Permissable to "Reabsorb" Fetus?

Dear Father,

A medical morality issue has come up. We know the view of the Church on abortion and agree that it is wrong. What about in the case of an ectopic pregnancy? The life of the mother is in danger, but the fetus won't be able to survive in the tube where it has implanted anyway. Some Catholics I know work in the Oncology Department of a hospital and have been asked to give a dose of a typical chemotherapy drug to a woman with an ectopic pregnancy to make the fetus "reabsorb". As Catholics they feel uncomfortable with the procedure. Their job is not an issue, they think someone else will do the procedure so they won't have to, but would like a morality answer before the issue arrises again. Do you have an answer?




Dear CL,

Since the child will not survive, the health worker's course is clear - to protect the mother's life and health. The moral issue is pretty straight forward. However, the pastoral care of the mother - and father - requires something more. In helping them understand the only option is to "reabsorb" the fetus, they will also need help in dealing with their feelings of disappointment, loss, even guilt. As well as praying for and with the parents, prayers should be said for the child, perhaps even giving a name. Pope John Paul, speaking about the death of an unborn child, states that "nothing is definitively lost." (Evangelium Vitae 99) Because of this crucial pastoral dimension, I would encourage Catholic workers to give the chemotherapy drug and do the best they can to make sure good pastoral care is received.

(Note: the above advice was given on basis of a very limited understanding. Please read the helpful clarification, below, which was sent by Br. Paul Weberg.)

How common are ectopic pregnancies? Do they tend to recur?

God bless,

Fr. Phil Bloom

P.S. An interesting side question: What is the Medical Definition of Pregnancy?


Dear Fr. Bloom,

My name is Br. Paul, and I'm a monk from Marmion Abbey in Aurora, IL. I was looking at your webpage for ectopic pregnancy material and I wanted to clarify a few things about that subject.

One is never allowed to intentionally take the life of another innocent person. Evangelium Vitae says this specifically (EV 57). The principle of Double Effect works in the case of ectopic pregnanicies. The removal of the fallopian tube where the fetus has been implanted is the moral way of taking care of the mother, however, the fetus does die. In this act, the indirect dead of another (the fetus) is the secondary effect of the good/indifferent act of the removal of the infected fallopian tube. You may wish to update your website. Methotrexate cannot be used because it directly kills the fetus. The fact that the child will not survive is not relevant to the action. This is consequentialism, which is not supported by the Church. The end does not justify the means. Where we go is just as important as how we get there.

Ectopic pregnancies occur about 1 out of every 100 pregnancies. It is more common in women in their 20's and those who have had other gynecological problems.

This moral problem it not an easy one to solve or to preach pastorally. I hope to do more research on this topic myself in the future. The material on your webpage, although I haven't read all of it, seems helpful to the faithful. Thanks for offering this source of the Good News.

In Christ,

Br. Paul Weberg, OSB

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