Monday, April 25, 2005

Except when life is at stake

My church stands for life. That being so, it is within reach of this self-consistent philosophy outlined below, one that I've put together after serious and sorrowful reflection on the Terri Schiavo case. This philosophy is not necessarily mine in all particulars; but I hope and pray that my Church can teach it.

Except when life itself is threatened:

1) Contraception is wrong. Life is being extinguished, however, by AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

2) Stem cell research is wrong. Life is commonly ended, however, by those diseases which stem-cell research could fight.

3) Abortion is wrong. As the Catholic Church teaches already, abortion is permissible only when the life of the mother is threatened.

4) War is wrong. As the Church already teaches in its just war doctrine, war is permissible only as an action against a state, never a people, that is already waging or launching a full-scale war. Smaller offenses, not committed by a state or short of war, call for proportionate responses.

5) Suicide is wrong. As the Church already teaches, giving up your life for someone else is not only permissible, it is the highest possible love.

6) Euthenasia is wrong. The Church makes no exceptions here with regard to the "life at stake" principle, because it is difficult to imagine a case where killing the infirm, injured or aged will actually save someone else's life. If such a situation were to obtain, the Church would affirm the possibility of weighing one life against another, as it does with abortion when the mother's life is endangered. The only true exception in the Church's stance against euthenasia is this: when someone is dying and they cannot be saved, and artificial treatments (i.e., a respirator, or radiology, but not the giving of food and water) promise only to prolong suffering, the person dying incurs no moral blame in deciding to forego the treatment. Suffering need not be prolonged needlessly by artificial means; science should be used only to save life or relieve suffering.

7) Capital punishment is wrong. The Church used to make its standard "life at stake" exception here, by allowing that the death penalty could be warranted in the most severe cases of crimes against society; the thinking was that some room ought to be allowed for the death penalty, perhaps, to deter life-taking crimes. But the death penalty does not seem to deter, as demonstrated in study after study. And Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) wrote to John Paul II in 1997, saying that governments always claim that the instances in which they take life involve the most severe cases of crimes; that moved him to edit the catechism and remove the loophole, so that the Church now stands firmly against this taking of life, without exceptions. See Sister Prejean's recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, "Above All Else, Life."

All these actions noted as wrong, except contraception, directly take life, so I would normally include contraception in another category of less urgent ethical acts that the Church prohibits, like divorce or extramarital sex -- but contraception, unlike these things, can prevent actual death. True, unlike the other actions in my list above, it is not the only thing available that could save the life in question. To save life when an invading army is extinguishing it, and not merely to attempt to save it but to do so successfully, I will almost surely have to take up arms. But when AIDS kills people, contraception is not the only thing that could save them; technically, so can abstinence.

So that becomes the crux of the issue. Many Catholics in traditional regions of the world, which included most of the U.S. until as late as the Kennedy presidency, take the Church's prohibition against artifical contraception seriously and consequently decline to use condoms, resulting in large Catholic families. But while they also take the Catholic teachings on celibacy, moderation and sexual fidelity seriously, they find they cannot change their sexual desire and behavior with nearly the same success. Declining condom use during sex is often actually pleasant, and even if the consequences are difficult, it continues; men still have more power than women, in the bedroom as in other places, and it is they most often who choose to go without condoms. This is especially the case in Africa, where the refusal to use condoms, though supported by emotional deference to the Church, can hardly be said to arise from it. If deference to the Church were truly the engine of human behavior, sexual moderation and monogamy would rule.

No, the sex urge -- and sexism -- are more dominant aspects of human behavior. People often do genuinely try to change their sexual habits, not least because they often suffer from their sexual patterns, whether as women who are used or dominated sexually, or as people generally who suffer the pangs of infidelity, STD's, and all their long consequences. But how easily do they succeed in ordering their sexual patterns along the lines they might wish? You can ask people to change, and teach them how to do so, but you also have to have a good idea of the size and strength of what you're trying to change.

