Nun Demoted from Job After Saving Patient’s Life May 17, 2010

Nun Demoted from Job After Saving Patient’s Life

Here’s a story that shows just how misguided religion can be. It takes place in Phoenix.

(What? A problem in Arizona? Never!)

Sister Margaret McBride, who worked as an administrator at St Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, was recently demoted.


Because several months ago, a female patient “had a rare and often fatal condition in which a pregnancy can cause the death of the mother.”

McBride was the leader of an ethics committee that decided the best course of action for the patient — the only course of action that would save the patient’s life — was to terminate her pregnancy.

She managed to survive the ordeal.

But there’s still a problem — the Catholic Church forbids abortion.

What did Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, the head of the Phoenix diocese, have to say about all this?

“I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese… I am further concerned by the hospital’s statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother’s underlying medical condition.

“An unborn child is not a disease. 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.”

Let’s assume for a moment that this hospital was staffed by medical professionals. They decided this woman would die without this procedure. Who is Olmsted to tell them otherwise? Since when is he qualified to make these sorts of decisions?

He’s not.

He can call it “unCatholic” if he wants, but that’s the extent to which he should be talking.

Olmsted “automatically excommunicated” McBride from the Church and demoted her to another position in the hospital.

I say she’s better off because of the excommunication, but it’s sad that she suffers professionally because she opted to have a patient’s life saved.

Olmsted cared more for an unborn, first-trimester fetus than a grown woman who would have died.

Don’t Catholics see the problem here?

The situation doesn’t get any better when you ask James J. Walter, either:

James J. Walter, professor of bioethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a Catholic university, said that is a tough argument to make. He said a pregnancy may be terminated only in limited, indirect circumstances, such as uterine cancer, in which the cancer treatment takes the life of the fetus.

Asked if the church position prefers the mother and child to die, rather than sparing the life of one of them, Walters said the hope is that both would survive.

That would be ideal. But it wasn’t the situation in this case. That option never existed.

The hospital staff made the right call.

The Catholic Bishop didn’t.

It’s just one of many reasons Catholics shouldn’t be running hospitals. They care more about their doctrines than what’s best for the patients.

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  • mkb

    This is an old problem. My grandmother gave birth to six children at a Catholic hospital. She had her seventh and last child at a Baptist hospital because she was told that during delivery a decision might have to be made between her life and the child’s and the Catholic hospital would choose to let her die and save the infant (so that it could grow up as one of seven motherless children).

    In this case I am happy that the mother’s life was saved. My sympathy is with the nun but I am surprised that there wasn’t another option, transferring the care of the mother to a nonCatholic hospital.

  • Jennifer DuBay

    I have to agree, even though I work at a Catholic hospital. Need to pay the bills and nice to have health insur., but I have to say, it does go against my conscience a bit to work there.

  • Claudia

    (The following comment is not nice)

    If she wanted to avoid excommunication, she should have raped a few child patients instead, so she’d have at least 20 years to be transferred to other hospitals and then she could have repented and retired in good standing with the church.

  • I think that the whole idea of a hospital run by a religious organisation is a madness.
    It’s certainly on a par with religious schools, but it’s more immediately shocking because people can die as a result insane decisions taken on the basis of religious tenets instead of what is best for the patient.

  • Hugo

    The strange thing is that catholic hospitals in Belgium have to (and are doing) abortions. There is some restraint but not much, they’d lose a lot of state funding if they were too much opposed and there is not much opposition from church hierarchy, I think they know that if they did the hospitals would cut all ties and they’d lose the only “good” thing their religion still has here.

  • Courtney

    Hemant wrote:

    Don’t Catholics see the problem here?

    I’m going to have to go with “no,” with a side of, “because Catholicism is chock full of misogyny that insists the life of a woman is of less value than an unborn (and thus potentially male) fetus.

  • Mara

    I live equidistant from two hospitals that deliver babies–one Catholic and one Adventist. I chose the Adventist one because I wanted to be sure that if I was dying, the hospital would save me.

