Weigel’s column was troubling


George Weigel’s recent column (The Catholic Messenger, Feb. 24) in support of Bishop Thomas Olmstead’s denial of Catholic identity to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix is troubling on at least two counts.

First, Weigel cites bedrock ethical principles: the first, principle “do no harm,” and the principle of double effect. But, if a principle leads to the conclusion that the moral thing to do is to sacrifice two lives (the mother and child) when one (and only that one) could be saved, it is time to question the obviousness and universality of that principle. Weigel writes as though it would be a weakness to recognize how appalling many find the consequences of his reasoning.

Secondly, the hospital has argued that in fact it was acting in accord with the principle of double effect. It claims that it decided to remove the placenta, which was endangering the mother’s life: the abortion was an unintended consequence. 

Weigel cites an example of good double effect reasoning from The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.  The example involves the removal of a cancerous uterus, and finds that the consequent abortion is an unintended consequence, and therefore allowable.  Excellent, says Weigel. Now it may be that the distinction between the two is obvious to him; but if the life of my wife or my mother were made to depend on this difference I would look for another hospital.


Jim McCue

St. Mary Parish

Iowa City

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