Page 2, 23rd November 1951

23rd November 1951
Page 2
Page 2, 23rd November 1951 — THE GREAT DEBATE

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Mother or Child ?

Sta,-The many ill-informed and malicious comments on our Holy Father's recent re-statement of the moral law relating to gynaecological practice indicates either ignorant and confused thinking, or an attempted justification of murder under certain given conditions.

The whole question may be posed as follows : Is it ever permissible to kill A, a human being, in order that the life of B, another human being, may possibly be preserved ? (It will surely be

admitted that a child en venire ca mere is as truly a living human being ae a child immediately after its birth.)

In order to illustrate the position from a purely ethical and medicolegal view of this subject, it is relevant to refer to what is, in essential principle,• a parallel case, and to a decision of Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, one of the greatest English jurists of his time, in the case of "Regina v. Dudley & Stevens " in the year 1885. That was the case of two ship-wrecked sailors who, with a boy, Brookes, aged 17 years, were adrift in an open boat off the Cape of Good Hope. Having been 17 days without food, and 5 days without water, the two sailors, Dudley and Stevens, considering that, being men -with families, their lives were more valuable than that of the boy Brookes, killed him, and fed on his flesh for four days.

Dudley and Stevens were indicted for murder, and the defence counsel (inter alia) cited authorities to prove that, in order to save your own life, you have a right to take the life of an unjust aggressor in self-defence--a principle the truth of which is universally admitted.

But the evidence clearly showed that the defenceless boy was not an unjust aggressor against their lives, and consequently their only plea was that of expediency.

In a chapter in which he deals with the exception created by necessity, Lord Hale, quoted by Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, thus expresses himself:

"If a man desperately assaulted and in peril of death, cannot otherwise escape except by killing an innocent person then present, the act will not acquit of the crime and punishment of murder, for he ought rather to die himself than to kill an innocent."

It is therefore clear from the purely ethical and legal point of view that under no circumstance is it allowable to kill an innocent person to save one's own life; but it is allowable, in self-defence, to kill. it necessary, an unjust aggressor against your own life.

This case is, in essence, exactly analogous to that of a child lying helpless in its mother's womb. She causes its death if she consents to the act of her agent, the physician in attendance. The child is not an unjust aggressor against the mother. It is placed in the womb without its consent, and is defenceless. It is the mother who is. as it were, the aggressor from the obstacles caused by a deformed pelvis, tumours. etc., and she has not the right to ask for, or consent to, the killing of the child who does not attack her.

So, we see, the principal points of the opinion enunciated by the learned Lord Chief Justice, and the principles therein laid down must logically with equal force be applied to the non-justification of craniotomy, or other destruction of the life of an unborn child.

Notice also that the two accused above-mentioned claimed that the had families, and therefore that theit lives were more valuable than that of the murdered boy. By craniotorniats this reason or excuse is frequently given, with much sentimentality, to justify the killing of the child. The child, they say, has no social value, the mother is the idol of her husband, the mother of living or possible children. Who is to be the judge of the value of a life? Were not Scipio Africanus, Manlius, was not Caesar (from whom is derived the very name of the operation) delivered by section from their mothers' wombs?

There can never be a necessity for killing-except an unjust aggressor and in self-defence unless kilning can be justified by some recognised excuse, such as execution under due process of law for a capital crime.

The authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church on this subject, recently re-stated by our Holy Father, must leave no doubt in the minds of any persons who value Christian ethics as to the wickedness of killing a helpless unborn child. whatever be the pretext, and whataver be the euphemism under which the horrid act be cloaked.

Joseph O'Byrne. (Barister at Law).


Seit.--If a mother, unfortunately, dies in delivering her child to the world, her death is anything but ignoble and inglorious. Very much the contrary. A Cenotaph might well he erected to such heroines. To die

in childbirth is surely as great a fulfitment of " the greater love than this no man bath," etc., as death on the field of battle.

Some years ago a young woman dived off the bridge over a river to rescue a child who had fallen in. She was drowned. The local papers had terrific headlines. I remember one" One of Nature's Heroines."

To be subordinate to and even die for the fulfilment of the Creative Will of God is no mean vocation.

David Crowley (Rev.).

Pontifical Mission Aid Societies, 23 Eccleston Sq., London, S.W.I.


SIR,---one letter in THE CATHOLIC HERALD excepted, every writer preacher, speaker has merely revolved round the murder theme. To do so is useful, in fact unfortunately necessary. But it is not enough. Catholic teaching goes beyond that. But none of our great men yet have brought properly to view that a human being, once conceived, has not only the right to life, hut has in addition the far more precious right to life eternal--and must be horn before he can be baptised. " Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God " (John III. 5). Why so much apology everywhere for the Pope? He needs none.

Wilfrid Harrington (Rev.).

Bethanie Convent, 12 Hornsey Lane, Highgate, London, N.6.

Killing the Unborn

Sue-A good many years ago as 1 was passing through the Out-patient Department of the Hospital to which 1 am attached as Physician. 1 was accosted by a patient with a shawl over her head, who said, " Don't you remember me, doctor?" I recognized her as a patient whom I had treated some time previously in hospital for an ascerhation of a chronic nephritic condition. She then told me that some time after leaving hospital she had become pregnant and that, knowing the serious condition of her health, her doctor outside had sent her at an early stage of the pregnancy to see one of the leading obstetricians of the city. After having examined her, the obstetrician told her that the foetus must be removed if she wanted to save her life and that if she attempted to carry on till full term she would die. " But." said the poor woman, " I just told him that my Church did not allow unborn babies to be killed and that I would carry on and trust in God whether 1 was to die or not; and here, doctor." throwing back her shawl, " is wee Eileen Mary."

