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Prudential Puzzler: When does life begin? (In Colorado, that is)

Despite all the wayward threads this election season, there have been some substantial and useful discussions here on Catholic faith and public life, in particular on the employment of prudential judgments--the lifeblood of politics. That said, a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Colorado offers an interesting story line, in that it seeks todefine a"person" as"any human being from the moment of fertilization," with all the constitutional rights that confers.Sounds like a pro-lifer's dream. Except the Catholic hierarchy of the state is not backing it, the anti-abortion governor (Bill Ritter, a Catholic) is against it, and national pro-life groups aren't supporting it either. This AP story is the best overview I've found. Apparently the concern is much like that of the NRA with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment (which went their way--phew!), namely, that passing this amendment might provoke an up-or-down decision on the legality of abortion. A June statement from the Colorado bishops explains their thinking, or their strategy, you might say.

"Unfortunately, even if this year's personhood amendment is passed in Colorado, lowerfederal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to applythe permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. SupremeCourt. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of. While the Church respects those promoting this personhoodamendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline tosupport its passage because it does not provide a realisticopportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado. Constructive alternatives to reduce abortions and advance the ultimate objective of ending abortion, however, do exist at the state level."

And earlier this month Archbishop Chaput of Denver released a statement (PDF) chiding Ritter over remarks on the personhood question. But it did little (for me) to clarify the church's thinking here, or why the hierarchy's prudential (political) savvy in this case (if indeed this is the best move) is not applicable elsewhere. For example, overturning Roe v. Wade under the current climate of opinion and lack of pregnancy support could very likely lead to a stronger affirmation of abortion rights. (Such was the spur to the dreaded FOCA.)In any case, I'd be interested in thoughts on the prudential and political merits here, from those in the know, or those in Colorado who may have better insights from up close. Which is my way of saying, let's try to keep the demonizing to a minimum.

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There must be hundreds of unexpected ramifications of legally defining personhood as beginning at conception. As I have pointed out a number of times before, according to information in the transcript of a session titled "Early Embryonic Development: An Up-to-Date Account" by the Presidents Council on Bioethics, early embryo loss from the time of fertilization is 80 percent (possibly greater), and the loss of embryos that survive 7 days is still 60 percent. All of those, most of whose existence we would never even know about, would be legal persons.http://www.bioethics.gov/transcripts/jan03/session1.htmlWould a pregnant woman who drank a glass of wine be guilty of serving alcohol to minors? Could women who take less than optimal care of their health during pregnancy be accused of child abuse or child neglect? Could pregnant women be held against their will to protect the rights of the persons inside them? The "fetal rights" movement raises some of these questions, but this amendment raises even more.There are possible ramifications for wills. Something trivial that comes to mind are those signs in elevators, restaurants, and other public spaces that say it is unsafe or illegal to have more than some specified number of people in them. You would have to cut the number by half if they were all pregnant women!Would citizenship be determined by where a person was conceived rather than where he or she was born? Would you need conception certificates instead of birth certificates? This amendment sounds very much like the Born Alive Infant Protection Act that Obama is excoriated for blocking, only it defines personhood beginning with conception instead of birth.

This amendment sounds very much like the Born Alive Infant Protection Act that Obama is excoriated for blocking, only it defines personhood beginning with conception instead of birth.For the record, what Obama opposed was the definition of personhood in the act, which included any fetus with a discernable heartbeat --- ie. at around five weeks.

"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves."

to define a person as any human being from the moment of fertilization"Perhaps I have missed something here, but the definition seems to be question begging, i.e., the language used assumes that at the moment of fertilization a human being exists, i.e., an actual and not merely a potential human being.

Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.Jim,Could you please explain?

Here is the text of the amendment:Section 31. Person defined. AS USED IN SECTIONS 3, 6, AND 25 OF ARTICLE II OFTHE STATE CONSTITUTION, THE TERMS "PERSON" OR "PERSONS" SHALL INCLUDE ANYHUMAN BEING FROM THE MOMENT OF FERTILIZATION.

