I have had several readers ask me to weigh in on the Utah case. I have been thinking it over, and have come to the conclusion that I don't have enough of the facts to offer a reasoned opinion.
That hasn't stopped a lot of others, though. There is quite a conversation going on over at the Heart, Mind, Soul blog.
My basic concerns are pretty much echoed - I am extremely concerned at the concept that a woman can be forced to undergo a potentially fatal procedure against her will, but I am also extremely concerned that a baby may have died who could have lived.
A staple melodrama in the first decades of the 20th century addressed this issue. The concern was, do you sacrifice the mother to save the baby? There was a very real fear among many everyday Americans that if they went to a Catholic hospital to give birth, the baby's life would be valued above that of the mother. Before good surgical technique, before antibiotics and blood banks and many other technological improvements, a cesarean section had a pretty high chance of killing the mother - and even if she survived, many could expect to be left with varying degrees of disability. Even now, a woman is 7 to 10 times more likely to die from a cesarean than from a vaginal birth, and close to 50% of cesareans have 'minor' complications (bladder infections, excessive blood loss, reparable injury to other organs, wound infections). A woman with a cesarean in also in many ways an Obstetric cripple for future births - there is always the nagging anxiety that the scar tissue won't hold through the normal stress of another pregnancy and birth - and of course, repeated cesareans carry their own set of risks. Because birth in general (including cesareans) have become so much more survivable than, say, 200 years ago, there is a rather cavalier attitude about the real risks. Some time, go read the old Anglican ritual for "The Churching of Women" to see what I am talking about. I grew up reading it while bored in church, and it gave me a real respect for what my mother and grandmothers went through. (I am sorry - I don't know if there is a Catholic equivalent as I did not grow up Catholic).
But the child, also, has a right to be born alive, and to a Catholic christian, even if a baby is likely to die soon after birth, it is preferable that they be born alive and capable of receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.
One thing I don't understand about this particular case is why the doctors did not suggest induction of labor rather than an immediate cesarean. It doesn't make sense to me at all, and I think there are important details that are being withheld from the public as the prosecutor attempts to make the case in 'the court of public opinion'.