Tag Archives: culture of life

COVID vaccines raise worry over life and liberty protection

As Independence Day arrives in this year of the coronavirus, we begin to taste again the basic freedom of personal interaction with friends, family, colleagues, and with our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. Yet as public health restrictions are cautiously eased, a question of life and liberty looms on the horizon: the COVID-19 vaccination.

We should certainly welcome rapid and widespread access to an adequately tested, safe, and effective vaccine, but it is easier said than done. Some major ethical concerns include the use of abortion-derived human fetal cell lines in development, restrictions on proper consent, and disproportionate government intervention.

Abortion-derived human fetal cell lines should not be used in the production of any vaccine. The Catholic Church affirmed this in the instruction Dignitas Personae. Only a handful of the COVID-19 vaccines in development make use of these lines, so there is a hope that a morally sound candidate will be successful. Regardless, we are called to give witness to the dignity of human life by demanding that new vaccines have no ties to abortion.

At the same time, Dignitas personae clarifies that end users are permitted to seek and receive immunizations of immoral origin when there are gravely proportionate reasons — including serious risks to personal or public health — with no better alternative available. Some may refuse vaccination to give special witness to the dignity of unborn children, while others at high risk might opt to safeguard personal and community health by pursuing vaccination.

Origins aside, vaccination decisions demand consideration of the facts to make an informed judgment. With any treatment, a person has the right to know the expected benefits and burdens. Will the vaccine have an effectiveness rate of 80 percent or 25 percent? How extensive was the testing to rule out adverse side effects? Population health benefits do not automatically create obligations for individuals. The decisions remain personal, accounting for circumstances. Risks, including possible adverse side effects, must not be obscured.

A concern with fast-tracked vaccines is the reliability of information concerning effectiveness and risks, the very facts essential to informed consent. Experimental vaccines for coronaviruses in years past have never been approved; a COVID-19 vaccine would be a first for this whole family of viruses. Efforts by health care professionals, pharmaceutical companies, government, and media to push the vaccine by ignoring or vilifying those with reasonable misgivings will weaken an already-waning public trust in vaccination practices. Integrity and transparency about the methods, quality, and conclusions of the research are crucial. This includes clear admissions of what we simply do not know, identification of expected benefits and risks, discussion of the certitude of expectations, and respect for individual judgments.

Government overreach is another major ethical issue. The principle of subsidiarity is a fundamental precept of Catholic social teaching: matters should be handled at the most local level possible, with higher levels offering supportive intervention only when truly necessary. Given the varied ways COVID-19 impacts different regions, a vaccine mandate from federal or state governments would be too blunt an instrument. This would feed a lack of public trust. In a similar vein, proposals for contact tracing or vaccination “chips” raise profound privacy concerns, further erode public trust, and can even sow mistrust within communities.

Government has a rightful interest in protecting the public from widespread and serious illness. Yet when it comes to concrete vaccination decisions, human dignity demands witness to the value of life, provision of adequate and reliable information, freedom of conscience, protection of privacy, and prioritization of more local government over higher levels. Anything less jeopardizes life and liberty.

JOHN A. DiCAMILLO, PH.D., B e.L., is a staff ethicist at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He earned his graduate degrees at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He lives in Lancaster County, PA, with his lovely wife Serena and their children.

Entrust kids to schools teaching ultimate Truth, moral law

Parents, as the first educators of their child and participating in the selection of an institution of higher education, are faced with challenges that perhaps their own parents had not faced: Will their teenager embrace the truths of the Church after their college experience? Historically, if a young person selected a Catholic college parents felt confident they would be supporting an educational experience supportive of Church teaching. Current anecdotal evidence suggests this may not always remain the case. Numerous mandates interfere with Catholic higher education’s unique role in preparing graduates to respond to the escalating moral questions of the day. These mandates may be from regulatory agencies, policies concerning academic freedom, legal claims labeling natural moral law as intolerant and discriminatory, and most impactfully, the demands of politically correct cultural relativism.

Catholic higher education has a unique role that extends beyond the education of the next generation. During Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 address to Catholic educators in the United States, he indicated how education plays a unique role in shaping a society respectful of natural moral law based on ultimate truths: “The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity. … The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis.” [Benedict XVI, Address to Catholic Educators (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, April 17, 2008).]