    (By the way, lest anyone think that’s melodramatic, during my second delivery I nearly bled out. Fortunately, both the child and I are fine. But things could easily have gone differently.)

    Also, the Adventist hospital has no crosses on the walls and has halfway decent vegetarian food!

    But in all seriousness, this kind of case is exactly why I wish the government had the guts to step in and kick some Catholic ass.

  • JD

    I think the argument is that the Catholic *Church* shouldn’t be running hospitals. Lay Catholics are often a lot less strict about doctrine. Certainly, non-medical administrators shouldn’t be making medical decisions. People that read ancient religious texts at the expense of basic medical knowledge shouldn’t be making medical decisions.

    The interesting contradiction here is that they don’t mind risking the woman’s life to protect the fetus, and they don’t understand that if the woman dies, the fetus goes with it. A first-trimester fetus just doesn’t have a chance. Hoping and praying wouldn’t make a difference, and there isn’t an artificial womb that would work here either.

  • Wow… this effectively means that as a lapsed (if not atheist) Catholic, I would be excommunicated for the termination of the ectopic pregnancy I had… the one that almost killed me.

    Though in Australia the Catholic Church isn’t as trigger happy with the whole excommunication thing as far as I am aware. I was treated in a public hospital under Australia’s socialist 😛 medicare system, so I didn’t have to worry about such things anyway.

    In my case it was terminate the pregnancy and save my life or both die. That isn’t a choice as far as I’m concerned. I thought that a Catholic theologian (no idea which right now) actually stated that when questions of saving one or many arose, that it was preferable that one die than two or more – which ties right into abortion to save the mother’s life.

    This decision by the bishop is insane.

  • This is disgustingly inhuman. I agree wholeheartedly with Hemant’s last paragraph. When ideology gets in the way of basic humanity, you have a big problem.

  • Please, nobody tell the Catholic church that cancer sometimes takes on a “life of its own”. They might then forbid hospitals under their administration to remove malignant tumors.

  • littlejohn

    If the Catholics (and Christians in general) are serious about what they claim to believe, the woman should have been allowed to die. After all, she and her “baby” would now be in heaven. What’s wrong with that?

  • Jagyr

    Ugh… Natural Law ethics is such bullshit…”abortion is only okay if it happens to be a side effect of some other life saving procedure”. What weaselly fucking asshole came up with that?
    “We can save your life even if it cause an abortion, but we can’t cause an abortion even if it would save your life.”

    My wife is going to have a baby next month. She comes from a religious (Mormon) background, so I was very relieved when she told me that if it ever comes down to saving the baby or saving her, I should choose her.
    It would fucking kill me to have to make that choice, but I’m glad that she backed me up on what I know would be the right decision. It’s horrible, but I’d rather have a dead almost-born daughter than have a dead almost-born daughter AND a dead wife.

  • David W

    Should being a member of an ethics committee which made a decision automatically mean one is liable for the decisions made by the ethics committee?

    Who is allowed to review the minutes of the ethics committee meetings?

  • plutosdad

    It’s actually a pretty famous ethics dilemma. If they believe the fetus is human with a right to life, then it becomes a question: is letting someone die by not acting though another is saved better or worse than getting someone killed by acting to save another?

    It is better described here:

    The vast majority of people believe that harm (the death of one man) caused by an action (calling out “come here”) is more morally fraught than harm caused by omission (not calling out), even when the harm is done for the greater good (saving five lives

    So if they think it’s two human lives with equal value, it’s not such an easy question.

    Of course often when the mother would die (like ectopic pregnancies) the fetus would die anyway.

    Hmm you know the other day was the discussion about christian charities, and I thought lots of non profit hospitals are run by christian organizations and people don’t usually think they shouldn’t be supported, but this gives me pause to think maybe even in hospitals we should remove religions.

  • PinoyHeathen

    Poor nun was excommunicated right away. Rapist priests were relocated somewhere else by their bishops and cardinals, and protected by popes. That’s the traditional Roman Catholic justice. It’s no surprise.

