Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(2) May 2014

Previable Induction and Abortion

Dr James W Gerrard

Dear Editor,

In his article on the morality of vital conflict cases (1) Anthony McCarthy of SPUC takes issue with MaterCare and the statement they published in response to the case of Savita Halappanavar. (2)

The article makes a number of suppositions which muddy the waters rather then helping the debate. The most problematic is his mention of “threatened inevitable septic miscarriage,” thus conflating two clinical scenarios. I am a GP, not an obstetrician, but I do know that a threatened miscarriage and an inevitable miscarriage are different entities.  An inevitable septic miscarriage is just that: inevitable, and septic. It will happen, with infection too. This means certain death for the baby, and possible death for the mother unless someone intervenes.

As such, Anthony McCarthy’s analogy of the uterus as lifeboat is mistaken and unhelpful. A more accurate analogy would be the uterus as a hot room full of poison. The baby is going to die in there, and soon. The door is open to a cold room, where the baby’s survival is also impossible.

If we intervene to take the baby from its present toxic environment through to the cold room, it cannot be claimed that we are causing the baby’s death any more than it could be claimed we are preventing it. The action does neither. What it does do, is allow the mother (the individual startlingly absent from Anthony McCarthy’s discourse) a realistic chance of survival.

This is fully in keeping with clause 47 of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops quoted at the end of the article: “Operations, treatment, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.

Yours faithfully,

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  1. Anthony McCarthy, Pre-viability inductions in vital conflict cases: are they morally permissible? Catholic Medical Quarterly 2014(1)13-17