Friday, September 09, 2011

Choosing Life

It is one thing to be pro-life and seek to protect the unborn, and it is another thing entirely to stand by and let a mother die. That is what doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix discovered when faced with the choice of saving a pregnant woman's life at the cost of her unborn child, or withholding surgery and letting the woman die.

The doctors at this Catholic hospital chose life—in this case the life of the mother. It is a horrible choice to have to make, and regardless of one's position on abortion, one should sympathize with those asked to make it. But Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix had no such sympathy, and stripped the hospital of its Catholic affiliation.

The hospital was not receiving money from the Diocese, so there is no financial loss, but St. Thomas will no longer be able to celebrate Mass, and can no longer display the Blessed Sacrament in its chapel.

I am not a Catholic, and maybe that alone should cause me to refrain from commenting on this issue, but even if it should, it won't. The reason for saving an unborn child over the mother of that child is theological: the mother has had the opportunity to accept Jesus and be saved, while the baby has not. In other words, the mother can die and go to heaven, but the baby cannot. Can it be that Bishop Olmsted believes that this deceased baby is locked out of heaven? Does he really believe that God's heart is narrowed by the Church's theological imaginings?

I can only assume he does, but I can't. Our ideas about God: what God can and cannot do, and who God will and will not save, are just that—our ideas. God is always bigger than our ideas. Even God says so: "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah:55:8).

What religion needs is a little humility, a commodity too few religions have. When forced to choose between saving the life of the unborn or saving the life of the unborn’s mother, let’s not pretend to know the will of God, but rather let’s open our hearts to the struggle of the living to make that decision. Sometimes the mother must take precedent over the baby, and sometimes the baby must take precedent over the mother. And sometimes it just isn't so clear.

So whatever choice is made, let us realize we are always choosing life, and have compassion rather than condemnation for those forced to make it.


Unknown said...

thank you, Rami! This piece holds the space for all ...

Mary Ingmire said...

Amen to compassion over theology!

Tricia Datené said...

I have never heard this expressed in such a compassionate way. I truly sympathize with anyone forced to make a decision about which life to choose in a situation like this.
in my opinion, a "spiritual" organization that makes this decision more difficult by threatening damnation has no understanding of the loving God that I know.

Tiffany at Patheya said...

Here here!

Joe Pranevich said...

Just discovered your blog today and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your viewpoint and the time that you spend writing it. I'm the walking definition of "interfaith" and the gentle ribbing on both sides of the theological aisle, mixed with old-fashioned Jewish pragmatism, is fun to read.

Horan Paypah said...

I'm deeply distressed by your jump into Catholic theology. You are very much mistaken about Catholic teaching on salvation.

There is NO Catholic teaching that anyone has to accept the Lord Jesus in order to be saved. That is a Protestant theology and even that varies from denomination to denomination. Bishop Olmsted personally reviewed this case and other cases from that hospital. That abortion was not the only non-Catholic act performed at St. Josephs.

I cannot make a Jewish analogy to the situation because, even though I have taught in an Hassidic school, I am not Jewish and certainly not a Jewish theologian and therefore would not attempt to presume a similar circumstance.

When faced with killing one person or another, the Catholic way is to not kill either and fervently pray that God will save one or both. it's a truly wrenching situation, one I cannot imagine.

Had it not been for other procedures that were definitely not Catholic, I doubt St. Joseph's would have been taken off the roster of Catholic hospitals.

God is all-merciful and completely just and fair. Of course He would not damn a fetus!

Horan Paypah said...

By the way, the Catholic teaching on salvation is that salvation is a process. There are moments when one's soul is perfect and pure, but sin tends to swoop right in and corrupt it. The sacraments constantly work within us to purify us. Nobody is thrown into Hell, we put ourselves there and walk there freely! The time you are "saved" is when you finally accept the gift of grace. That doesn't happen until after death so life is a process of salvation. Baptism, chrismation, confession, marriage, it all brings us closer to God and gives us a glimpse of Heaven.

Hope this clarifies things a bit.

If you want to talk about Catholics again, I suggest you make friends with a priest. They love to talk to rabbis, in fact, Jesus was a rabbi. What's not to love?

Rabbi Rami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for all the comments. I appreciate Random's not so random input. Since I got my information from several priests, perhaps I had better find different priests. I doubled checked this with one of them and was told 1) "There is no salvation outside the Church," meaning the Roman Catholic Church; 2) That no Catholic doctor would stand idly by and let God decide who would live, the baby or its mother, since this would result in the death of both; and 3) if both baby and mother cannot be saved, it is the doctor's obligation to save the fetus even at the cost of the mother's life.

I can't argue Catholic theology, but I can share what I am told, and that is what I am told. If you want to argue, argue with my priests.

andrea perez said...

It's amazing that we can even make a choice...medicine has come so far.
Who could stand by and let both die if one can survive? The price of modern medicine is that it can help us actually Do G-d's will.
Religious dogma wants us to dictate who should be saved. That is what scares me.
When decisions are made by any religious authority from any group to punish those who are capable of Acting on G-d's compassion, the rest of us look in horror at the arrogance of the situation. Would G-d really punish someone for doing what he or she was trained to do? Save people
I personally have never seen G-d as a super person that can damm or save me...but for those religions that profess such a state, it troubles me to think that they live in fear of using the very thing that their G-d calls them to do most often: Act with compassion and reference for the gift of life.

Horan Paypah said...

Thank you for your response, Rabbi. Yes, the official teaching is that there is no salvation outside the church. But it is also teaching that Gd can do whatever He wants to. We know where the church is, we do not know where it is not. There was a woman at the well who asked Jesus for healing. She was given His grace even though she was not Jewish. It is not possible to go to hell by accident. Likewise to heaven.

I agree with Andrea, it's terrible that this choice is ever necessary. I'm not so much in agreement with Mary that compassion trumps theology, if your theology is sound, it is never a choice! I think that this is Tricia's point precisely.

You've cultivated a very lively and wonderful group of readers, Rabbi. you are truly blessed and a blessing.