The most effective method of fulfilling this mission is by preparing graduates capable of shaping a society that respects natural moral law. However, society has become hostile, not only to the ultimate truths of natural moral law, but also to those who espouse them. Catholic colleges may find it financially and socially expedient to deemphasize such a mission. In so doing, students may be cheated of an education in ultimate truths consistent with reason, vital to the holistic development of the human person. The question remains: What is a parent, in assisting a college-seeking child, to do?

There are indicators of a Catholic institution’s willingness to fulfill its unique role. These include: the nature of institutional sponsorship; the composition of the institution’s board of directors and their membership in organizations which publicly advocate for positions inconsistent with Church teaching; the public positions taken by board members, the administration, and the faculty; the sources of institutional funding; the nature and number of mandated core courses in religious studies and philosophy; and the institution’s collaborative relationships with other agencies in meeting the educational needs of students. One very telling indicator is how the institution describes itself and its mission in promotional materials. Is its mission defined solely in terms of secular goals or in terms of the foundational goal of enabling students to discern ultimate truths consistent with natural moral law? Perhaps, most importantly, does the institution identify itself as Catholic, or merely as value or faith-based?

Catholic institutions of higher education have remained critical to the scientific, socio-cultural, and moral development of this nation. If parents, with their college-seeking children, are comfortable with what they have learned when assessing these parameters, they have a basis for entrusting the next generation to Catholic higher education.


DR. MARIE HILLIARD, MS, MA, JCL, PH.D., RN, is Senior Fellow at The National Catholic Bioethics Center. She has an extensive background in nursing, medical ethics, and public policy (former Director of the CT Catholic Conference). She is a canon lawyer, co-chairs the Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association, is president of the National Association of Catholic Nurses USA, and is a Colonel (Ret.) in the U.S. Army Reserve, where she served as RN for over 20 years. Having published extensively, she has likewise won Catholic Press Association award recognition.

Valor of priests ministering in the military

June 21 marked the ninth anniversary of Father Timothy Vakoc’s death. He is the only priest severely wounded by a road-side bomb in Iraq who later died as a result of his service. I will never forget my visit to him a year before he died. Even though speech was a challenge, he communicated his passion for the ministry which ultimately ended his earthly pilgrimage.

Historically, several Catholic military chaplains are well-known for their heroic deeds in times of war. All of the chaplains who received the Medal of Honor in the 20th century were Catholic priests. Their names might easily spring to mind. They gave so much of themselves for those they served.

However, what about the priest in his “ordinary” daily ministry? How does he give life as he meets the spiritual and human needs of the men and women in uniform? The role is challenging in today’s culture and the demands on his time are many.

Most Catholic priests who serve the military today fall into two categories. Either they are military chaplains (active duty, reserve, or National Guard) or they are civilians who meet the demands of a contracted or GS position. In either case, they are expected to meet all of the needs of the Catholics at their installation or on their ship. In that sense, you might liken them to your parish priest: attentive to sacramental needs, available to offer counsel, an asset to the religious education program, and ever ready to respond to those key moments in our lives –birth, sickness, sacraments, and death.

In the military the priests are also the “subject experts” for any question related to the Catholic faith. They are assisted in this role by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), the personal archdiocese at the service of men and women in uniform, of patients in the medical centers of the Department of Veterans Affairs, of any Catholic who works for the federal government outside of the U.S. borders, and of the families of these populations. The AMS assures the minimum expectations for ministry to Catholics, publishes a priests’ handbook, and responds to questions, problems, and opportunities that arise.

Those priests in uniform, however, are also officers in their respective branches of service. In that role they also provide for the needs of all those who seek their assistance. While they do not lead worship for non-Catholics, they might have to assure that spiritual needs are met, i.e., find someone who can fulfill the role required, order the items needed for the celebration of Passover, secure space for the Muslim community to pray, and so forth.

Most Catholic priests in the Armed Forces are not married (there are a few former Anglican and Episcopalian priests and Lutheran ministers who have families). There is a tendency to give them duty on holidays, so that the other chaplains can spend those days with their families. Catholic priests in the military often struggle to have a day off. They sacrifice to serve those who serve our country.

