09 March, 2009

Moral bankruptcy

It is very, very difficult for me to see how an organization that makes this particular moral trade-off is in any way deserving of respect. I understand a general opposition to abortion, even as I disagree with it, but a refusal to budge on a case this brutal and extreme shows a deep intellectual and moral rot. I really don't know what else to say.

On a less emotional note, I don't see, doctrinally or theologically, why this is the right call. Doesn't the doctrine of double effect allow for the commission of incidental (i.e. non-desired) sins in the course of serving a good cause? This is what, in Catholic Just War theory, allows for the foreseen-yet-unintentional killing of innocent civilians in military operations. Why doesn't the same apply to saving the life of an innocent mother?


Cassady said...

I actually do think this is a consistent application of the principle--despite the fact that this is a particularly brutal and extreme situation.

One of the main criteria for maintaining moral permisability under the principle of double effect is that the good effect cannot be the direct causal result of the bad. In this case, although there were legitimate medical concerns for the health and safety of the mother, the effect of saving her life was the direct causal result of the act of aborting the two fetuses.

Of course, there are entirely fair consequentialist arguments against the whole principle of double effect in the first place--I'm not sure if I buy them, but they are persuasive. If an action is completely defined by its effects or consequences, then any evil consequence, forseen or otherwise, would rob an action of moral permissibility. Since here we're using the doctrine--and I think they are as well--I think we can dismiss consequentialism for now.

So, I have to disagree with "intellectual rot", despite the nature of this case pulling me strongly in favor of rescinding the excommunication. I may be too much the subjectivist, but if we're using the doctrine, then I think this is a consistent action.

Elliot said...

"the effect of saving her life was the direct causal result of the act of aborting the two fetuses."

Ah, ok, I get the distinction - you can do a good thing even if it has a bad secondary effect, but you can't do a bad thing because it has a good effect. Fair enough.

But the doctrinal point about double effect was secondary to the real source of my disgust, which is the idea that the life of the mother should be subordinated to that of the fetus. Especially when that mother is a) nine years old and practically certain to suffer death or extreme, debilitating injury in the event of carrying to term, and b) in addition to that, is the victim of rape.

This is the most extreme possible case I can think of (mother in no way responsible for pregnancy + in extreme danger from it) and the fact that the hierarchy doesn't see any justification for extenuating circumstances in a case like this means, functionally, that they are rejecting the idea that the mother has at least as much of a basic claim to life as her fetus.

Proclaiming the fetus' inalienable right to life in this case has the effect of overruling that right in the mother. And the idea that a fetus has more of a right to life than the mother that conceives and carries it is, too me, pretty rotten.

Elliot said...

*to me

spencer said...

Here's my question: The Church doesn't excommunicate people for other sins. That's the whole point of the confession thing, right? So why this one? Why can a run-of-the-mill murder or masturbation case be atoned for, but abortion is beyond the pale?

Guadalupe said...

Spence, excommunication has occurred for many reasons.. I'll post when I have more time after work.

Elliot said...

Also, Andy Sullivan has a running commentary on the matter going over at the Dish...

Cassady said...

Elliot, I think the point you bring up here has mainly to do with the fourth, and most widely challenged criteria for the double effect principle: proportionality.

Theoretically we're supposed to be able to ascribe some weight to actions or conditions--i.e. something that makes the good much more good than the bad is bad.

Now, I don't know this for sure, but I would say that the thought behind this is that because the two fetuses are innocent, helpless lives, they may have some proportionality advantage to their nine year old mother. That, and it's two lives versus one.

This issue is what bugs me the most, and why I have such a hard time figuring out my thoughts on abortion. Where to draw lines is such a ridiculously tricky idea, I try just to stay away from it.

I guess, a more illustrated way to put would be that Justice may have a blind scale to weigh lives, but I can see only human beings.