Imagine you wanted to see an increase in your nation's economic productivity over the next year. Nations tend to have growth rates, when they're lucky, that hover around 2 or 3 percent. That is natural growth. If you want to change that in any unique way, you're going to have to expect that nothing else but major changes, or extraordinary good fortune, will produce exceptional wealth. Even so, the growth will then be measured around 5 or 6 percent, rarely higher. But for Africa to combat AIDS through abstinence and moderation alone, imagine the changes that will have to take place in the sexual economy. Africans already infected with HIV number in the tens of millions. These will have to stop having sex. Many African men have multiple wives; if any one in the household currently having sex already has HIV, that person must become abstinent. Today, a large fraction of all adults in the household either have HIV or are being exposed to it; and it will be a long time before Africa's medical infrastructure, and the people's knowledge and free agency, will become such that the typical African family will know exactly who has the virus and who does not. Where uncertainty reigns, action must be taken widely. Condoms can do that; abstinence will not prevail. Over time, abstinence can increase in a society, but even so, like any other cultural change, it will not be instantaneous, and will increase only in single-digit percentages over the short run; meanwhile millions are literally going to the grave. Moreover, we all want modernization for Africa, and though the Church does not want exploitative and material capitalism reigning there, we have to admit that modernization often does change cultures in ways that glamorize promiscuity. If sex were to increase in a society where women were still not empowered and people were not educated (for these are always painfully slow processes), the epidemic will be strengthened. All these things must be taken into account by anyone wishing to stand for life.

The analogy between the non-sexual and sexual economies is particularly apt because the Church has always stood against Communism. It has always understood that command-control economies do not produce wealth but rather constrict it. If you wanted to see growth in your nation's economy over the next year, you could not possibly command it from a centralized position; the changes required would all be along the lines of giving people more freedom and knowledge so that they can produce the wealth. Africa seems to me to have a capitalist sexual economy, where sex is not inhibited, but those with enough power exploit those without the means to seek sex on their own terms. If you wanted to increase celibacy or moderation, and to decrease the amount of sex being engaged in, then perhaps the best way to attempt it is from a centralized location like the Vatican; but Communism was never able to stamp out what it wanted to inhibit. It just went underground. And stamping out anything that is not violent is obviously not the needed answer. What you need is to empower those who do not have power; then you have a free economy that is both just and safe.

At this point in history, the Church needs to teach people that if they value their lives, or simply their health, they will protect it from STD's. Even a Church man would have a hard time saying, to pick a most extreme example, that a woman about to be raped, with no hope of escape, cannot beg for her attacker to use a condom. But rape is far from the only issue to deal with. As noted, the sex drive is terribly, terribly difficult to inhibit without the best circumstances and the best support; even clergy have failed in large numbers recently to keep their vows, which calls into question even more imperatively the idea that the distant Vatican could change the African sexual economy significantly and for the better; married people have temptation facing them in a way that clergy do not; and monagamy does not rule, not merely because people are promiscuous, but because they have multiple wives, in non-Catholic marriages. The Church may teach that those marriages need to be dissolved in favor of monogamy and all the rest; but any sane authority will know that such changes, if they occur at all, will take time -- and in the interim millions will die and millions more will become infected. To stand for life is to take this into account.

There is no reason why the Church cannot say, "Protect your life and your health if you value these things," and say nothing to put the spiritual teachings about contraception and the sanctity of natural reproduction above that crucial issue of life's survival, but continue to teach the good health of sexual moderation. There is simply no false either/or choice here. Life itself cannot afford it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

answer 1 question, Please. When the man won't take protection against ??? all the above, then a woman shoould have the right to get away from him,and if you get info. delivered to you good or bad,are you as a true parent going to walk away from your child? The one who is suffering? BUY ALL MEANS NO.So when the "qoute" father won't accept that all his childern have a personal issue that needs to be delt with, for life saving issues, are you going to walk away as a "father", or DO THE RIGHT THING? He doesn't go to the DOC. and won't. So that is his choice, but don't deny my childern their rights, to help or treatment.It's commons sense to get
a booster shot, or well not putting him down but, this faather will eat food thats a wk. old, or left out. But in his little life, he's perfect, then people wounder why I have tried to get away from a burned out no good drugy , in his first 30 yrs of life. Me and my childern deserve better, And when you don't accept what a DOC. tells you and do the right thing, FOR GODS SAKE, FOR THE CHILDERN'S RIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL.When your daughter needs a blood transfusion, be there for her or walk away? A mother would be there. That's the kind of person that has no medical knowledge and don't want to listen,aaaccept it take responsabilty for it, not to cough, sneeze, or drink after everyone, for mono, or strep, or viruis's. Yea he goes to work, but you have to take care of personal life issues,for your self and childerns sake. I have no energy to keep waiting, for him to accept, life as it is. But I do have the right to stand up for my childern, their rights. Thats a reason for divorce, don't stop to think how these childern will contine their education, or why they only make it to middle school, cause their still sick, can't function properly.Even a blood disorder, but Father don't care, he will continue to drink his booze, "to clean his system"
But for god sake these childern can not do that, first its not proper,it's not legal, any they all probaly will need transfuions.So I can't deal with his denial, not to help his on childern.WHAT A SIN. On a real mans point of view, would you, Do the right thing, or will you turn your back on your on childern??
Send a feed back, PLease?

May 08, 2005 11:47 AM  

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