Q: You printed a letter from a woman whose husband told her while she was pregnant that, if it came to a choice, he would choose the life of the baby over hers. Your response contained a piece of misinformation I would appreciate you correcting for your readers.
You asserted that it is Catholic policy to save the life of the baby over the mother in obstetrical emergencies. Abby, that is one of the oldest but most persistent pieces of misinformation out there! This inaccurate statement has been replayed even in movies in spite of repeated denials by Catholic hospitals and the professionals who render care in them.
The fact is: Catholic policy is abundantly clear on the dignity of both mother and baby and makes no priority of one over the other. Catholic hospitals operate with the same standards of safety in maternity care and are inspected by the same organizations that inspect non-Catholic maternity programs such as the Joint Commission and the licensing agency of each state. Catholic hospitals must adhere to the same robust standards as every other maternity service in the country.
I would appreciate it if you could assure your readers that, while this makes for good movies and novels, it is not the Catholic position. The dignity of the life of both mother and baby are critically important to all those serving in Catholic health care. Thank you for your help with this. — Sr. Carol Keehan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Health Association
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A: Since printing that letter, I have received a crash course in ethics at Catholic hospitals. I apologize to you and to my Catholic readers for saying what I did. In the interest of educating my readers, I am sharing some of the enlightening letters I received. Read on:
Q: In the days before blood banks and antibiotics, very few women survived C-sections. Obstetrical complications (now solved by surgical delivery) created a dilemma: Either allow a dysfunctional labor to continue until the child died and could be forcibly dragged or dissected through the birth canal, or perform the surgery that would cause the mother’s death.
About the only time such an issue could arise in contemporary America would be in the rare case of a pregnant woman who is discovered to have an aggressive cancer and has to decide whether to start chemo or radiation therapy that could abort or harm the fetus, or delay until after delivery, which could allow the tumor to grow or metastasize. — Robin T., Richmond, Calif.
Q: Devout Catholics are pro-life in every instance, and, of course, efforts to save both mother and infant are always the rule. But the value of the life of a newborn never surpasses the value of the life of the mother. Never! — Catholic Doctor in Ohio