Action Alert!

Intrinsic evil can't be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2015

Facing the threat of a lawsuit, Mercy Medical Center in Redding, California—a Catholic hospital— allowed doctors to perform a tubal ligation, sterilizing a woman, in what appears to have been a direct violation of Catholic moral teaching and the US bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

We don’t have all the details of the case; the hospital’s administrators, quite rightly citing the demands of confidentiality, declined to make them public. But we do have a puzzling statement from the hospital, saying that “it is our practice not to provide sterilization services.” Which is puzzling, since the hospital did provide sterilization services. The statement goes on:

As such, tubal ligations are not performed in Catholic hospitals except on a case-by-case basis where a formal review by a committee of physicians and others gives permission to perform the procedure.

Does this committee of physicians and others (???) have veto power over the Church teaching, then? Or are they evaluating cases from a purely medical perspective?

If doctors determine that a patient requires a surgical procedure that will have the unintended side-effect of sterilizing the patient, that procedure can be justified under the Church’s moral norms; it is not direct (i.e. intentional) sterilization. There’s no need for a special committee to evaluate the case.

On the other hand if a patient wants her tubes tied simply to prevent pregnancy, there’s really nothing to discuss, so again the committee of physicians would serve no purpose. If direct sterilization is intrinsically immoral—which is what the Church teaches—then there’s no reason to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis; it’s always wrong.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Aug. 29, 2015 9:16 AM ET USA

    "Can't be evaluated on a case-by-case basis"? A friend commented: "Oh, just wait until Kaspar and Marx et al. are finished with their manipulations of the October synod, then we'll see what the meaning of terms like 'intrinsic evil' and 'case by case' can be twisted into. But, you say, the Pope has to approve. Hey, that's no problem. He can be made to do anything that's required."