  • Monika

    Ah, but those priests are men, the life of a mere woman isn’t worth that much.
    [python]Every sperm is sacred…[/python]

  • Erp

    The reading seems to imply that this was an emergency decision; there would have been no time or it was too dangerous to transfer the mother to another hospital (not that that would have stopped the excommunication if the nun had approved that as a workaround). It is odd that none of the doctors or the patient (or her spouse if any involved) are mentioned as being excommunicated. Were none of the doctors Catholic (or were they excommunicated but not removed)? Was the patient Catholic? Admittedly the Bishop might not have known who the patient was (the law does limit who can know) or whether she was Catholic and so could not state she was excommunicated. I much prefer Jewish religious tradition which is that the mother’s life is paramount until actual birth. I wonder how many women in the US unwillingly (or unwittingly) die each year because doctors/administrators follow the Catholic party line (it is tragic but the woman’s choice if she decides to follow the party line knowing what it means). Or do most follow good medical practice and just don’t tell the Bishop (and reasonable bishops don’t ask). What would happen if a surviving family sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death?

    In those Central American countries where abortion is totally forbidden apparently even ectopic pregnancies cannot be dealt with until either the fetus is dead from other reasons or the tube ruptures.

  • JB Tait

    Why not invoke the Bible’s own penalties? The fetus tried to kill the mother and thus the doctors are justified in defending the victim of the attempted murder.

    Exodus 21:15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    I hate the Catholic church more and more daily.
    “Pro-Life” is anti-woman, pure and simple. That is absolutely appalling to me that they would even question a necessary abortion.

    “An unborn child is not a disease…The end does not justify the means.”

    In this case, it WAS. And if you believe a fetus has the same rights as the rest of us, then that’s fine- the abortion was an act of self-defense. No woman should ever have to feel guilty for saving her own life. It’s clear from this story that the church views women as empty, meaningless breeding machines.

  • Fucked. Up.

    “I hate the Catholic church more and more daily.
    “Pro-Life” is anti-woman, pure and simple. That is absolutely appalling to me that they would even question a necessary abortion.”

    Exactly. It isn’t pro-life as much as it is anti-choice and anti-woman.

    And what Claudia said.

  • Twin-Skies

    Well at least the church is very consistent with its misogyny.


    Just my opinion on the matter, but I have noticed that most of the priests and nuns who tend to take a more sensible view of controversial matters like contraceptives and abortion tend to be those who have to deal with the people most likely to be affected in these matters.

    Such as the case of McBride here, and in another case, a priest here in my country who was actually supportive of a reproductive health program after he spent several years working in the local slums.

    Almost all of the royally stupid comments that repeat the church’s dogma seems to arise from either Vatican officials, or bishops and priests who have had no first-hand experience with the very dilemma they’re commenting on.

    So in short, I think Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is a short-sided idiot who probably can’t see past his own beaurucracy. I doubt he’s truly concerned about anybody’s life, much less their welfare.

    he’s just more concerned with maintaining his status quo.

  • Siamang

    I’m really glad we didn’t use our local Catholic hospital to have our child.

  • plutosdad

    it is tragic but the woman’s choice if she decides to follow the party line knowing what it means

    I am not convinced of this. Women have different hormone levels that cause her to want to protect the baby at all costs while they are pregnant. This influences decision making to prioritize the baby over themselves. It is an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) to do so, which is why animals with genes for these emotions and hormones when pregnant won out over other animals. In the past we didn’t have the technology to save the mother (or identify the problem early enough to know she needed saving).

    But that desire is all it is: hormonal instinct. If a woman wants to risk her life or die to save a foetus, I am not sure we should respect her wishes, any more than we’d respect someone mentally ill who wants to harm themself, since it’s not her wanting to risk her life, it’s the hormones.

    That is part of a larger issue impacting how we treat the mentally ill who are not a direct harm to themselves or others, but plainly cannot take care of themselves. And where do we draw the line.

  • Sharon

    The truest thing ever said was when Gloria Steinam stated that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

    Believe me, if men could get pregnant and had to face a situation in which their own life was at stake, their life would become paramount so fast your head would spin.

