Catholic hospitals draw criticism from both sides after nun allows abortion to proceed

The excommunication and reassignment of a nun who permitted physicians at her Arizona-based Catholic hospital to proceed with an abortion has caused some to question the safety of Catholic hospitals -- and others to question the ethics. 

Sister Margaret McBride, who was the longtime administrator of Phoenix-based St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center and a member of the ethics committee, has drawn harsh criticism from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, who called abortion "immoral, no matter the circumstances.

"An unborn child is not a disease," Olmsted said in a statement. "While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

The procedure was performed after physicians determined that the patient, who was 11-weeks pregnant, had developed the potentially fatal condition of pulmonary hypertension, the Arizona Republic reported. "This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee," according to a statement from the hospital. 

Jacob Appel, a bioethicist and medical historian writing for the Huffington Post, called actions prohibiting abortions under such circumstances both "patently illegal" and "unethical." He went on to say that as a physician, he would not want a pregnant woman under his care to obtain "any medical treatment" at all from a Catholic facility. 

"Some Catholic hospitals will let a woman decide if, and when, she wishes to die to preserve the life of her fetus," Appel wrote. "Regrettably, at the present moment, there is no way to know which hospitals are which--to separate the wheat from the chaff." 

Appel even compares "Catholic extremism" to "proponents of sharia law in Saudi Arabia. "The fundamental difference is that we [the U.S.] don't allow the Afghan mullahs or the Saudi Wahhabi to run our hospitals." 

The hospital maintained that it has always followed the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. "As the preamble to the Directives notes, ‘While providing standards and guidance, the Directives do not cover in detail all the complex issues that confront Catholic healthcare today.'" 

To learn more:
- read this Arizona Republic article
- here's the Huffington Post commentary
- read this statement from the Diocese of Phoenix
- here's the hospital's statement