Last week, Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated from the Catholic Church after allowing doctors to perform an abortion in order to save the life of a woman. In her capacity as on-call member of the Hospital Ethics committee, Sister McBride reached a decision with input from doctors and the patient, a 27-year-old mother of four suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that “limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function and is made worse, possibly even fatal, by pregnancy.” According to a hospital document, the doctors concluded that if the patient “continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was ‘close to 100 percent.’”
Sister McBride, a longtime administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, was excommunicated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. Bishop Olmsted released a statement to the Arizona Republic, stating that “[t]he Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty.”
National Public Radio interviewed canon lawyer Reverend Thomas Doyle about this case. Rev. Doyle argues that Bishop Olmsted “clearly had other alternatives than to declare her excommunicated,” citing cases of pedophile priests “who are credibly accused and known to be guilty of sexually abusing children,” yet not excommunicated – what Reverend Doyle terms a “gross inequity” in the church’s policies.
Though the church will allow Sister McBride to return after fulfilling confession and penance requirements, as well as helping to “manage the scandal,” Julianna Baggott of National Public Radio urges her not to, writing simply, “Mercy is not a sin.”
And Liliana Loofbourow wrote in an open letter to St. Joseph’s Hospital at the Ms. Blog:
Her recommendation to end the pregnancy of the patient with pulmonary hypertension whose life was at risk was sound, based not only on medical advice, but also on compassion, forgiveness and charity. That she did so at considerable risk to her own career and worse, her membership in the Church she has dedicated her life to serving, only attests to the strength of her faith and of her character. St. Joseph’s should be proud to have her as an employee.
After dedicating her life to the church and its mission, it’s hard to believe that this could happen to the “highest-ranking member of the Sisters of Mercy” at the Arizona hospital. Sister McBride showed compassion and respect for life in this decision, almost certainly saving the life of a woman who has four other children to care for. She deserves gratitude in this matter, not excommunication, and we hope that the voices of those who believe she did the right thing will rise above those who would excoriate her for saving this woman’s life.