Nevertheless, Dr. Chavira stated, the “placentectomy” – which killed the woman's child– could not be regarded as a necessary medical treatment. The medical condition threatening her life was not the pregnancy, but the preexisting heart and lung condition.
The removal of the placenta, he explained, could not have been intended to treat that condition. Rather, it was intended to mitigate the effects of the woman's heart and lung disease – by ending her pregnancy through an abortion.
As such, he said, the abortion was direct and intentional, and could not be compared to other necessary medical procedures that might cause the death of an unborn child.
Dr. Clinton Leonard, another OB-GYN who belongs to the medical ethics board in Bishop Olmsted's diocese, stated to CNA on Dec. 22 that Sr. Keehan and other defenders of St. Joseph's were attempting to distract the public from a fundamental moral principle.
“They're making it too complex,” he said. “It's really a simple issue: the ends never justify the means. And the means that they used was a direct abortion,” Dr. Leonard stated. “That's not a treatment for pulmonary hypertension.”
“I would do everything possible to offer her cardiac support,” Dr. Leonard said, when asked what he would regard as an appropriate treatment under the circumstances. “If it's pulmonary hypertension, generally you use medications that are going to reduce the work that the heart has to do.”
In response to the assertion of Sr. Keehan and others, who regard the woman as having been on the brink of death, Dr. Leonard said it was “in debate, whether or not her life was at that point.”
But, he clarified, even under those circumstances, authoritative Catholic teaching would not have permitted the hospital to consider abortion as a form of necessary medical treatment. Pope John Paul II's encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” stated that “the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit ... (even) as a means to a good end.”
Previously, Sr. Keehan and the Catholic Health Association sparred with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the question of health care reform, which the bishops criticized for funding abortion. Some observers have noted the critical role that she played, along with a social justice lobby of sisters called Network, in the bill's eventual passage.
In his farewell address before resigning the presidency of the U.S. Bishops' conference this fall, Cardinal Francis George – who directly opposed the health care bill, for its abortion funding – spoke of unnamed groups he said wanted to “remake the Church according to their own designs or discredit her as a voice in ... public discussions” such as the debate over abortion and health care reform.
As for who truly “speaks for the Catholic Church,” the cardinal left no room for doubt: “The bishops in apostolic communion and in union with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, speak for the Church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them.”
(Story continues below)
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Staff Writer Marianne Medlin contributed to this report.