Wee Eileen Mary " was a tine healthy baby. and at the age of 14 when she was next brought up for niy inspection had grown to be a well-developed. ,turdy big girl.

Eileen M(ary) Hickey,

M.D.. M.P.. etc.

76 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast.

The Case of the Mother's Health

SIR, One is naturally in agreement with the Catholic attitude as stated by His Holiness, but I would like to put in a word for those nonCatholics and even more those Catholics, who are really troubled in conscience. I understand that if the removal of the unborn child is essential for the treatment of what is. or for all practical purposes is. a disease, the operation is permissible. Catholic statements leave this position in debate and it is because so many understand that the doctrine of the Church is that there must never he any interference under any circumstances that so much hostility arises. This hostility frequently does not arise from a desire to practise birth control or abortion, hut it may be utilised to the full by those, who wish to do so.

It is insufficient to say that the position can safely be left to the doctor. because he may quite frequently not be a Catholic. especially if the case has been passed to a hospital because of complications. Judging by your correspondence it would not appear that even all Catholic (?) medical men know the true position. Moreover it is essential that there should be Catholic medical assistance available immediately for the mother-to-be who, with her husband, has had to have the courage to doubt the advice given to her because it will be against their conscience.

I do not propose to elaborate, but I suggest with all humility, that the position does need clarification be cause it is not so to many people at the present time.

Thomas McLachlan.

4 Hanway Place, W.I.

" The Right to Kill"

SIR,The Jesuit Theologians tell us that the direct killing of an innocent human being is unlawful and that this principle is absolute and allows of no exception. If we accept this finding one is compelled to ask what about those babies who were killed by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Were they not innocent? No doubt some were still in their mother's womb and many of recent birth. I am not questioning the Holy Father's ruling that the life of the child should come first but what I do question is how one can square the Pope's ruling with modern warfare involving as it does the killing of innocent human beings? I notice however that the theologians add a clause to the effect that " in certain cases their deaths may be permitted." Then it is not true after all that the principle which states that the direct killing of innocent human beings is unlawful is

absolute . . . it apparently does admit of exception. I would ask one further question -in the event of another war: would a Catholic who was told to press the button to release an atomic bomb be prepared to refuse to do so knowing now that it would involve the murder of innocent human beings? Or would he remember, not only the present theologians finding but also that of Francis de Vittoria, the Dominican theologian who in the 16th century wrote-" No authority can demand the death of the innocent. even if the ruler gives the order a soldier must not put innocent citizens to

death." T. Brock-Richards.

Hough Vicarage, Grantham.

[We understand that the difficulties raised in the above two letters come under " the principle of double effect." but our readers would. we are sure. be grateful for a careful expoundinR of the operation of this principle in these two cases by the Heythrop theologians. Eon OR.

Training for Marriage

SIR.-1 he storm eh ch arose over the Pope's talk to midwives is another strong argument. if one were required. of the need for adequate preparation for marriage. The time for learning the answers to the moral issues that have conic up for discussion is before marriage, not when difficulties have arisen and the parties are in no frame of mind for making a cool and balanced judgment.

Is it not clear, in view of the confusion of thought which prevails outside the Church, shared as it is, alas, by some uninstructed Catholics. that more serious attention should he given to the establishment. in all large centres of population, of thorough and comprehensive courses of training for marriage. where Catholic couples could be guided from the outset towards the ideal set before them in ['tali Connahii?

For centuries those aspiring to life In a religious order have been prepared for it by a twelve months' noviceship, and indications are becoming ever more manifest that something analogous is now required for marriage. Experiments that have been made on these lines confirm the hope that great fruit would result from such a plan.

If the Catholics of this country will bestir themselves to give the response that is due to the Holy Father's frequent appeals for better family life we shall soon be well on the way to the conversion of England for which we have so long waited. From the time of Henry VIII there has been no hope for us in Royal Commissions on Divorce. Fisher and More in their day provided the authentic Catholic reaction to the King's attempt to lower the Christian standard of matrimony; the hest answer to the modern degradation of marriage will be the heroism of Catholic parents. The Pope reminded the midwives that : "It is wronging the men and women of our time to deem them incapable of continuous heroism."

Henry Waterhouse, S.J. Director, Marriage Training Course. Mount Pleasant, Liverpool.

Home Finders

SIR,-Our best thanks are due for the publication of our letter signed "Two Parish Home Finders." Its inclusion in the same issue as that containing the Rev. H. Ross-Williamson's statement is very apposite particularly having regard to the penultimate paragraph of the latter and the suggestion contained therein. In our small way we are but scratching at the surface of these problems in the course of our activities here. Even so, we are conscious of the ugly facts and difficulties lying beneath. and we feel quite justified in urging you to develop a campaign that will make those responsible realise that adequate housing is of immeasurable worth in promoting the Christian way of living.

Any information we possess, such as it is, is offered gladly to be at your disposal. H. I,. K. Burns, D. V. Sheridan, Parish Secretariat. St. Joseph's Retreat, Highgate Hill. N.19.

Social Conditions

Sm.-May a Catholic support Mr. Ross Williamson's plea for more Christian emphasis on the need to create satisfactory social conditions within which Christian marriage can be lived according to the laws of God without the anxiety and often psychological disturbance now so often imposed. The problems of divorce and contraception are largely of the world's making and there can never he too much of the Church's

protest against this. A. J. B.

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