Abortion & Surgery by Patrick Henry Reardon

Abortion & Surgery

In an April 2001 editorial of this journal I argued that there is no moral parity between the deliberate abortion of an unborn child and certain other medical procedures in which the death of the unborn child is inevitable even though not directly willed. These latter procedures, I reasoned, may be morally responsible applications of the principle of double effect. By way of illustration, I referred to the removal of a fallopian tube, in which a fetus has become lodged, even though that surgical procedure (salpingectomy) necessarily involves the loss of the unborn child.

In response to that editorial I have received letters from members of the medical profession who challenge my position in two respects. First, they argue that my example is outdated, because we now have new surgical procedures, other than the removal of the fallopian tube, to deal with that problem. Second, one of the physicians, a professor at a distinguished university, disputes that my example is a proper appeal to the principle of double effect, because in this removal of the fallopian tube (to use his own words) “the primary objective is and always has been to destroy the growing gestation.”

Obviously, both of these objections deserve answers. With regard to the first, I can only say that I did not write in ignorance. I was already aware of the availability of other medical procedures, besides the removal of the fallopian tube, to deal with the problem. However, I was writing an editorial, not a lengthy and detailed study, and in such a setting it is normal to set limits on one’s recourse to illustrations. I will demonstrate presently that I am familiar with other surgical answers to the dilemma.

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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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