Joseph--Rather than describe the unique human being created at the moment of conception as a potential human being, I think it is more apt to say that a human being with potential has just been created.David G.--An interesting post. Perhaps the Colorado bishops are correct politically that the proposed constitutional amendment could not pass judicial muster with the Roe jurisprudence in place, but I don't know that is "likely" that the Supreme Court would decline to "review" a lower court decision construing the amendment. Unlike the need for at least 5 votes from the justices when a case is decided, only 4 votes are needed when the 9 justices vote as to whether they will hear a case. Two votes would likely come from Scalia and Thomas, and two additional votes might come from Roberts and Alito. If the case were to be reviewed by the court, however, the rubber would meet the road when it came Justice Kennedy's turn to vote on the case. I can see how the bishops would have concerns about which way his vote would go.

Hello Joseph (and all),to define a person as any human being from the moment of fertilizationPerhaps we have already reached our first tangent here but I think it's worth addressing your excellent question. I think the most charitable way to read this is to interpret "human being" as "living member of the human species". On this reading, the definition need not be question-begging. (I also thing you are exactly right if I interpret you correctly. Many who use the term "human being" use it to refer to a "human person".)Is every living member of the human species a person? I think so. But many, including many for whom I have utmost respect, think not. Those with whom I disagree maintain that some living humans are not persons because these humans do not function in certain ways they claim are characteristic of persons. For example, some maintain that since an embryonic human cannot have plans for her life, this human cannot be a person (although this human is undeniably alive and posesses a genetic endowment that determines some of her characteristics, including her being female).

David N.--I'm taking it that at least some of your hypotheticals were meant to be tongue in cheek. (At least I hope so.)"Would a pregnant woman who drank a glass of wine be guilty of serving alcohol to minors?"Would a post-partum woman who drank a glass of wine and breast feed her child be guilty of serving alcohol to minors?"Something trivial that comes to mind are those signs in elevators, restaurants, and other public spaces that say it is unsafe or illegal to have more than some specified number of people in them. You would have to cut the number by half if they were all pregnant women!"I don't think so. Those types of restrictions are functions of limiting the size and/or mass of individuals in a confined space, not a function of the legal definition of "person.""Would citizenship be determined by where a person was conceived rather than where he or she was born? Would you need conception certificates instead of birth certificates?"Again, I don't think so. Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and as such it can be defined as attaching at the moment of birth in the United States.

It strikes me that this amendment, should it pass, would have no effect human cloning and might render clones nonpersons.The "embryo" of a clone is created by nuclear transplantation rather than fertilization. I don't think there is any way to argue they are the same thing. It was my position, in a recent discussion here, that human cloning has not happened yet, but it was the position of others that when nuclear transplantation is done with human cells, the result is a human clone that is also a human being (or person). If there are to be equal rights for clones, they need to rewrite this amendment.

Would a pregnant woman who drank a glass of wine be guilty of serving alcohol to minors?Would a post-partum woman who drank a glass of wine and breast feed her child be guilty of serving alcohol to minors?This is from the Wikipedia article on fetal rights, and of course the prosecutions occurred without any laws declaring that babies are fully protected human persons under the law.

No U.S. state has enacted a law which criminalizes specific behavior during pregnancy, but, nonetheless, it has been estimated that at least 200 American women have been criminally prosecuted or arrested under existing child abuse statutes for allegedly bringing about harm in-utero through their conduct during pregnancy. Reasons for pressing charges included use of illicit drugs, consumption of alcohol, and failure to comply with a doctor's order of bedrest or caesarean section. Drug addicts have been accused of "supplying drugs to a minor" through unintentional chemical subjection via the umbilical cord. Others have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the "deadly weapon" in question being an illegal drug. Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota allow women who continue to use substances while pregnant to be civilly committed. Some states require that medical providers report any infant who is born with a physical dependency, or who tests positive for residual traces of alcohol or drugs, to child welfare authorities.
You can also find cases where women have been accused of murdering their babies by breastfeeding because the mothers were using drugs, some of them legal prescription drugs.

" Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.Jim,Could you please explain?"Sure, nothing too profound ... the situation just recalled that verse to mind, particularly the "shrewd as serpents" bit. While the church agrees with the language of the amendment, it seems imprudent to adopt it.Some of the arguments as recapped by David and reported in the AP story remind me of what happened in South Dakota a couple of years ago, where what seemed a striking pro-life victory nosedived into a decisive defeat.http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/vote2006/SD/2006-11-08-ab... the time, the initial legislation was criticized by pro-life professionals for some of the same reasons being cited now in Colorado by the church and other organizations.

