CHICAGO/TORONTO, September 24, 2004 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The issue of early inducement of labour for children with ‘anomalies incompatible with life’ has created a stir in the world of online pro-life reporting.
On September 15th, LifeSiteNews.com ran a story, based on an editorial by Jill Stanek, about the labour inducement practice followed by at least two Catholic hospital systems in the United States. Stanek quoted Fr. John O’Callaghan, a member of the Loyola hospital ethics committee, saying that the procedure was done “to ward off the physical complications of bringing to term a child who is not going to live anyway.” The quote cam from an interview from an interview Catholic journalist Tom Szyszkiewicz conducted with Fr. O’Callaghan. Syszkiewicz was the first to point out that the Catholic hospitals were performing the controversial procedure.
The procedure has been called the moral equivalent of an abortion by pro-life leaders and is considered highly questionable by even non-Catholic ethicists. The information that Catholic hospitals were following this practice has been picked up by various Catholic commentators on weblogs and online news sites.
On one site, Stanek defended her article from charges of inaccuracy saying, “These handicapped babies are delivered 15-17 weeks early, specifically so they will die 15-17 weeks earlier than if they had been left alone. There is just a concern about a potential health problem. This is a smoke screen to make what they’re doing more tolerable. 99% of the time it would be ridiculous to assert that handicapped babies somehow make their mothers sick.”
LifeSiteNews.com was forwarded an email from Fr. O’Callaghan accusing LifeSiteNews and Jill Stanek of “libelous” allegations and threatening a “canonical lawsuit” against LifeSiteNews and Stanek.
Another reader from the area asked the Archdiocese of Chicago for clarification on what was being done at Loyola and received a response from Archdiocesan Director of Communications, Jim Dwyer, “The staff at Loyola assures me that any service it provides is done in concert with the U.S. Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services The article you refer to is misinterpreting the stance of the Medical Center.”
The relevant passage in the USCCB guidelines says, “For a proportionate reason, labor may be induced after the fetus is viable.” The hospital claimed that it was inducing labour at the point of viability, normally considered 24-26 weeks at minimum. However, in the case of anencephaly and similarly severe disabilities, no point before full gestation could be considered ‘viable’ outside the mother’s womb. Inducement before full term can only be considered a means of bringing about the child’s early death. Catholic moral theology asserts that the death of the child must not be ‘the end willed’ in any medical intervention.
LifeSiteNews.com consulted with Fr. Thomas Lynch on the issue of early inducement of labour. Fr. Lynch is consultant on bioethics for the Toronto archdiocese and is Dean of Studies and professor of moral theology at St. Augustine’s, a major Canadian seminary.
Fr Lynch told LifeSiteNews.com, “There have to be very grave, not just proportionate but grave reasons to induce an early delivery – usually the precariousness of the health of either the mother or the pre-born child. This would include (the mother’s) heart condition, difficulties with (cancerous) tumors.”
Fr. Lynch said he did not know of any health risk for the mother from simply carrying a handicapped child. “I don’t know what the physical complications are that would be made worse by full gestation. I’m sorry. I’m trying hard to think of some and perhaps this is outside my area of expertise. But there may be some but I haven’t heard of any.”
Regarding concerns about the ‘mental health’ of the mother, Fr. Lynch was skeptical. “The concept of ‘mental health’ just sets off all kinds of buzzers doesn’t it? That’s how abortion came about in 1969. I would have to ask, what could be the benefit of having this child die earlier? I don’t know what the benefit is.”
LifeSiteNews.com called Fr. O’Callaghan who initially agreed to be interviewed and was sent a series of questions based on Catholic moral theology and the USCCB guidelines that were forwarded him by e-mail. The questions touched upon the possible benefits of early inducement, what reasons Loyola would accept as ‘proportionate’ to the hastened death of the child, what ‘mental health’ concerns could be proportionate, what benefit would there be for the parents if the child died earlier than full gestation.
Upon reading the questions, Fr. O’Callaghan in an e-mail to LifeSiteNews.com changed his mind about being interviewed saying, “I’ve done some consultation on whether or not I want to respond to the questions you pose. They are good questions, and deserve to be given serious consideration. I have no doubt that I could answer them to the satisfaction of reasonable persons, in terms of Loyola’s practice within the Ethical and Religious Directives. But in light of the irresponsible treatment Loyola was given in the originating article on your website, we here are not convinced that our responses would be well used. More basically, I do not see a website as the appropriate venue for a discussion among theologians on substantive issues like these.”
However, Fr. Lynch was more forthcoming on a question about the moral acceptability of early inducement. He said, “I would think that what you want is not to involve yourself in any kind of responsibility for hastening a death. Even an inevitable death. So I’ve always had a serious problem with this that you would induce for psychological reasons. I see a necessity for serious counseling. In the same way that you would counsel a parent who had a dying child. I don’t see the difference. I see a difference only in location and the concept of the child.
Fr. Lynch questioned the claim that there is no difference since the child is going to die anyway. “You are inducing without the possibility of any sort of improvement or benefit for the child. They would say it’s the same thing whether you induce or not and I would say no it isn’t. You never know if that child could be stronger afterwards or whatever, but you certainly know that you’ve increased the odds that that child will die even quicker. Especially if you don’t give it the kind of care that you would give a healthy premature child which is very intensive neo-natal care and I would venture to say that this child isn’t going to get neo-natal care. So you’re already biased against it on the basis of its disability, a grave, a chronic disability, but a disability and I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
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