Adam J. MacLeod

Judging human worth

Adam J. MacLeod
By Adam MacLeod
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May 24, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - Some of the great civil rights battles of our day are being waged in Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, and Montana this year. If you do not recognize those states as civil rights battlegrounds, you are not alone. While advocates for assisted suicide have targeted those states with legalization campaigns, residents may not fully appreciate what is at stake.

The connection between assisted suicide and the civil rights struggles of previous centuries is foundational. To claim that some human lives are not worth living is to deny the intrinsic and equal worth of every human being. It is, in other words, to deny the principle from which we derived our prohibitions against slavery and racial segregation. Pro-life scholars and activists would do well to make this clear, and may be assisted in their efforts by consulting the arguments of Emily Jackson and John Keown in their new book, Debating Euthanasia. Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics, marshals the arguments for legalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, and Keown, the Rose F. Kennedy Chair in Christian Ethics at Georgetown University, defends their continued prohibition by law on both practical and principled grounds.

Central to Keown’s case is concern for the equal and intrinsic worth of all human beings. The “cardinal ethical principle” of the inviolability of human life prohibits the intentional killing of an innocent person, and it is precisely this principle that grounds the “equal and inalienable rights” that we enjoy “in virtue of our common membership in the human family.” The authors of the Declaration of Independence thought this principle self-evident. Keown points out that the principle also finds expression in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and a 1994 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics. Neither anachronistic nor novel, this idea explains the law’s insistence on protecting the lives of all, irrespective of age, stage of development, or condition of dependency. No one is better off dead, Keown maintains, “even if some patients lose sight of their worth.”

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It is precisely the failure to grasp the implications of intrinsic human worth that plagues arguments for decriminalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, including Jackson’s. Jackson quite candidly rejects the inviolability of human life. “There is nothing independently valuable about being alive, other than that it enables me to live a life.” But to claim, as Jackson does, that the value of life is merely instrumental is to reject the immutably inherent and equal value of all human persons. On Jackson’s terms, any particular human life is more or less valuable, and thus variably worthy of legal protection, according to some standard of instrumental usefulness. But this raises the questions of how the value will be measured and whom the state will authorize to make the valuation.

Jackson recognizes this problem but seems unable to resolve it coherently. She insists that we should not accept the judgment of the lovesick teenager that her life has no worth, and yet we should accept the same judgment from the elderly or terminally ill person for whom “life has become an intolerable burden.” Jackson discounts outright the lives of persons in persistent vegetative states because of the “important difference between simply being alive, and having a life which is worth living.” But here, again, we are no closer to understanding what a worthy life consists of.

Jackson tries to resist the full implications of her own argument. She protests that “accepting that someone’s life has ceased to benefit them is not the same as saying they have no worth.” Family and friends of a suffering patient, she claims, can assent to the request for death without assenting to the judgment that the patient’s life is worthless. Presumably, the operative principle here is one of deference to the personal autonomy of the patient, but Jackson does not explain why deference is necessary. Given the high correlation between terminal illness and depression, deference would seem especially inappropriate in such cases.

Jackson’s conception of human worth becomes clearer in light of her analogy to animal euthanasia. “When it comes to animals,” Jackson observes, “most people accept that euthanasia is not only justifiable, but also often the right thing to do.” For at least some humans, she argues, the experience of dying is no different than a cat’s. Even allowing for differences between humans and cats, such as the practice of making wills and other provisions for resolution at the end of life, these differences do not “justify forcing someone to suffer intolerably.”

That Jackson considers this argument persuasive indicates that she has not fully confronted the claim that human beings have intrinsic and equal worth. Keown is quite clear that we should not force anyone to suffer, nor should we preserve life at all costs. “That would be ‘vitalism,’” Keown explains, “and morally indefensible.” The right to life is a “right not to be intentionally killed” (Keown’s italics). Animals enjoy no such right precisely because they are merely animals, and not humans. Acting with a purpose to bring about the death of a fellow human being is fundamentally unlike acting with a purpose to bring about the death of an animal.

Jackson fails to appreciate her interlocutor’s arguments in other respects, as well. An important corollary of the inviolability of human life is the principle of double effect, according to which it is sometimes permissible knowingly to bring about harms (as foreseen side-effects) that may never be intended directly. Jackson attacks this principle with a hypothetical:

If I visit my doctor complaining of mild stomach cramps, it would not be acceptable for him to give me a life-threatening injection of diamorphine, and he could not escape responsibility for my death by pointing to the doctrine of double effect. My doctor could not claim that his intention was merely to relieve my pain, and that my death was a foreseen but unintended side-effect.