I dont think so. Those types of restrictions are functions of limiting the size and/or mass of individuals in a confined space, not a function of the legal definition of person.William,This was not meant entirely seriously, but when you redefine what is meant by "person" in your constitution, you change every law and regulation that has the word "person" in it, and unless you read through all your laws and regulations, and think carefully about how some clever law enforcement official or defense lawyer might use those laws and regulations, you have just made potentially drastic changes that you may not be aware of. If it is illegal for more than a certain number of people to occupy an elevator, and your constitution changes the law that governs that so unborn infants count as persons, then a pregnant woman counts as two people -- or with fertility drugs, up to five or six, nowadays! Laws should mean what they say, and if you redefine "person" and a law with the word "person" in it has a ramification nobody thought of, do you just say, "Well, they didn't mean to change this law, so we'll just ignore the new meaning." And who gets to make those decisions?

Jim--As you may know, South Dakota has a similar ballot initiative going to vote next week, except that this one contains exceptions for rape, incest, or a threat to the life of a pregnant woman. NPR profiled the ballot measure earlier this week. In the largely conservative state, it appears the initiative is being closely watched nationally by both pro-life and pro-choice supporters.

I'm not always a fan of Cardinal Egan, but he recently took a different tack on the abortion issue, avoiding the legal and theological arguments for what can be called the pictorial argument:http://www.cny.org/archive/eg/eg102308.htm H/T: MOJ(Apologies to David G. if this post veers from the substance of his initial one.)

When I first read this post, I thought about two things:-Colorado politics , my nearby neighbor to the north has clearly become more blue as Denver has grown enormously and continues to. Colorado Springs keeps growing as well (especially along the Interstate coridor.) A number of folks I know have moved on to the fort Collins (Col. St. U. area) as well. I think the amendment may have some tie to how people wil vote in the general election.-The influence of the major one issue Colorado Bishops (Chaput and Sheridan) seems from this distance to be lessening.The pull though is still quite strong in mainly conservative leaning Colorado Springs.I think the passage of the amendment is less than clear.I thoroughly agree with Bill Collier on what the Supreme Court might do if its makeup was the same and this came before them.It would come down to the ever eclectic Kennedy, and given his distaste for the simplistic and bald approach, I think it's 55-45 he'd go against.While you may debate the merits of the amendment, what in fac thappens will reside in matters political in my judgement.That's why the question of effectiveness in presenting life isues is really the crucial one

Bill C.Just saw your last post. I would note that Catholic new York might not hav ea huge readership, even if the paper is thrown at folk leaving Church by the ushers. Granted that, I'm not sure the visceral aproach is any more effective than the political club over the head.Is Egan still ticked off at Fordham - Breyer honoring is tonight?

I took Mr. Nickol's reference about 60% to 80% of fertilized eggs being lost and with my librarian's itch checked it out. Dr. Opitz does indeed make that statement but without references. One permits oneself a little eyebrow raising at the scope of the numbers - a difference of 25%.to 30%. It does raise the further question whether a distinction is to be made between fertilization and conception Dr. Opitz recounts his youth: "The very first question that Professor Witschi asked me is well, John, and what is the biogenetic fundamental law? And I said well, I don't know, sir. And right then and there he told me about Haeckel's famous statement that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". This theory, in the highly elaborate and deterministic form advanced by Haeckel, has, since the early twentieth century, been refuted on many fronts.Scott F Gilbert. "Ernst Haeckel and the Biogenetic Law". Developmental Biology, 8th edition. Sinauer Associates. Retrieved on 2008-05-03. "Eventually, the Biogenetic Law had become scientifically untenable". With its faked drawings [still occasionally seen in high school textbooks] was used to reinforce the theory of the superiority of the "Caucasian race". Dr. Opitz ended his discussion thus: "the point I want to make very strongly is this, that there's a continuum in developmental potential to the very moment of conception".

