The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 22, Issue 4, Winter 2022

Alan Vincelette
Pages 711-734

On the Liceity of Previable Induction of Labor

An ongoing debate in Catholic bioethical circles today centers around the liceity of inducing labor in a woman with a healthy previable fetus in order to save her life. Many Catholic bioethicists have defended the view that such inductions are morally licit even though the fetus itself has no medical issues and it is the combination of the pregnancy along with a weakened heart of the mother that is causing problems. Typically the basis for this view is the procedure’s satisfaction of the four criteria of the principle of double effect, namely: the act itself is not evil, the evil effect is not intended, the evil effect is not produced by means of the good effect, and there is proportionate reason for the procedure. A few Catholic bioethicists have worried that the procedure does not satisfy the fourth criterion, the principle of proportionate reason. Here I present arguments showing that it is also unlikely to satisfy the first criterion, that the act itself is not evil. This hinges on the principle that it is only permissible to perform acts from which evil effects follow necessarily when such acts only directly target a pathology. Fortunately such vital conflict cases are rare and hopefully medical advances will eliminate them.