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Our readers asked:

If I need to choose between the life of my wife and the life of our unborn child, who do I choose?

Charles C. Camosy, PhD Answers:

There are a number of ways to answer this extremely difficult question. First, the Church will never say it is OK to “aim at the death” of either your wife our your prenatal child — both are always going to be wrong. Life is of irreducible value and it is never acceptable to choose that an innocent person should die in order to bring about some other thing — even the very good thing of saving the life of someone else. This is the “Peaceable Kingdom” of non-violence into which Jesus calls all of his followers.

However, there may be times where one can choose to save one person while also “foreseeing but not intending” that one will therefore not be able to save someone else. This may be the situation you describe in this question. You are not directly aiming at the death of either one or the other person, but choosing to save one rather than the other. The Church largely leaves this situation and reasoning up to you, the agent, as long as you have a serious reason (one that rises to the level of life and death) for making your decision. Perhaps it is unlikely that one of the two will survive anyway? Perhaps there are other children in the family to consider? Perhaps you know (or can reasonably guess) the wishes of your wife and what she would want you to do? These and similarly serious reasons would all be acceptable ones (again) as long as you were never aiming at the death of one or the other person.

The Author : Charles C. Camosy, PhD
Charlie Camosy is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University where he has been since finishing his Ph.D. in theology at Notre Dame in 2008. His book Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU (Eerdmans, 2010) was honored at the 2011 Catholic Media Association awards. Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization was released with Cambridge University Press in May of 2012. Charlie is also the founder and co-director of the Catholic Conversation Project and a member of the ethics committee at the Children's Hospital of New York.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Ginny

    Back in the days when I was both fecund and married, I both verbalized my answer to this question AND put it in my Living Will in order to make it crystal clear to everyone. I had a DNR (Do Not Recusitate) WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION of my being pregnant (regardless of trimester). If I did happen to be pregnant and in a vegetative state, I stated in no uncertain terms that every effort was to be made to allow the baby to reach viability, even if it was at the expense of any chance of my own recovery. The way I saw it, I’d had my chance at life, and could not allow my unborn child to be deprived of his.

  • Sr. Cora

    Dear Disappointed,

    You ask a profound question: If I need to choose between the life of my wife and the life of our unborn child, who do I choose?

    The bottom line for all of us is that after consulting with other people and “getting the facts”…each of us has to follow our conscience.

    Blessed Cardinal Newman use to say:
    “Man has within his breast a certain commanding dictate, not a mere sentiment, not a mere opinion or impression or view of things, but a law, an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others. I do not say that its particular injunctions are always clear, or that they are always consistent with each other; but what I am insisting on here is this, that it commands; that it praises, blames, it threatens, it implies a future, and it witnesses of the unseen. It is more than a man’s own self. The man himself has no power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it…. This is Conscience, and, from the nature of the case, its very existence carries our minds to a Being exterior to ourselves; for else, when did it come?…”
    Cited in The Argument from Conscience to the Existence of God according to J.H. Newman, by Adrian J. Boekraad and Henry Tristram (Louvain: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1961)

    Conscience is all we have to guide us and lead us. From what you’ve written you acknowledge the thoughtful and difficult struggle before you. This reveals that you are trying to follow your conscience. I am not here to judge you or condemn you. I am here to encourage you to continue to pray and reflect on what the Church teaches. The above author is giving you the Church’s teachings. The real problem is: It’s one thing to read it in the abstract, but to have to decide in real life is more than difficult!

    Count on my prayers for you.

    Sr. Cora

  • Maureen

    I think disappointed meant that there are indepth answers to trivial questions…such as wearing short skirts to Church but this very important question, he felt was not answered to the full extent.

  • Deacon Jim

    Dear disappointed,
    I grew up in an age where men and boys wore suits and ties to mass and women and girls wore dresses and head coverings.
    Now days we very seldom see a suit and tie on a man or dress on a women. Does that mean this current generation is less spiritual or reverentual? I would say NO.
    What you need to be aware of is not how God perceives your outfit but can you wear it to church and remain modest as you knee, stand and sit. If you feel that you can than wear it! If however you have doubts about your abiltiy to remain modest as you change postures, then I would say, do Not wear it. Hope this helps.God bless.

  • disappointed!

    To the trivial questions “is it OK to wear a short skirt to church ???” We get paragraphs of micro managment but to the essential questions the answer is”make up your own darned mind!”
    Unconvincing and disapointing.

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