David N.,You are right to say that one should think carefully before altering the basic definition of a term that is found throughout a legal code or be prepared to deal with lots of unintended consequences. It would seem much simpler to me to state that all human beings (defined as living members of the human species) possess the right to life, and leave it at that.As for David G.'s broader question about the local Catholic heirarchy not endorsing the ammendment, I find it highly appropriate to consider the practical consequences of any legal measure. After all, the Church teaches that there are three components to any moral act- the nature of the act, the end in view (intention), and the circumstances. If any one of these three components is evil, then the act is considered evil. In this instance the bishops have made the judgement that the circumstances are such that this otherwise good act will produce unacceptable negative consequences. Now here's where it gets interesting. An argument could be made that what the bishops are doing here is using a proportionalist approach to moral theology that was roundly condemned by JPII in Veritatis Splendor. If they are in fact arguing that Catholics should vote against the measure, the nature of the act itself (voting against legal protection for the unborn) would be considered evil. They would then be in the position of advocating an act that is intrinsically evil on the basis of the negative circumstances that surround it and the negative consequences that would ensue. Perhaps they could try to get around this by simply telling people to abstain from voting on the measure (the NFP route, if you follow my analogy). However this always seemed like splitting hairs to me because the Church recognizes that sins occur by both commission and ommission. Wouldn't deliberately failing to vote for the legal protection of unborn human persons be a sin of ommission?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: From its conception, the Child has the Right to Life.The Bishops are simply wrong. There is no reason not to support the Personhood Amendment because the Truth is, at Conception, the Life of a unique Human Person begins.

David Tenney, thanks for that very useful (for my mind) explication. Did you see Chaput's statement in the PDF file? He says, "Catholics are free to support or oppose Amendment 48, commonly known as the Personhood Amendment, as they judge appropriate. This is a prudential matter which requires personal reflection and decision." I wonder if that threads the intrinsically evil needle?I do think it's a very interesting case study, and my original interest was largely political, in the sense of how the Colorado bishops (and the pro-life lobby's) "prudential" approach relates to that of regular ol' Catholics trying to parse things like this--and often getting hammered for trying to make such judgments. A question that emerges is a basic one: What is the pro-life strategy? If challenging Roe v. Wade is not opportune or possible, what is the startegy? And why then the virtual monofocus on Roe? I imagine one tack is to try to get a president who will get enough like-minded judges to overturn Roe, but even if McCain is elected, that's years away. Again, even if Roe is overturned (and the likely backlash isn't enough to get a FOCA-like law/amendment passed), what is the state-by-state strategy? And what of a "culture of life," or the policies the bishops refer to, until then? It just seems that the bishops are making judgments very much in line with many Catholics, many of whom will vote for Obama or other Democrats who are pro-choice to one degree or another. And while I at first thought the whole debate over personhood was becoming "angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin" stuff (perhaps because I'm a pinhead), I realize from this thread that it really is at the core of the whole legal approach to abortion. (Duh, many will say.) In that a line must be drawn somewhere, and if it;s at "fertilization," it'll be a morass, but if it's at five week, or first trimester, or viability, or whatever, then we will have effectively enshrined abortion rights into law. I don't see a way around it, really. Many non-Catholics believers would object on religious grounds, and I cannot believe Americans would bar cases of rape or incest or life of the mother. One exception, I guess I'm saying, voids the entire legal project. And arguing that greater legal restrictions are a virtue is simply another form 9it seems to me) of the "abortion reduction" approach that has been deemed a non-starter (to put it kindly).In any case, just random thoughts from a tired brain. Thanks to David Nickol and William Collier, and Jim Pauwels for the South Dakota reference. That's be an interesting one to watch. BTW, the NRA is not unhappy with how the second Amendment case went.

