VATICAN CITY — The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano condemned it as eugenics “imposing its law.” The Italian Association of Catholic Doctors denounced it as the “fruit of an egotistic culture.”

Both were reacting to recent revelations about a botched selective abortion: In June, a doctor in a Milan hospital mistakenly aborted a healthy baby instead of a twin sister with Down Syndrome.

After discovering that the abortionist had killed the “wrong” child — the doctor was unaware the fetuses had switched position in their mother’s womb — the mother returned to the hospital to have her remaining twin aborted, as well.

The 38-year-old mother, who already has one son, was 18 weeks pregnant when the abortions took place.

In an interview Aug. 29 with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the mother said her life had been ruined. “Neither my husband nor I can sleep at night,” she said.

The conduct of the medical staff is now under police investigation, and the incident has caused uproar in Italy and created demands for changes to the country’s abortion law. It currently allows for abortion on demand of unborn babies up to the end of the third month of pregnancy and for selective abortions of babies with health problems at later stages of pregnancy.

Milan’s San Paolo hospital, where the abortion was carried out, said the case was a “misfortune” and a “terrible fatality.”

Dr. Anna Maria Marconi, the gynecologist who carried out the Milan abortion, said that the mother requested the operation after an amniocentesis test, The Times of London reported Aug. 29. Marconi said that her conscience was clear about both killings, and called the first abortion an “act of fate that could not have been foreseen.”

Italy’s leftist government continues to support the current abortion law. Health Minister Livia Turco said the existing law was “very wise” and would not be amended, The Times reported.

In an Aug. 28 editorial, L’Osservatore Romano said the case can be attributed to “the culture of perfection that imposes the exclusion of all that does not appear beautiful, glowing, positive, captivating.” What remains, the editorial said, is “emptiness, the desert of a life without content, though perfectly planned.”

The Vatican paper said that no one has the right to take God’s position and eliminate another life for whatever motive. And even if doing so is legal, L’Osservatore Romano added, taking such an action is an “illegitimate decision.”

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Commission for Life, told Vatican Radio Aug. 27 that the case should prompt a renewed commitment to respect all human life from conception, including unborn children with disabilities.

Said Bishop Sgreccia, “And in the case that they have some sort of sickness, that means that they have more reason to be helped.”

One question raised by the double abortion is why the mistaken killing of a healthy child is considered a “tragedy” while that of a disabled one is not. A major reason, according to moral theologians, is a consumerist and materialist mentality that exalts human perfection.

“The value of human life does not come from its flawlessness, but from its singularity,” said Legionary Father Thomas Williams, dean of theology at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University. “When we start assigning different values to different persons — based on abilities, health, intelligence or any other qualities — we reduce them to their utility.”

This utilitarian outlook leads to a rejection of the intrinsic dignity of the human person, Father Williams said.

“If children’s lives matter only insofar as they matter to us, then they don’t really matter at all,” he said. “Do we set the price on their lives, or is every life priceless in itself?”

In an interview Aug. 31 with Corriere della Sera, Bishop Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said the idea that only the “perfect” person is valuable generates indifference when it comes to the killing of innocent, disabled children. That attitude also fosters a sense among parents of being unable to cope with the burden of raising a disabled child, Bishop Betori said.

“More love would help us overcome this great timidity that our society, which strives for perfection, sows in our hearts,” he said. “We aspire to a physical and moral perfection that doesn’t exist.”


Always Evil

Father Williams said that it is contradictory to single out the killing of the “wrong” innocent child as exceptionally tragic. Isn’t it “more tragic still,” he said, that many more unborn children are killed “intentionally, legally and with no remorse whatsoever?”

Said Father Williams, “Choosing who will live and who will die is always an exercise in devilry.”


(Register staff contributed to this story.)

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.