The legal issues Sandy Tosti raises will be settled when the case comes to court. It's the moral questions that I find more troubling.
Tosti, a nurse, lost her job at Plantation (Fla.) General Hospital after she talked to a friend (who talked to a friend, who talked . . .) about a newborn baby girl who had survived an attempted abortion.
The nurse, according to Cal Thomas, in whose syndicated column I first saw the details, believed that care for the baby had been shifted, by doctor's order, from "lifesaving treatment" to "conditional care," the care given the dying, and she had called a friend to enlist her prayers that the infant might survive.
The physician, speaking anonymously to a Miami television station, said he did all he could to save the baby, who lived for some nine hours before dying on a respirator, but contended that it was medically impossible for a 22-week-old fetus to survive.
The hospital says it fired Tosti because she caused it to receive "bad publicity," presumably including 800 to 1,000 phone calls the day after the baby died.
Tosti has sued for more than $100,000, claiming her rights under equal-employment-opportunity statutes were violated.
Presumably the courts will sort out those issues. Some things will remain muddled and murky.
For instance, why should a doctor who had tried unsuccessfully to kill the baby be required (morally or legally) to turn his attention to saving her life after the abortion attempt?
By what moral/legal alchemy is an undelivered, disposable "fetus" transformed into a person with full-fledged rights simply by passing through the birth canal?
How can it be correct, medically and morally, to use the prostiglandin suppository method (which is supposed to induce violent contractions and, in effect, choke an unborn baby to death) and wrong, medically and morally, to choke the same baby to death manually, or give her a lethal injection or smash her tiny skull, if she manages to survive the original attempt on her life?
The raging debate between the right-to-lifers and the pro-choice advocates covers a range of moral, constitutional and metaphysical issues: When does life begin? What is viability? At what point does the question of a woman's right to control her own body become a question of the rights of the unborn infant in her womb? Should the whole subject be off-limits for men, since only women can become pregnant? Some observers, including this one, have contended that the questions are essentially unanswerable and that the decision finally is one to be made between the woman and her physician.
But the Florida case raises a question that simply will no go away: Is there really any clear moral distinction between abortion and infanticide? And does the morality change as medical science learns to save ever-younger fetuses?
According to Cal Thomas, another 22-week-old "preemie," born that same night in the same neonatal unit, is healthy and facing a normal life. The key difference, he says, is that someone decided that one infant should die, and that the other one should live.
Would it have mattered (and on what morally defensible ground?) if the "other one" had been the product of rape or incest? Would it constitute a different moral situation if, in the first case, the doctor had been able to forestall delivery until he was able to try a second abortion technique?
The pro-choice advocates make much of the distinction between a "fetus" and a "baby." But does a "fetus" marked for death become a "baby" if the abortion fails? Is it wrong to kill a failed abortion, say by injection, but right simply to withhold lifesaving treatment?
Are babies and fetuses so different?
It's all so terribly complicated. Or else terribly simple.