Nancy,You wrote, "There is no reason not to support the Personhood Amendment because the Truth is, at Conception, the Life of a unique Human Person begins." But what if supporting the ammendment will almost certainly result in more legal obstacles to the recognition of the personhood of unborn human beings? Wouldn't that constitute a reason not to support the amendment?David G.,You wrote, "[Chaput] says, 'Catholics are free to support or oppose Amendment 48, commonly known as the Personhood Amendment, as they judge appropriate. This is a prudential matter which requires personal reflection and decision.' I wonder if that threads the intrinsically evil needle?"I don't see how he can maintain that this is a matter of prudential judgement since the bishops have affirmed again and again that the question of whether abortion ought to be legal must be answered in the negative and is not a matter of prudential judgement. I would assume that the same must hold true for teh question of the legal recignition of the rights of teh unborn. The bishops have said many things to this effect in their statements on choosing candidates for office. It would seem even clearer in this case where the voters are being asked to consider a specific and narrow legal action rather than select a candidate who will act on a large range of issues. I think the bishops' reasoning is correct; I'm just pointing out that it contradicts the moral principles they have articulated elsewhere and which were laid out by JPII in Veritatis Splendor.For what it is worth, my opinion is that JPII's critique of proportionalism missed the target. He wrongly equated proportionalism with consequentialism. Proportionalism evaluates an act by analyzing the good/evil of the three moral components of the act and comparing it to the good/evil of the three compenents of available alternative courses of action. It chooses the course of action that has the highest proportion of good to evil between the three parts of the act. Consequentialism on the other hand only looks at the circumstances of the act (the last of the three moral components) and makes its judgement based on which course of action will achieve the greatest good in its consequences (without respect to the intention with which the act is performed or the object/nature of the act itself). In equating the two and condemning proportionalism, JPII moved the Church towards a defacto deontology- which, BTW, would make a great name for a rock band. Deontology is a moral system which evaluates moral actions primarily (often exclusively) by analyzing the first component of the action: the nature or object of the action. For a deontologist, an action that is intrinsically evil (in its object) cannot be justified by any set of circumstances or any intention. This leads to all sorts of conclusions with which I struggle: e.g. war can sometimes be justified, but sexual intercourse with a condom cannot, even if it is between an elderly husband and wife where one partner is infected with HIV.As you can see, while this argument is a bit technical, it lies at the heart of many of the major debates within the Church today.Two other miscellaneous points:-In JPII's defense, some proportionalists were basically using their method in consequentialist ways. I think that is what he was reacting against. It is unfortunate though that he condemned the proportionalist approach as a whole. When used properly, I think it reflects the best of the Church's moral tradition. I fear that the more deontological approach we use now doesn't give enough moral significance to the second and third parts of the moral act.- Prof. Caveny had some worthwhile things to say that are related to this question in her recent article on "Intrinsic Evil" in America.Some resources:- on the three parts of a moral act see Catechism #1749 and following- on JPII's critique of proportionalism see Veritatis Splendor #75 and following

Hello David T. (and all),Thanks for another terrific post. I second all that you say. But I thought it might be worth adding a little to your discussion. I think JPII was not the only one who confused proportionalism with consequentialism. Perhaps this is because theories of consequentialism emerged primarily in philosophy whereas proportionalism emerged in moral theology, and sadly the two disciplines are mainly out of contact with each other. I have also noticed that a number of Catholic critics of consequentialism conflate the two main forms of consequentialism, utilitarianism and egoism. Put crudely, the standard of egoism is expected self interest while the standard of utilitarianism is expected community interest. Many times I have heard or read Catholic critics speak of utilitarianism as if this were a creed of unbridled selfishness, while in fact one of the most common philosophical complaints against utilitarianism is that this kind of consequentialism requires people to be far more selfless than we can expect them to be."JPII moved the Church towards a defacto deontology- which, BTW, would make a great name for a rock band. Deontology is a moral system which evaluates moral actions primarily (often exclusively) by analyzing the first component of the action: the nature or object of the action."I think you're right. Kant was the greatest philosophical deontologist, and as I've told my fiancee, after reading some of JPII's writings on moral questions I've concluded he was a Kantian, though he may not have been aware of it."For a deontologist, an action that is intrinsically evil (in its object) cannot be justified by any set of circumstances or any intention. This leads to all sorts of conclusions with which I struggle: e.g. war can sometimes be justified, but sexual intercourse with a condom cannot, even if it is between an elderly husband and wife where one partner is infected with HIV."I have much the same struggles, even though my best philosophical colleague (now one of the foremost philosophers in North America) has told me on occasion that given my conduct she thinks I'm a Kantian and she's probably right). Another specific example that gives me hives: Humanae Vitae explicitly permits the use of drugs for medical treatment that have a contraceptive effect. But according to Church teaching, couples may not use contraception even when pregnancy would threaten one of their lives. It's my understanding that some contraceptives are effective treatments for acne. So wouldn't that imply that couples could use contraception if the woman suffers from acne, but not if the woman suffers from multiple sclerosis?

