Recently we learned that medical staff at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, made the difficult decision in November, 2009, to terminate the 11-week pregnancy of a mother of four to save her life. Apparently, since that time, Bishop Thomas Olmstead, of the Phoenix diocese, has conducted nothing short of a holy war against the hospital. He has finally stripped them of their Catholic status, which means that mass can no longer be said in their chapel, although priests may still visit patients and offer spiritual counseling as in the past. The hospital has pledged to continue to provide the same commitment to patient care that it is known for. (See the December 22, 2010, article from the Arizona Republic for more details and the hospital’s Press Release about the situation.)
For me, Bishop Olmstead’s behavior and his public comments affirm the position I took regarding so-called “pro-life” advocates in their war against abortion in a previous post (The Paradox of Pro-Life Politics, December 2009) in which I addressed the Christian right and conservatives who oppose abortion at all costs.
I have no doubt, from what I’ve read, that the hospital ethics board, administration, and medical staff made a difficult and prayerful decision to terminate the pregnancy as the only means possible to save her life. Bishop Olmstead would have allowed the mother, along with her 11-week-old fetus, to die to adhere to his narrow view of Catholic tenets. Or perhaps he would have insisted that, at the mother’s death, the hospital keep her body functioning as an incubator for the duration of the pregnancy. Then, following a successful birth, they could turn off the machines and discard her body since it would no longer be useful for procreation.
Those who believe, as Bishop Olmstead does, that life begins at conception defend the rights of the fetus in what they see as a critical defense of life. I don’t see that as terribly unreasonable, unless the life of the fetus is considered more precious than the life of the mother or the life of a medical doctor providing reproductive care for women. Sadly, though, these so-called “pro-lifers” seem to forget that life continues after birth. If they cared about defending life following birth, they might express concern for quality of life of the four children who would have lost their mother had the hospital acted in accordance with the bishop’s demands. They might support universal health care and grieve for the more than 40,000 deaths that occur each year from the lack of health care. Unfortunately, these “pro-lifers” are more likely to oppose entitlements and protections that either save lives or improve the quality of life for large numbers of Americans.
It is quite clear, that “pro-life” is an inaccurate characterization of people like the bishop. He and they are quite simply “pro-birth.” Life has very little to do with it.