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Jake Tronaas wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Is it morally acceptable to terminate a pregnancy if the baby is diagnosed with a fatal infantile disease?


  { Can a woman terminate a pregnancy if the baby is diagnosed with a fatal infantile disease? }

Paul replied:

Jake  —

No, it is never morally permissible to intentionally cause the death of an innocent human being, born or unborn, regardless of circumstances.

In the case you mention, it is our obligation to not hasten or cause the impending death. 

God is the author of life and He is the only one that has a right to take it.


Mary Ann replied:

Jake —

  • If you were diagnosed with a fatal disease, would you want someone to cut you to pieces or inject potassium chloride into your heart or stick a blade into the base of your skull before you died of the disease?

Sorry to be graphic, but that is what happens, unless the baby is burned with a salt solution to kill [him|her], before [he|she] is delivered dead.

It is never morally acceptable to deliberately intend to kill an innocent human being, no matter how it is done, even with anesthesia.

Let the baby have the course of life God provides, with:

  • birth
  • sickness, and
  • death ... just as we all have.

You will profit greatly from the relationship with the child. The love bond will help you with the loss. Believe me, I work in the field of post-abortion recovery, and the worst sufferers are those who terminated a child because of a bad diagnosis. You need support, love, and normal pastoral care such as would be given to anyone with a bad diagnosis for a child.

Please, let your child be born, and

  • meet
  • know
  • love, and
  • support him or her through the illness.

God bless. You have my prayers.

Mary Ann

Jake replied:

Mary Ann —

I hope you weren't under the impression that I am making this decision.

I am writing a paper for my undergraduate degree. I wanted to know the opinion of the Church on the matter. I have been a practicing Catholic my whole life.

  • I was wondering if you had any moral or ethical theories that support this point of view?

Thanks for the quick reply as well.


Mary Ann replied:


Usually the questions we get are personal. According to natural law, every human being has an equal and inalienable right to life from the first moment of conception to natural death.

Catholic teaching on the matter can be found in the Catechism, but it is based on the Fifth Commandment, which "forbids direct and intentional killing" and on the fact that human life proceeds from the creative act of God and "remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end."

Various aspects of the teaching can be found in the Catechism, and various applications of the teaching regarding medical issues can be found at the National Catholic Bioethics Center web site (

Mary Ann

Jake replied:

Mary Ann —

I agree with you, however the natural law theory also states the double effect principle which, when its three requirements are met, allow the taking of a life as a tragic by-product.

  • I don't have a copy of the Catechism with me, does the Church allow the termination of pregnancy in this case?

I apologize for not explaining my situation more thoroughly.


Mary Ann replied:

Jake —

The principle of double effect does not allow the taking of a life as a tragic byproduct. It allows morally GOOD actions to be taken that might result in evil effects:

  • if the evil effect is not the purpose or intention of the act
  • if it does not arise out of the good action, and
  • if the two effects are commensurate.

"Terminating a pregnancy" is not an action. It is an absurd euphemism for terminating the child (and thus ending the pregnancy, which is a state of the woman being "with child".) One cannot kill the child to prevent the child's illness and death,

  1. First, because the act intended is intrinsically evil, not good.
  2. Second, because the good effect (prevention of suffering in the future) arises out of the evil deed and evil effect (the death), and
  3. Last, because prevention of suffering is a lesser good than life itself.

One may not destroy life to prevent suffering. One cannot say that since death is the outcome in both cases, it is morally equivalent because, death may not be the outcome of the child's illness and because, it is comparing apples and oranges: killing versus the probability of a natural death.

I hope this helps. You really should do documentary research at the NCBC for a term paper.

Finally, we try not to answer term papers or homework questions.

Mary Ann Parks, MA Theology
Bioethics certified, NCBC

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