Two votes would likely come from Scalia and Thomas...Don't be too sure about Scalia. He of the *original meaning* school recently said in a 60-Minutes interview that he disagreed with extending legal personhood to the fetus because the framers considered a person as a "walking around human being*.

Peter,You wrote, "Another specific example that gives me hives: Humanae Vitae explicitly permits the use of drugs for medical treatment that have a contraceptive effect. But according to Church teaching, couples may not use contraception even when pregnancy would threaten one of their lives. Its my understanding that some contraceptives are effective treatments for acne. So wouldnt that imply that couples could use contraception if the woman suffers from acne, but not if the woman suffers from multiple sclerosis?"The answer to your question has to do with the principle of double effect (PDE). PDE tells us when it is morally permissible to take an action that will have forseeable evil consequences but will also accomplish something good. Basically you knowingly take an action, but without willing the evil outcome. In order for an action to be permitted uner the PDE it must meet four criteria, which conveniently and appropriately very much line up with the three parts of the moral act;1) The object of the act must not be intrinsically evil.2) The evil outcome of the act must not be directly willed or intended.3) There must be a proportionate reason for tolerating the evil outcome (i.e. there is a greater good to be accomplished on consequentialist grounds).4) The good that will be accomplished by the act may not be the direct result of the evil outcome (because we may never do evil so that good may result from it).Taking a contraceptive to clear up acne fails #3. Taking a medicine that has contraceptive side effects but which is primarily aimed at treating a serious illness meets all four criteria which is why it is allowed in Humanae Vitae. Using a condom in the scenario I outlined would fail #1 according to the church's logic. I see ways that it could be argued that the primary object of using a condom is blocking disease transmission and its contraceptive effects are an unintended if forseeable consequence. Some bishops and many moral theologians have voiced support for this position (and it was even being explored at some high level in the Vatican in recent years), but so far has not been accepted by the pope. The real problem is that there is an underlying philosophical debate about the line between the object/nature of the act and the intention with which it is performed.

Peter, In science, when you do a theoretical experiment that suggests an answer that you know can't be right, you start looking for the flaws in the logic underlying the method or conduct of the experiment. Let's say your experiment tells you gravity is a false concept. You will never advise people to jump off buildings as a result because you know your result can't be right, even if you can't figure out what you did wrong to get it.In philosophy or moral theology, when your logical construct gives you a result that strikes you as intuitively wrong in a deep or profound way, I suggest you do the same thing. The fact that you don't have the concrete tools for "proving" how wrong an answer is (people don't float, they fall when they jump from a building) doesn't mean you should nonetheless accept the rightness of constructs that you "know" at some level are giving you the wrong answers. It's hard, because we want our answers to result from our reasoning; we don't want our reasoning to be outcome determinative, that is, solely based on validating the answer that we know we want. And in some cases (especially scientific inquiries) a right answer can really be the unexpected one. But still, in those cases where the answer seems so obviously wrong, it's time to reconsider the logic that got you there in the first place.And so my complaint with the logic of the Church's teaching begins with its view on the permissible treatment of an ectopic pregnancy . . .In the law, consequences do matter in fixing both the definition of the crime and the scope of the punishment. I think there are very few pure deontologists (Gosh, thanks David T. for giving me some idea what that means).

