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Answers from our Priests for Life Medical Team

Submitted by: W on  10/6/2010
Answered by: Matthew P. Harrison, M.D.
Topic: Ectopic Pregnancy
The news has recently covered the story of the excommunication of a Phoenix nun for allowing an abortion in a Catholic hospital. Typical of any such story, the usual sides have taken their usual stances, either in support of the bishop who announced her excommunication or in support of the nun and her decision to end an innocent child's life. Research from various medical journals has indicated to me that PHT is most commonly a threat to the mother's life during the last trimester of pregnancy and after child-birth, never in the first trimester as was implied in this ongoing story. Is there ever a medical case in which the only choice is either to abort a child or lose both the mother and the child? Thanks!

The recent events that occurred in Phoenix are tragic and we should pray for all involved.  We should also remember that when a Catholic purposely and directly goes against Church teaching, that they have willingly gone out of communion with the Church, "ex communicated" themselves.  This is not really a punishment, it is more a declaration of fact by the Bishop and is truly a tragedy.  I was not involved directly with this medical case, but I cannot imagine that the ONLY choice was to kill the child.  Modern medicine can treat patients very aggressively to save both mother and child. 
Sometimes the child cannot be saved, such as in  the case of an ectopic pregnancy.  Here, a child implants in a place other than the uterus, such as the fallopian tube, the ovary or the abdominal cavity.  If the child as implanted right at the opening of the fallopian tube to the uterus, sometimes these can be monitored to see if the baby will "move" slowly toward the enlarging uterus.  Usually, though, this is not compatible with life for the baby and the baby will die and the mother can easily hemorrhage to death.  In this rare case, the fallopian tube should be surgically removed, curing the mother of the abnormal tube and saving her life.  Tragically, this ends the baby's life.  This death is a "secondary effect" of the operation and was the not the intention of the operation.  Nor was the operation itself a killing of the child; it was the removal of the tube. On the other hand, treatment of the ectopic pregnancy with methotrexate is the direct killing the baby, and does not cure the woman of the abnormal fallopian tube. That method, therefore, is morally wrong.  I pray that one day, someone can develop a method of surgically transplanting an ectopic pregnancy into the mother uterus, allowing both mother and child to live.  Thank you and God bless.

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