Mothers, Embryos, and Hostages (Oh My)
January 12, 2009 § 21 Comments
Proposition: If further efforts to save the child are possible in principle after successfully completing procedure X, procedure X is not a direct abortion. Procedure X still may not be used with the intention of killing the child, but it may be possible to licitly use procedure X, under double-effect, to save the life of the mother.
I don’t know if I buy this myself yet, but it seems at least plausible. It has the merit of distinguishing between salpingotomy and salpingectomy in the treatment of ectopic pregnancies: it is in principle possible to save the embryo when a salpingectomy is complete and successful, and indeed some day we may have the technology to do so. It is not possible even in principle to save the embryo when a salpingotomy is complete and successful.
Thus in wartime it could possibly (though not necessarily) be licit under double-effect to choose behavior X when it remains in principle possible to save the lives of any innocents affected after X has been completed and successful. It would not be morally licit to choose behavior X when there is no such in principle possibility.
So a sniper shot at the terrorist-holding-a-hostage, where the sniper attempts to avoid hitting the hostage, would be morally licit. A bomb dropped on the terrorist-and-hostage would not be morally licit, since it is not even in principle possible to try to save the hostage after we have successfully blown her to bits with the terrorist. Obviously we can devise an infinite number of trickier cases in between (ahem). But when the successful completion of the chosen behavior in itself kills the hostage, it is not morally licit.