David Tenney,Acne, in some cases, can be horribly disfiguring, so I am not sure why it would be any less a reason to use the pill than, say, endometriosis. But that doesn't affect the principles involved. It's a matter of determining how to apply them.But I am wondering if you are correct in your analysis of using a contraceptive drug. After all, there would be no question of using it in the case of a woman who was not sexually active. So the drug itself, or the use of the drug, could not be considered intrinsically evil (for those who believe that is a useful concept). The pill is not inherently a contraceptive as, for example, a condom would be a contraceptive (assuming you use the condom for its intended purpose rather than, say, filling it with water and throwing it off the roof). So it would seem to me the question is not whether taking the pill for something other than contraceptive purposes is licit, but rather whether it is licit to engage in sexual intercourse when using something that might have the effect of rendering you infertile. It seems to me it would be purely a matter of intent, and no proportionate reason would would be needed. Not conceiving because you are infertile, whether naturally or "artificially," is not evil. It is deliberately preventing conception that the Church considers evil. Of course, there are many pro-life "enthusiasts" who claim one of the effects of the pill -- if it fails to prevent ovulation, and then fails to prevent sperm from reaching the egg -- is to prevent implantation, which they consider equivalent to abortion. And some of them maintain a woman using the pill for noncontraceptive purposes must refrain from sexual intercourse for fear of inducing an "abortion." Opinion on this seems to be divided.

Hello All,Thanks to David T. and to Barbara for your fine responses to my post of last evening. David N. has anticipated how I would have responded to David T.'s response.Barbara rightly points out that there are very few pure deontologists. Indeed, it's not so clear that one can consistently be a pure deontologist. Kant, the "king" of deontologists, proposed a kind of litmus test for making decisions which I will paraphrase:I may do X if I can consistently will that everyone does X.How does this apply to the question of abortion which is so closely tied to David G.'s original post? You will get different answers, depending in part on how you describe the decision. Perhaps you can't consistently will that every pregnant woman procures an abortion. But maybe you could consistently will that every pregnant woman carrying a fetus with Down's syndrome procures an abortion. (And I would like to be clear that these made up examples do not reflect my own positions.)Of course, there's a lot more to be said about deontological ethics (which is one reason why professional philosophers are so busy). But I think Barbara is on the right track.Maybe I should add that while I think David T. was exactly right about JPII being a deontologist, JPII might have resisted being described this way. Veritatis Splendor is supposed to be a defense of classical natural law theory, which is a somewhat different animal than deontological ethics.

David Nickol,You've brought out two important concerns. The first is the one I alluded to at the end of my last post: Where is the line of demarcation between the different parts of an act. If a contraceptive is not being used for a contraceptive purpose but for some other good reason, is its contraceptive quality still part of its object or merely part of the consequences/circumstances? If we say that it is part of its object, then it could never be permitted under the PDE. But if we say that it is merely part of the consequences of the act, then it could be permitted under the PDE. One might be tempted at this point to simply throw up one's hands and declare this "angels dancing on the head of a pin" territory. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions have huge real world consequences- e.g. use of condoms to prevent HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.The second important concern you've raised has to do with how we measure the gravity of different evils against one another. Does disfiguring acne qualify as a sufficient evil to override the prohibition against an act that has been defined as intrinsically evil, namely using a contraceptive medication? This is a question that drives right to the heart of the debate over proportionalism. Imagine a scale of 1-10 where 1 is gravely evil and 10 is very good. Then imagine assigning a numerical score to each of the three moral components of an action and doing the same for an alternative course of action. Several problems immediately present themselves. First, who decides whether disfiguring acne is a 4 or a 2 on our scale? Clearly a great deal of subjectivity enters in here. Second, how does one weigh scores in each of the three columns against one another. Is a level 2 evil in the consequences category sufficient to justify perfoming an action that is a level 3 evil in its object, or could that only be justified by a consequence that was a level 1 evil? Admittedly my 1-10 scale is a bit simplistic and contrived, but hopefully the underlying problems are clear. In order to really use proportionalism as an approach to moral theology we would need workable solutions to these problems. I believe that this is one area where proponents of proportionalism have work to do. I also believe that they and the Church could have been greatly helped by a more nuanced critique of proportionalism in Veritatis Splendor. Imagine if JPII had laid out these concerns to the proportionalists and identified some foundational principles from which to begin addressing them. Unfortunately he just condemned proportionalism whole-sale.Also: Apologies to Prof. Kaveny for mispelling her name in my earlier post.

One can continue to make statements until the end of Time to try to justify the gruesome act of abortion. The fact is, there is no argument that exists that can change the Truth about when the Life of a Human Person begins, which is at Conception, when there exists a unique Human Person, with unique DNA, consistent with that of a Human Being, separate from that of it's Mother.

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.