What about those situations, however, that involve a one-life-or-the-other scenario? “What if you literally have to choose between the mother or the child?” one may ask. “Which should be chosen?”
The answer, based on the Principle, is that it is possible for either choice to be morally acceptable. (It should also be noted, though, that such a circumstance is exceedingly rare. There are so few times where the mother will surely die if the unborn child is saved and vice-versa).
I do not think that it would be argued upon that if a mother chooses to sacrifice herself for the sake of her child that such an act would be a very noble and loving act. Thus, as long as the decision is not forced upon her to choose the child’s life over her own then it should be seen as morally acceptable.
The main difficulty lies in figuring out how, if at all, the mother can act morally in choosing to save her life over her child’s.
The Principle of Double Effect shows that as long as you do not directly intend the death of your child but only see his/her death as a side effect of your action then you can do said action.
Thus in a situation where the mother must choose between her life and her unborn child’s she can, like in a situation of ectopic pregnancy, choose her life over her child’s so long as she does not intend the death of the child as an ends or as a means (doing so would violate either the second or third condition of the Principle).
Many people think that abortion gets rid of the situation that is causing the mother to choose in the first place. To be sure, it can get rid of certain symptoms of certain diseases that the mother would not otherwise have if she was not pregnant. However, that does not make abortion right, for abortion even in this circumstance is still considered as the killing of an innocent human being.
One may say in response, “Well what about certain situations where abortion is the only way for the mother to choose her own life over that of her child? Would she be allowed to directly abort her child then? Or would she, in such a circumstance, have to choose her child’s life? If it’s the latter, then I do not think I can hold to it.”
I would quell my responder by saying that there is never a case where abortion is the only means that the mother has for choosing her life over her child’s. In any case where a disease, disorder, or some other dreadful turn-of-events forces the mother to choose, direct abortion is never the only option. There is virtually always some kind of treatment which may help the mother with her situation. The treatment may even have the unfortunate side effect of killing the unborn child. But it is just that: a side effect, not necessarily an intention.
I do not have enough knowledge to be able to go through each and every kind of situation that addresses the mother-or-child scenario. So I will give just one as an example.
Suppose that a woman is pregnant and she is in her second trimester. Through several tests she finds out that she has cancer, however. The doctors tell her that she has two options: 1) do chemo therapy for the next couple of weeks, which will have a 100% chance of curing her of the cancer (though the chemo will also have a 100% chance of killing her unborn child before the time it will be able to survive outside the womb) or 2) do not treat the cancer so as to allow her unborn child to grow enough in the womb to the point where it will be able to survive outside of the womb (though not taking the chemo therapy will cause the cancer to become too aggressive to treat afterwards and will, thus, make her death a 100% certainty). No other options are practical or effective. Would it be morally acceptable for the mother to choose option 1?
The answer is yes, so long as the mother does not use the chemo as a means to kill the baby and only intends to use it as a cure for her cancer. She and the doctors know that the chemo will kill the child; however, she and the doctors are not using it to kill her child, they are using it to save her life. The child’s death is just an unfortunate, but unintended, side effect.
Hopefully this has shown you a better understanding of the Principle of Double Effect and how it is connected to abortion (as well as the other past couple of posts). There are probably other types of scenarios concerning the life endangerment of the mother that I have not discussed. But I feel that I have discussed this Principle enough to show how it can be used concerning such topics.
Please feel free to ask me any questions about the Principle of Double Effect (or anything concerning abortion for that matter). It is an important issue and, because of that, I hope that I will be able to clear up any confusion that may still linger.