It apparently does not occur to Jackson that the doctor’s disproportionate response to the pain would in fact supply a significant, perhaps conclusive, reason to infer that his intentions were not pure. She ignores what Keown expressly states, namely, that one of the conditions of the operation of double effect requires a “proportionate reason for allowing the bad effect to occur.” Far from excusing the disproportionate conduct that Jackson rightly condemns, the principle of double effect would rule out the doctor’s actions.

By contrast, Keown takes Jackson’s arguments seriously. (In one instance, he makes the effort to strengthen one of her arguments before refuting it.) Indeed, the book’s most glaring weakness is its asymmetry. The rules of engagement required each author to submit his and her contribution blindly, unable to predict precisely what arguments the other would deploy. Nevertheless, Keown and others have developed many of the pro-life arguments over a period of many years. If Jackson wanted to understand the arguments she was trying to refute, then she could have found robust statements of those arguments with little effort.

Despite this asymmetry, Jackson’s contribution to the book is well worth reading. She is often refreshingly candid, as when she acknowledges the limits of personal autonomy. She remarks that the choice of suicidal patients to end their lives requires the cooperation of others: “they are crucially dependent upon other people, namely healthcare professionals, to comply with their wishes.”

Jackson’s contribution also contains important reminders for opponents of decriminalization. Legalization proponents, like many citizens who are open to legalization, are motivated not by bias against the disabled but rather by compassion and respect. “It seems cruel to force someone to endure suffering they find intolerable,” Jackson’s argument goes, “and condescending to disbelieve them when they claim to be suffering so much.” Such advocates, therefore, tend to be unpersuaded by the common pro-life argument drawing analogies between contemporary legalization and Nazi euthanasia practices. As Jackson notes, the Nazis operated on social Darwinist theories of racial hygiene; their “motivation was never a compassionate response to individual suffering.”

Similarly, Jackson offers some insight into the relative inefficacy of “slippery slope” arguments. Accepting assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia does not, in her view, obviously set one on a course toward “the involuntary extermination of disabled people,” and therefore, a blanket prohibition seems to her “a peculiarly blunt approach to regulation.” Why not give carefully regulated legalization a try?

There are, of course, many good reasons not to try. Keown discusses the failures of regulatory efforts in Oregon and the Netherlands. Despite the prevalence of depression among those who request assisted suicide and euthanasia, fewer than 10 percent are referred for psychiatric evaluation. Oregon’s meager reporting requirements prevent any comprehensive study of abuse, but anecdotal evidence suggests that coercion by family members is sometimes a factor in the decision to commit suicide. And the speed with which the Dutch have moved from voluntary euthanasia of adults to non-voluntary euthanasia of infants should trouble even those who are unmoved by slippery-slope arguments. But for legalization proponents, these failures are insufficient reasons not to proceed with legalization, albeit with more rigorous regulations. Jackson herself criticizes the Swiss regulatory scheme for its lack of safeguards. For example, she favors rules that would require “thorough investigation of the person’s circumstances.” One has the impression that, no matter how many of these safeguards might fail in practice, Jackson will always be prepared to propose more, until reasonable concerns about abuse are satisfied.

Most importantly, Jackson has no answer to the moral argument against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. And herein lies a lesson for pro-life advocates as they fight legalization efforts around the country this year: they should resist the temptation to avoid making moral arguments. They are our strongest resources. To skirt the fundamental moral question would be both unnecessary and, it seems, a strategic blunder. Pro-life activists should not give offense or recall images of swastikas. It is enough to point out that a nation committed to racial equality should, for the same reason, be committed to the intrinsic worth of the sick and the disabled.

Adam MacLeod is an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.

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Opposing gay ‘marriage’ may demand civil disobedience: Louisiana bishop

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By Lisa Bourne

LAFAYETTE, LA, June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The bishop of the Catholic diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, is one of the nation’s Church leaders to come out strongly against the Supreme Court decision forcing all 50 states to recognize homosexual “marriage”.

Bishop Michael Jarrell reminded Catholics in a statement that the judiciary does not have the power to redefine marriage, and he opened the door to civil disobedience as a possible response to the June 26 Supreme Court ruling.

“Let me state very plainly that no human court has the authority to change what God has written into the law of creation,” Bishop Jarrell wrote in his statement. “This ruling is irreconcilable with the nature and definition of marriage as established by Divine Law.”

