Yesterday, I shared my friend Emily’s personal story of her mom’s crisis pregnancy. See that post here: What’s to Gain by Saying No to Abortion: A Story of Teen Pregnancy, Grandparents’ Prayers, and . . . Me. I received the following comment over on Facebook. I thought I’d share it here, along with my response. I’ve removed the names and edited the question a bit for brevity, and added some links to my reply.
Kendra, this is a truly beautiful story with a happy ending. But where does this make space for my dear friend [ . . . ], who at seven weeks pregnant, seven years ago, had to navigate the impossible decision about having to choose her three young children living without their mom vs. her fledgling little one, when her doctor walked into the room and told her that she had aggressive Stage 3C breast cancer and needed a) a mastectomy, and b) must start chemo pretty much immediately? . . .
I ask you this in all seriousness, as I have gotten so much from this site over the years. Where is there space for my friend in this ruling? She is a faith-filled mother, who was pregnant with a child who her family deeply wanted. Please just admit to me that this is an impossible choice. I get that we have to let go and let God. So why don’t we let this be between my friend [. . . ] and God? I think she is and was smart, faithful, and obedient. Why do we think this is our job to question other people’s relationships with our Father?
Dear [ . . . ], I don’t think I’ll comment on someone’s life decisions at the request of a third party, when it’s unlikely that the involved individual wants my input. But what I can do is speak to my own personal experience as someone whose husband has stage IV metastatic melanoma with tumors in his brain and lungs. (Read more in his blog here.)
There is no situation in which my husband would sacrifice the life of one of his children to save his own life. Nor would I.
Catholic moral teaching allows for the necessary treatment of disease in anyone, even in an expectant mother, even if it may harm or kill the unborn baby as an unintended secondary effect (see directive 47 of the USCCB’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services) but it never allows for the direct killing of the unborn child.
I see these rules as a gift. The Church, in its role as “Mater et Magistra” (mother and teacher) bears this burden of decision for us. I don’t have to, in a moment of fear and panic, make a decision like this. Others, with the benefit of time and wisdom, have considered the moral implications, and my responsibility is to understand that these teachings exist, and use them to properly form my conscience so I can rely upon it in difficult times.
I often think of this quote from Jane Eyre, and find solace in it: “Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”
For me, it comes down (as so much in life does) to faith and trust. Do I *see* how my life will be okay with ten children, the youngest of whom is two, without my husband to care for us? No. I do not. But I *trust* that God is good, all the time, and, therefore, it will be okay, somehow. I will not choose to sin out of a lack of trust in God. My husband could be miraculously healed, as is our prayer. He could continue to live with his disease for many years, as he has done so far, against all medical statistics. He could die. And in all scenarios, I will trust God.
Thank you so much for responding! I hope you didn’t interpret my post as incendiary. I truly want all of us to have these kinds of dialogues about what is clearly a moral dilemma for so many, and knowing your family’s journey with cancer, I knew you would help continue this conversation in a way that helps all of us understand each other and ourselves a little bit better.
TO WRAP UP
So, hey, sometimes talking about difficult topics on social media works out! Thanks so much to everyone who commented on Emily’s post. I know it meant a lot to her and her mom that so many of you found their story touching.
Read more on Catholic teaching on this topic here: Abortion and Double Effect and Ectopic Pregnancy and Double Effect
Read more about real people who made heroic decisions in difficult circumstances: 4 SAINTS WHO WERE ENCOURAGED TO HAVE ABORTIONS
Read more about Catholic Bioethics here: The National Catholic Bioethics Center
Read more about our family’s situation here: Another Kind of Meal Train
So well done Kendra!! Thank you for all you do and say that presents our faith so beautifully!
I’m always bemused when people (mostly atheist bros on the internet) come up with what they believe is a totally unique “trump card” situation that the Catholic church, in all its 2000+ years of thinking hard about important things, won’t have encountered before.
The Catholic Church’s entire mission is to deal with human beings. Human beings are actually not that inventive. It’s just the same old stuff in different guises.
Also, the Catholic Church doesn’t exactly keep her teachings a secret. It’s very easy to Google “official Catholic teaching on X” and find out that actually there is an answer. An official one. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time. And the answer is not something uncaring and excessively difficult like “don’t get cancer treatment at all and just die” – nor is it all laissez faire “oh right, you got us, just get an abortion this one time”. No, it’s a balanced answer.
I think it’s GREAT that I don’t have to think about this stuff if I don’t want to. I have three kids under five – I’m busy! If I want to, I can explore all the philosophical background and the centuries of fine-tunes arguments. If I don’t want to, the church has got my back with the quick headlines.
We have an example of almost the exact situation that was written in about, with https://www.ruthpakaluk.com/
She is an inspirational mother that followed the churches teaching and chose life! Ruth’s life story leads by example. We need not look far to find today, our saints, the ultimate calling of this life.