Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ireland, Abortion and Risk to the Mothers Life

I saw earlier today the tragic case of a young women who died in Ireland because the hospital saw it as their duty to not act and perform an intervention that would have saved the life of the mother.

*We should all remember of course that we are yet to have all the facts, we only know a few things from the media as pointed out at Life News. Whatever happened, this tragic case is not an argument for abortion.

I thought I would take this opportunity to write about abortion and risk to the mothers life, I don't claim to know much about the Irish pro-life movement or their politics. I also do not have access to all the facts about this particular case so I can only go on what has been said in the press. I will briefly address and make the case for a solution that would have saved this young women's life and upheld the sanctity of life.

Making a Distinction

Contrary to what many lead us to believe, there is in fact a distinction between what we commonly refer to as abortion and a particular medical intervention that seeks to uphold and protect life. Abortion is the intentional act of killing an unborn human being, but not all interventions that result in the death of the foetus are necessarily abortions. 

In the rare case that the mothers life is actually at risk then all must be done to save both patients, which in this case is the mother and the unborn foetus. After viability this may mean performing a caesarian section or inducing early birth, since these options reflect the highest potential for saving both mother and child. If this is not possible and the foetus is inadvertently injured or dies this was not the intention of the action. However as the foetus in this case was only 17 weeks old it would not have been capable of surviving outside of the womb on its own for very long. Removal of the foetus by caesarian section would have the inadvertent consequence of speeding up the death of what appears to be an already dying child.

Because the unborn prior to viability is totally reliable on the mothers environment all must be done to protect the mother and the environment the foetus needs to survive. Obviously if it were possible both the mother and foetus would be saved but in such circumstances that is not an option. This is not the case in an abortion since the intention is always to kill the unborn, removing the foetus as seems necessary in this tragic case is what is intended, not its death.We must therefore be careful to distinguish between justified removals where the death of the unborn is not intended and abortion, which is always intentional killing.

Let me give a hypothetical example to make it easier to see the difference. Imagine a car accident where two people (A women in her 20's and an infant) are critically injured, you are on your own and you must make a decision to save one of them because if you do nothing both of them will die. You make the decision to save the women because she has the best chance of survival. This doesn't mean that the infant isn't valuable but you regrettably can't save both of them so you must let the infant die. Abortion would be actively killing that infant, simply because you couldn't save him.

Important Principles to Keep in Mind

Pro-life advocates who have thought through the implications of their position ought to understand the difference and see that the removal of the foetus is not necessarily an abortion and is in fact the action that best upholds the sanctity of life. Removal of the foetus is not the same as having a medical abortion which intends to kill the unborn. Stephen Schwarz points out three principles that must be kept in mind in such cases. One, there should be equal concern for both the mother and the unborn foetus, since each of them has value as a person and each should be treated with dignity. Secondly, in regards to medical abortion, it is not permissible to kill innocent person B to save innocent person A, instead if the only available intervention is the removal of the foetus then this should be done, although as a last resort. Thirdly, as much as possible, all should be done to preserve the lives of both mother and child.

Supporting interventions that remove the foetus from the mother does not mean one is supporting abortion which as I've stated is always itself the act of killing. Perhaps pro-life supporters and the hospitals themselves need to have a think through what exactly they are trying to do, if they want to uphold the sanctity of life they could be doing a much better job. Hopefully the tragic death of this young women will be the impetus that brings consistency throughout Ireland and with it a more thoroughly consistent pro-life view.

In fact there actually exist guidelines from the Medical Council in Ireland that states that physicians are obligated to intervene when the mothers life is at risk and failure to do so can mean the doctor is struck off the medical register.

Also it should also be noted that abortion itself carries risks, only this year in the UK a teenager died due to complications of her abortion. As this tragic case isn't in itself an argument against abortion the case above is not an argument for abortion and instead highlights the need for a more consistent position.


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