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“The marital covenant was established by God with its own proper nature and laws,” he continued.

Recognizing the tide of religious persecution across the country against those who hold the Biblical view of marriage, Bishop Jarrell addressed the issue of living one’s Catholic faith in light of the Supreme Court decision, and gave the green light to refuse to comply, even if it means breaking the law.

“I realize that this ruling will create conscience problems for many Catholics, especially those in public office,” Bishop Jarrell said. “In some cases civil disobedience may be a proper response.”

In an exercise of episcopal authority, the Lafayette prelate also issued a mandate that no representative of the diocese would enable homosexual “marriage” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

“No priest or deacon of this Diocese may participate in the civil solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriage,” he declared. “No Catholic facility or property, including but not limited to parishes, missions, chapels, meeting halls, Catholic educational, health or charitable institutions, or facilities belonging to benevolent orders may be used for the solemnization of same-sex marriage.”

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The bishop also cautioned against Catholics showing support for homosexual “marriage” by their presence at same-sex “wedding”.

“All Catholics are urged not to attend same-sex ceremonies,” he said.

The bishop said he hoped this October’s Ordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican would address issues brought about by “the alteration of the traditional law about marriage.”

Bishop Jarrell also expressed deep sadness at the Supreme Court ruling, and said while Catholics have great respect for everyone as children of God, the justices’ decision had no legal or moral foundation.

“As Catholics we have a profound respect for the dignity of all God’s children,” he stated. “Nevertheless there is no basis in law or in nature for altering the traditional definition of marriage, established by God from the beginning.”

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Catholic News Service gives platform to head of union that gave hundreds of millions to pro-abort politicians

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By Lisa Bourne

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The news service of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has published an article by the head of an organization that has given hundreds of millions of dollars to elect pro-abortion politicians.

Americans should listen to Pope Francis, at least when it comes to his message on poverty and economics, according to Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, an organization that has done arguably more to elect pro-abortion politicians than any other group in the last 50 years.

The union chief made his case in a June 22 guest column for Catholic News Service (CNS).

The AFL-CIO donated $200 million to Democratic politicians in 2008 alone.

LifeSiteNews contacted Catholic News Service about Trumka’s column in light of the AFL-CIO’s support for abortion, contraception, and homosexual “marriage," but CNS declined to comment.

On his way in the piece to pronouncing unity between the Church and big labor, Trumka touts Pope Francis’s recently reported high approval rating and the “newfound vigor” the Roman Catholic Church has added to its “traditional social doctrine” since his election.

“For much of the last century and more, the labor movement and the Catholic Church have stood together in solidarity for people who labor for a living,” he wrote in the CNS column. “Pope Francis lives and breathes this tradition.”

“Together, the Catholic Church and the labor movement stand for a new moral and political order,” he said.

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In his June 22 piece for Catholic News Service he wrote about helping to ease the pain and suffering for others as his reasons for praising Pope Francis.

“We believe in the duty to ease pain and to offer comfort to those who are suffering -- and not just with kind words, but with action,” Trumka opined. “That is why I am so heartened by our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Trumka, raised Catholic, writes his column for CNS with a Catholic voice, but the union he heads up supports contraception and homosexual “marriage”, along with abortion.

While the Church today holds The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers among its themes of Catholic Social Teaching, giving voice in the Bishops’ own news agency to the representative of an organization which has given hundreds of millions of dollars to pro-abortion politicians contradicts the USCCB’s very own document teaching on the need for Catholics to act in support of Catholic principles and policies in public life.

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” the USCCB’s Catholics in Political Life states. “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The nation’s top union also supports the so-called “free” birth control imposed as part of the HHS mandate, something many groups – including the USCCB itself – resisted being forced to provide.

“Women have fought hard for the right to safe, legal reproductive health services and the freedom to exercise that right,” the AFL-CIO Statement on Women's Access to Quality and Affordable Reproductive Health Care says. “The Affordable Care Act provides that women will receive preventative health care benefits, including FDA-approved methods of birth control, without co-pays or deductibles.”

Many of those forms of “birth control” may act as abortifacients.

The AFL-CIO’s support for abortion and birth control isn’t where the union’s advocacy for anti-Catholic initiatives stops. It encompasses homosexual activism as well.

Pride At Work is a nonprofit organization that represents LGBT union members and their “allies,” that “organizes mutual support between the organized Labor Movement and the LGBT Community to further social and economic justice.”

