Legal pressure does not make sterilization moral

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 27, 2015

It is just plain wrong. I mean the decision of Mercy Medical Center Redding in California to perform a sterilization on Rachel Miller only after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Center’s initial refusal.

Earlier, when refusing the sterilization, the Center cited the US Bishops’ healthcare directive that direct sterilization is intrinsically evil. Upon changing its mind, however, a spokesperson said that this did not alter the hospital’s policies in any way, because “tubal ligations are not performed in Catholic hospitals except on a case-by-case basis.”

So does intrinsic evil become good on a case-by-case basis?

Of course not. What may change case by case is the determination as to whether there is some condition which actually requires sterilization as a curative measure, which would mean that the intrinsic evil of directly-intended sterilization is not involved. For example, the same principle governs an ectopic pregnancy, which requires an operation to save the mother’s life that inescapably, but intentionally only indirectly, results in the death of the child.

So what might have happened on further review in the case of Rachel Miller is that the hospital became aware of a pathological condition for which the known remedy was tubal ligation. That, and only that, is the kind of valid “case by case” consideration that morally bypasses the intrinsic evil of direct sterilization.

Sadly, as far as we know, this is not the case. Rather, Miller and her husband had decided that she should be sterilized after the birth of their second child, because they did not intend to have any more children. Moreover, her insurance would not cover the sterilization at a different medical center.

In making moral decisions concerning intrinsic evils, “case by case” does not mean “depending upon the amount of pressure applied”, nor on a cost-benefit analysis, or the risk of negative publicity, or the likelihood of fines or forced closure or imprisonment. “Case by case” means discerning whether the intrinsic evil in question is really operative in a particular situation or not.

This is, then, just another instance of a medical facility upholding Catholic teaching when it is easy, and paying only lip service when it is hard. Do the key personnel at Mercy Medical Center Redding actually understand and embrace the moral realities elucidated by Catholic teaching? Perhaps they merely regard these things as “Church rules” which make Catholic institutional life quirky, and more troublesome.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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