    Also, there is absolutely no logic behind the Church’s stance that you can peform a hysterctomy on a pregnant woman to save her life if she’s got uterine or endometrial cancer during a pregnancy, but you can’t terminate a pregancy that has become lethal to the woman.

  • Christoffer

    Wait a minute. If a doctor or hospital refuses a procedure and the patient dies as a consequence, isn’t that malpractice?
    I don’t know much about American law or hospital bureaucracy but where I’m from this seems like something that could make you lose your licence. Isn’t USA all about the big law suits? 😉

  • Angie

    Plutosdad — What evidence can you provide for your assertion that, “Women have different hormone levels that cause her to want to protect the baby at all costs while they are pregnant. This influences decision making to prioritize the baby over themselves.”

    It’s incredibly sexist to lump pregnant women together with mentally ill people. There are many reasons why women make the choices they do regarding their fetuses, and it isn’t sensible to just blame it all on “hormones”.

  • Do they not realize that if the mother had died of her illness then the fetus would have died too and they would have lost both of them?

    And who says pregnancy isn’t a disease?

    dis·ease (d?-z?z’)
    A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms.

    [to my way of thinking a swelling belly, swelling ankles, vomiting compromised immune system, hijacking of maternal resources, potentially lethal hypertension, potential blindness, kidney disease, organ failure, hemorrhaging, etc would classify as an identifiable group of signs and symptoms]
    A condition or tendency, as of society, regarded as abnormal and harmful.

    Obsolete Lack of ease; trouble.

    [Middle English disese, from Old French : des-, dis- + aise, ease; see ease.]
    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
    Copyright © 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
    Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
    Cite This Source

  • Putos dad said: “Women have different hormone levels that cause her to want to protect the baby at all costs while they are pregnant. This influences decision making to prioritize the baby over themselves. It is an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) to do so, which is why animals with genes for these emotions and hormones when pregnant won out over other animals. “

    I have to disagree with you there Plutosdad. If a rabbit feels it doesn’t have the resources to deliver it’s brood it will absorb the fetuses. I don’t know if other animals can do this, but I’m sure there are other examples.

    In my own case I’m 35 weeks pregnant with a very wanted pregnancy (we conceived using artificial insemination). My life has been threatened by the pregnancy 3 times. Each time I said to the doctors. If you can save us both – good. If not, get it out of me and save me. My husband is aware of my wish that if I’m delivering and the doctors have to choose between saving me or the baby – I want to be the one saved.

    I think humans and most other mammals are aware that if they die to save the fetus that eliminates their chances of reproducing again thus negating their genetic input into future generations.

  • Sarah

    This makes me sick. Women in the Catholic church are lesser beings, only vessels for fetuses. They care more about the unborn fetus than the life of a woman. Priests are free to molest boys for decades, forever scarring the children but a nun saving a woman from a life threatening pregnancy, excommunication!

    The Catholic church was, is and forever will be a complete joke.

  • Erp

    Wait a minute. If a doctor or hospital refuses a procedure and the patient dies as a consequence, isn’t that malpractice?
    I don’t know much about American law or hospital bureaucracy but where I’m from this seems like something that could make you lose your licence. Isn’t USA all about the big law suits?

    I suspect it depends. Certainly if it is a standard procedure and it is available, yes (a hospital might not have sufficient respirators for the patients who need them). Note the hospital would be sued, not the diocese or the bishop (unless the bishop went in and prevented the procedure himself).

  • Edmond

    The real problem stems from quotes like “An unborn child is not a disease”. It’s NOT, of course, but complications CAN arise, and BAD ones. To shove aside any possible treatments because you have faith that some perfect being will handle the situation perfectly FOR you is the real crime. If some god had wanted this woman dead, I’m sure he could’ve easily given her an instant aneurysm, rather than tear her apart from the inside using her own fetus as a weapon.

  • Sharon

    Also, the Church is being completely logically inconsistent here — they’ll allow a hysterctomy (live fetus and all), and they’ll allow removal of an ectopic pregnancy (live fetus involved), but they won’t allow termination of a pregnancy becaue that’s an abortion and all abortion is always evil…

    Uh…what the heck is that?!?