Pride at Work is an officially recognized constituency group of the AFL-CIO

The deeds of the AFL-CIO as an organization are not the sole illustration of how Trumka’s CNS appearance sends a conflicting message with regard to Church principles, but also statements embracing and advocating principles in direct contrast to the faith by the man himself.

“Working people believe in equality and fairness and that’s why we are happy to stand with millions of Americans and with President Obama in supporting marriage equality,” Trumka said in a statement supporting homosexual “marriage”.

When the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 defending marriage were overturned, he said they never should have been adopted in the first place.

“The Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 were radical and divisive laws that never should have been,” Trumka said. “Now, we can begin to fully clear the dark legal cloud that has hung over our nation.”

Trumka employs a childhood anecdote to frame his article complete with violence against his grandfather on the part of the profit-focused mining company that “owned everything,” in his Pennsylvania hometown.

“Pope Francis speaks for the church I grew up in when he calls for an organized moral response to the injustices of modern capitalism,” stated Trumka, whose salary level is around $300,000 per year according to unionfacts.com.

Trumka has been implicated in encouraging intimidation and deception to advance union goals, according to a report from the National Legal and Policy Center.

Trumka has also been accused of legitimizing violence. During a multi-state coal miners’ strike organized by the United Mine Workers in 1993, Trumka, as union president, ordered more than 17,000 miners to walk off the job, and explicitly told strikers to "kick the s--- out of" employees and mine operators defying union demands.

Homes were vandalized, shots were fired at a mine office, and power was cut to one mine, temporarily trapping 93 miners underground.

A non-union contractor, Eddie York, was murdered by a union member, shot in the back of the head as he drove past strikers at a West Virginia work site. Those trying to rescue the victim were attacked by a group of union members. The union member who shot the contractor went to jail, but no one else was disciplined for what took place.

Trumka told Virginian-Pilot in September 1993 regarding the incident, “I’m saying if you strike a match and you put your finger in it, you’re likely to get burned.”

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Supreme Court suspends Texas law that would have closed half of its abortion facilities

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – About half of the abortion facilities in Texas got a reprieve from the Supreme Court on its last day in session.

Justices ruled 5-4 that, right now, the state of Texas may not enforce health protection laws that would have put all but nine of the state's abortion offices out of business. The court's conservative bloc – Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – objected, but Anthony Kennedy cast the decisive vote with the court's liberals.

At issue is whether the state may require abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and require abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety codes as other ambulatory surgical centers.

The temporary stay of Senate Bill 5 lasts until the justices decide whether they will hear an appeal from the abortion industry, which argues the law's provisions would unduly restrict a woman's access to abortion-on-demand.

“The U.S. Supreme Court was swayed, not for the first time in a week, by illogical arguments,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “By actively lobbying against common sense regulations that would make sure women have access to ‘safe, legal and rare’ abortions, Planned Parenthood and their allies are making a mockery of women’s health care.”

“The abortion industry cares only for their bottom line, and women and their prenatal children are merely dollar signs in their business cycle,” Hawkins said.

"Women and babies are being denied protections with the Supreme Court blocking pro-life legislation,” said Lila Rose of Live Action. “Contrary to what big abortion organizations would have us believe, the possible closure of abortion facilities is due to the refusal of these corporations to adhere to sensible and ordinary medical precautions. We look forward to the day that both the legislature and the Courts use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us."

State pro-life leaders regret the loopholes that they say put women's health at risk.

“Unfortunately, women who do not have abortions at any of the nine operating ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions will continue to be subjected to substandard medical care,” said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

The ruling does not permanently enjoin the state. It does not even guarantee justices will hear the case.

Should they decline, the law will go into effect in its entirety.

Last October, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement these measures while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered its decision in a 6-3 verdict. However, it added that the state must allow abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen to operate subpar operations, defying greater protections for women, because closing those facilities would require women to drive a great distance to the next nearest abortion facility.

Earlier this month, a three-panel judge of the appeals court, based in New Orleans, upheld the health regulations. All three judges had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Had the full requirements gone into effect, half of all the remaining abortion facilities in Texas would have closed.

The left-wing website ThinkProgress worried, if the High Court upheld the decision, it would mean that “Roe v. Wade is almost entirely dead.”

Today, representatives of the abortion lobby felt relief. "Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a pro-life Republican, vowed to “continue to fight for higher-quality health care standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn.”

“I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law,” he added.

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