16.  An Ethical Conundrum: A woman is four months pregnant when she is diagnosed with cancer. The doctor tells her if she doesn’t take the chemo treatment, she will die within two weeks, but if she does take it, the baby will die. What does the Church teach?

A.     She should do nothing

B.    She can take the treatment even though it will probably kill the baby


THE ANSWER IS……. B…. The woman may take the treatment because it is an intrinsically good, life-saving act (as opposed to a intrinsically evil act like putting a knife to the baby’s heart) If she does nothing, the baby will die anyway. The baby’s death is the unintended, bad side effect.

On the other hand, the Church teaches that an evil act cannot be tolerated even if the result is a good one. But as we mentioned, a good act can be acceptable even if there is a bad effect, if and only if there is balance.

Therefore, a mother could not in good conscience take a medicine for a non-fatal condition that would lead to the baby’s death. Nor could she take a medicine for a cold that would cause the baby to be permanently blind or cripple.

The life of both human beings is equally sacred.

The Church teaches that the good desired from an action must be equal to or outweigh the damage done by the action.

Again, the Church rejects the views of Renaissance philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli, who said “the ends justifies the means.” But the Church adds that a bad end can sometimes be tolerated if the means, or the action taken, is good, and if all steps are taken to attempt to prevent the bad end. This is called the principle of the double effect.

But again, no evil action can be permissible to justify a desirable outcome. For example, a woman who says she will become a prostitute for a week to raise money for the poor is committing a grave wrong.

Similarly, the Church, although it vigorously encourages and funds research for advanced medical cures and treatments, and for technology that will cure the world’s ills, condemns any research or procedures which involve immoral, intrinsically evil actions.

Finally, when a person is faced with two unavoidable evils, the Church teaches we must choose the lesser of the evils. The example provided by “Beginning Apologetics #5: How to Answer Tough Moral Questions” by Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham is the pilot who at the last second must choose between crashing into a home or a school. He must choose the home.




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