    So if they’d performed a hysterectomy and removed her uterus with the 11 week old fetus inside it, that would be okay, but an abortion that accomplishes the same thing and allows her the possibility of having a child in the future is not okay.

    Seems like in these situations the woman must die or be punished with life altering surgeries rather than do the only sane, moral thing you can do under the circumstances.

    That’s misogyny for ya…

  • But… but… but… St Thomas Aquinas already dealt with this stuff centuries ago! Better for one to die than for both to die. I thought Aquinas was meant to be the father of Catholic ethics?

  • Michael

    What this means is that someone must rip the Pope’s testicles off… for shielding Pedophile priests!!!!!!!

  • muggle

    And once again the Catholic Church shows it’s true hideous colors. What fucked up twisted thinking.

    I hope the nun starts up something rebellious. She’s already shown herself to be humane. (Something the Catholic Church can’t honestly claim.)

  • The nun, I’d like to commend for her actions in saving the woman’s life.

    The Bishop, on the other hand, I’d like to kick in the balls — he’s an anti-woman douchebag who cares more about dogma than life.

  • Gibbon

    I just have to add to what Sarah said that technically a foetus is a parasite.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Wow. . . this effectively means that as a lapsed (if not atheist) Catholic, I would be excommunicated for the termination of the ectopic pregnancy I had. . . the one that almost killed me.

    Actually, Catholic doctrine does allow for abortion in the case of ectopic pregnancy. However, they don’t allow the abortion to occur by use of methotrexate, which would end the pregnancy safely and without physical harm to the mother. They instead require the abortion to occur by removal of the fallopian tube, which usually results in sterility. The “logic” behind this grotesque doctrine is too nonsensical for me to repeat, but you can read it here if you want:

  • @DeXx the important part that the one that should die is the mother. She is a sinner, the fetus isn’t until it is born, thus is has more value.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t take religion to take away a woman’s rights to her own body. There are anti-choice atheist who could find some non-religious reason to deny this woman her life because she was unfortunate enough to get sick whilst pregnant.

    In theory I feel bad for this nun, but at the same time, I am sure she would have denied a woman an abortion in other circumstances, such as the woman didn’t want to be pregnant.

  • Molotov Molly

    I wasn’t even aware that catholics ran hospitals untill I had to go to one recently because of a breast lump (benige). I asked for a script of the pill while I was there as I couldn’t afford to go to my GP and was refused. He seemed to have a good ol’ time feeling up my breasts though. Why are there so many men ‘breast doctors’ and gynacologists?

    And I agree with Claudia, a nun gets excommunicated for saving a womans life, but ongoing, systematic peodophilia gets swept under the rug??? W.T.F.

  • Xena

    @NotGuilty: That’s shocking. Do you have a source I can check? I’ve never heard of a non-religious person who would argue to deny a woman an abortion if her life were in danger.

    @WMDKitty, that’s an interesting gravatar. Are you owning the “non-believer as sower of discord” thing, or are those 5 points symbolic (?emphasis on symbolic, not literal?) representations of the 5 elements/paths/life stages of woman/goddess?

  • Xena

    Actually, Plutosdad just brought up a very interesting debate. The altered hormone levels don’t happen to every woman, but they do happen. Post-partum depression is another side effect of this imbalance. State authorities step in when the urge to “eat her young” for no good reason gets scary–as in Susan Smith,etc.

    Likewise, state authorities step in when people with unusual styles of perception/cognition become suicidal. Allowing a person the right of passive euthanasia (and occasionally active euthanasia depending on the country’s laws) is still controversial and is only allowed if he or she is experiencing severe, prolonged and incurable physical agony.

    Why then is it still ok to take the decision of an otherwise healthy woman with a long life ahead of her, but who is temporarily out of her mind with pain& hormone surges, as a sound and well-reasoned decision when she says “let me die in childbirth”? Especially when there’s no saving the fetus?

  • Chris

    I’ve set up a Facebook group called “Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is a depraved misogynist” for anyone you shares my opinion of this obnoxious idiot.

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