A Moral Theory’s Immoral Outcome

Many philosophical defenders of the Roman Catholic natural-law tradition argue that there are no exceptions to the prohibition on killing an innocent human being. But the case of a 22-year-old El Salvadorian woman, identified in the media only as Beatriz, makes the absoluteness of that view difficult to defend.

PRINCETON – Is it always wrong to take an innocent human life? Many philosophical defenders of the Roman Catholic natural-law tradition argue that there are no exceptions to this prohibition, at least if we are talking about taking the life intentionally, and directly, rather than as a side effect of some other action. (These moral theorists also define “innocent” to exclude enemy combatants, as long as the war one is fighting is just.)

When this view is combined – as it typically is in Catholic teaching – with the claim that every offspring of human parents is a living human being from the moment of conception, the implication is that abortion is never permissible. But the case of a 22-year-old El Salvadorian woman, identified in the media only as Beatriz, makes the absoluteness of that view very difficult to defend.

Beatriz, the mother of a young son, suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease, and other complications. Her first pregnancy was very difficult. Then she became pregnant again, and her doctors said that the longer the pregnancy continued, the greater the risk that it would kill her.

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