregnant" and "killing the child" are two different questions, as then the baby could be delivered and cared for alive).

However, that's not how it was in fact carried out, and it's not even really the point of this post to try to sort out the ethical arguments here. My main point is that many people probably see such arguments as symptomatic of something wrong with Catholic morality. That such splitting hairs over means while winding up with the same ends, or arguing over such distinctions as direct and non-direct, intended end and proximate end, "double effect" and "lesser evil" somehow reducing the real world to theory and abstraction for armchair philosophers to mentally masturbate over, representing the concrete collapse of a moral system in the practical face of the most obscure cases like the dependence of child on mother which are unlikely to apply in our interactions with people in day-to-day life.

But I would argue that this attitude of scorn is entirely wrong. It actually is right and proper, (meet and just), that these cases, above all others, should receive so much attention from us. Firstly, just because it is a sort of proving-ground for the distinction between intent and consequences on the one hand, and moral object on the other, which has been lost in much of modern moral thought (reducing all morality to a base utilitarianism or situation ethics). These cases demonstrate just how important to human dignity such distinctions really are.

But, more importantly, because far from being "obscure" or representing a special case, the dependence of unborn child on mother and the moral obligations imposed on her actually, perhaps, the ultimate and foundational type of all of our dependence on each other and the obligations imposed on us because of it.

Indeed, we are our brother's keeper. Human beings are not independent and self-contained beings with some sort of right to self-determination and utter autonomy within even our own private existence, who may do what we want as long as it doesn't infringe into anyone else's boundaries. Because the fact is, our boundaries all overlap anyway. Even into the "private" matters of the heart, we are all completely connected and intertwined with each other, affecting each other, dependent on each other, with mutual obligations towards each other. Yes, "mankind is my business."

I think it is especially fitting to remember this at Christmas; that in a world where we have so forgotten this and are inclined to view the Individual as autonomous...the relationship between the mother and the unborn child remains a sign of contradiction to that lonely view, the ultimate reminder of all of our compenetration. And what that means for how we should act certainly deserves (and more!) all the energy and thought and words invested in it in such cases as these, and it is heartening to see that people seem to know that instinctively (if the energy, and thoughts, and words they invest in it are any indication).

1 comment:

sortacatholic said...

This situation is a tragedy. I wish that the self-righteous would simply stop their online hairsplitting, as you say, and simply pray for the souls involved. I am thoroughly disgusted when I watch Fr. Z 'n' friends or the readers of NC Register strut their Catholic street cred. This is especially true when people with no medical training summarily dismiss gestational hypertension. Performing a surgical birth and/or hysterectomy on a woman with chronic hypertension carries a very high risk of fatality. Nevertheless you'll find plenty of "orthodox warrior" Catholics that believe these procedures are possible under any circumstances.

We Catholics must unambiguously state that a woman in similar medical emergencies must undergo a licit procedure such as a caesarian or hysterectomy even if doing so might well render the woman infertile or even result in death. The rhetorical tangles of bishops and self-anointed "orthodox" Catholics attempt to hide this logical end. Perhaps bishops do so in an attempt to shield Catholic hospitals from the inevitable public backlash if the logical end is soberly advanced by the hierarchy. Certainly, many non-Catholic and secular women who must go to a Catholic hospital would disagree with the necessary Catholic philosophical position of double effect.

Why, then, aren't the rad-trad and neo-con Catholics honestly discussing the political and social ramifications rather than who's going to get excommunicated first? Even the elect might consider abortion in a similar dire emergency. Next day they'll be back on the pro-life picket line or harassing "the lukewarm" online. 'Tis hypocrisy, mates.

Merry Christmas to RT!