Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Slate senior writer Mark Joseph Stern speculated that hospital ethics committees in pro-life states will now be ‘forced’ to decide which women are sick enough to be allowed to kill their preborn babies.
But the reality is that for decades, ethics committees have been denying care to people based on their perceived “social value” — though supporters of abortion and euthanasia seemingly had little to say about it until now — and this could theoretically continue with so-called ‘medically-necessary’ abortions due to either the mother’s or baby’s health. Induced abortion to intentionally kill the child is never necessary for either case — and no ethics committee or law can rightly determine that it is.
History of hospital ethics committees
According to the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, one of the first ethics committees came to be after Belding Scribner at Swedish Hospital in Seattle improved dialysis technology, which led to the creation of the Artificial Kidney Center and the ability to prolong the lives of those suffering from kidney failure. Because of his breakthrough, the number of candidates for dialysis increased so much so that the center didn’t have the capacity to handle the number of potential patients. The question arose of how they would choose whom to help. The AMA Journal of Ethics explained:
To address this question, Scribner appointed an “Admissions and Policy Committee” that was composed of lay people whom he considered to be representative of the community (e.g., a minister, housewife, lawyer, banker, labor leader, and state government official) and a surgeon and charged it with formulating nonmedical criteria for the selection of dialysis candidates . The group considered a candidate’s age, sex, occupation, marital status, education, dependents, income and net worth, past performance and future potential, and references [7, 9]. Scribner’s account of the committee at a major media convention to raise awareness about the dialysis breakthrough became the focus of a front-page article in the New York Times, precipitating a firestorm of controversy. The criteria adopted by the committee soon came to be viewed pejoratively as passing judgment on candidates’ “social worth,” and the committee itself was infamously dubbed the “Seattle God Committee” .
Ethics committees were only present in about one percent of U.S. hospitals in the early 1980s, but by the late 1990s, they were found in over 90% of hospitals that had 400+ beds, as well as federal hospitals and members of the Council of Teaching Hospitals, according to the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. They still have a reputation for being “God” committees, as they often determine which patients’ lives are worth attempting to save.
Ethics committees, pregnancy, and women’s lives
Stern writes that “ethics committees are taking on a new responsibility: determining whether a pregnancy patient suffering medical emergency may lawfully obtain an abortion.” He argues that many of the newly enacted pro-life laws state a woman can only have an abortion if her life is “in imminent peril” and that doctors are afraid that if they commit an abortion, the courts will disagree on the woman’s level of risk of death.
While every pro-life law has its own version of an exception for the life of the mother clause, the reality is that it is not necessary to actively and intentionally kill a preborn child in an induced abortion to save her mother’s life. The intent of an induced abortion — which is what pro-life laws restrict — is to kill the preborn child prior to delivery. Surgery for ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion because the intent is to save the mother’s life — not to kill the baby. The same is true for miscarriage management in which the child has already died before any procedure to remove the child’s remains. Preterm deliveries and emergency C-sections are also not abortions because the intent is to end the pregnancy, not kill the child.
After 21 weeks, children are capable of surviving outside the womb with medical assistance. Using induced abortion to kill the child before delivery is unnecessary, as doctors can deliver the baby alive and attempt to save both mother and child. In fact, an abortion might be even more dangerous than a preterm delivery at this point, which even abortionists like Don Sloan have admitted (emphasis added):
If a woman with a serious illness- heart disease, say, or diabetes- gets pregnant, the abortion procedure may be as dangerous for her as going through pregnancy … with diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, even breast cancer, the chance that pregnancy will make the disease worse is no greater than the chance that the disease will either stay the same or improve. And medical technology has advanced to a point where even women with diabetes and kidney disease can be seen through a pregnancy safely by a doctor who knows what he’s doing. We’ve come a long way since my mother’s time….
The idea of abortion to save the mothers’ life is something that people cling to because it sounds noble and pure- but medically speaking, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s a real stretch of our thinking.
Dr. Kendra Kolb explained in a video for Live Action, “In situations where the mother’s life is truly in jeopardy, her pregnancy must end, and the baby must be delivered. These situations occur in cases of mothers who develop dangerously high blood pressure, have decompensating heart disease, life-threatening diabetes, cancer, or a number of other very serious medical conditions. Some babies do need to be delivered before they are able to survive outside of the womb, which occurs around 22 to 24 weeks of life. These situations are considered a preterm delivery and not an abortion.”
Ethics committees and preborn babies with disabilities
These ethics committees, if used to determine which abortions are deemed “ethical” based on a pregnant woman’s diagnosis, may also play a role in which pregnant women undergo abortions because their preborn babies have received a diagnosis.
A 2019 report for the National Council for Disability explained “the lives of persons with disabilities continue to be devalued in medical decision-making.” Arthur Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, explained to CBS News that children with disabilities are often excluded from transplant lists because of the perceived issue of “quality of life.”
“That’s where the ‘quality of life’ issue is much more controversial,” said Caplan. “Quality of life — it’s being able to interact, to not be constantly in pain, to be able to do minimal functions.”
One such child, Daniel Kirwan, was denied a qualifying test for a kidney transplant because he had Down syndrome. Daniel died from renal kidney failure in 2015 as a result. There are countless stories like Daniel’s — people being denied life-saving medical care because they have a disability and what is wrongly perceived to be a low quality of life. It isn’t difficult to see how this mentality has spread from born humans with medical diagnoses to preborn humans facing medical diagnoses.
Today, babies in the womb who have received a prenatal diagnosis are targeted for abortion at alarming rates. Years ago, Iceland bragged about ‘eradicating‘ Down syndrome. It turned out they hadn’t found a way to prevent Down syndrome but had instead been aborting 100% of the babies who received the diagnosis prenatally under the guise of a perceived poor quality of life.
The truth is that no ethics committee and no law can determine the value of a human life. All human beings are inherently equal and valuable no matter their age, gender, health status, or abilities. To say otherwise — and to deem any human unworthy of saving — is unethical.
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