The U.S. has been at war now for almost two decades. However, military service involves less than 1 percent of the population. We might not often think of those demands which are the daily tasks of the priests who serve the military. You and I enjoy the freedoms that the military protects. They are vigilant so that we can be tranquil. These priests minister to those who make sacrifices for us. They offer the life-giving sacraments to those who put their lives on the line for our freedoms. In the case of a Father Vakoc they even sacrifice life itself so as to give life.

THE MOST REVEREND TIMOTHY P. BROGLIO has served as Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, since 2008. He is a veteran of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and holds a doctorate in canon law. As a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Broglio is currently chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Of cowboys, infertility and deeper moral questions

Most people still remember the story of Nadya Suleman, dubbed “Octomom,” a single woman who used in vitro fertilization to become pregnant with eight babies simultaneously. Suleman had asked her fertility specialist, Dr. Michael Kamrava, to implant at least a dozen embryos into her uterus, leading to the birth of the famous octuplets in 2009. Dr. Kamrava’s medical license was later revoked by the California Medical Board. In commenting on the case, Judith Alvarado, deputy attorney general in California, concluded that Dr. Kamrava had acted “like a cowboy” in ignoring fertility industry guidelines.

When it comes to the “wild west” of infertility — a field of medicine with little oversight and unbridled profit margins — there are a lot of cowboys out there.

Recently there was the case of Kelli Rowlette who, after having her own DNA analyzed in 2017 through a genealogy website, shockingly discovered her biological father was a fertility specialist who had once treated her mother. Without her mother’s knowledge or consent, the specialist had used his own sperm to impregnate her, while falsely claiming he was using a mixture of sperm from her husband (who had low sperm count) and another donor, supposedly an anonymous university student with features similar to her husband.

Another notorious episode involved Dr. Cecil Jacobson of Fairfax County, Virginia. He was accused of a “purposeful pattern of deceit” during the 1980’s when he fathered up to 75 children using his own sperm for artificial insemination with his female patients. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison and had his medical license revoked.

There was also the troubling incident involving Doctors Ricardo Asch, Jose Bulmaceda and Sergio Stone, three fertility specialists and faculty members at the University of California at Irvine who ran a campus fertility clinic during the 1990s. They were accused of fertilizing eggs they had harvested from women and implanting the resulting embryos into unrelated women, and selling some of the embryos to scientists and researchers. Dozens of women and couples filed lawsuits against the doctors and the university.

One reason these deceptive practices by fertility specialists are so offensive is that we realize how the procreation of our own children is meant to involve a strict exclusivity between husband and wife. Whenever we violate that exclusivity by hiring outsiders to produce our offspring in clinics, or engage strangers to provide their sex cells for these procedures, unthinkable outcomes become possible.

The plethora of these cases also reminds us that many of the approaches to human procreation being promoted by the fertility industry are not only cavalier, but unethical at their core. We are witnessing an unprecedented burgeoning of laboratory techniques for manufacturing human life, many of which are deeply antagonistic to human dignity and contrary to the parental obligations assumed by spouses when they marry.

The natural exclusivity intended in parenthood is meant to afford protection, security about our origins, and the safety of the home hearth. In the headlong rush to achieve a pregnancy at any price, many couples are allowing hawkish businessmen to manipulate their sex cells, create their children in glassware, store them in frozen orphanages, and even discard them like medical waste.

The tragic fallout of these decisions should reignite our natural moral sensibilities, and point us back in the direction of the Creator’s plan for human procreation. Our children are truly safeguarded in the dignity of their origins only when they are brought into the world through the marital embrace of husband and wife. Turning to the lawlessness of modern day fertility “cowboys,” meanwhile, is a quick study for violation and heartache.

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, PH.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, MA, and serves as the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See www.ncbcenter.org

Midterm passive-voter motivation can stunt abortion

The 2018 U.S. Senate midterm election is the most important election for the pro-life movement since Roe v. Wade. Forty-five years’ worth of toil, hope, and prayer comes down to this moment.

Marjorie Dannenfelser

By Election Day, three United States Supreme Court justices will be at least 80 years old. Speculation abounds that Justice Anthony Kennedy might soon retire. With state legislatures having passed several hundred pro-life laws in recent years, there is a strong likelihood that the case that finally brings down the Roe regime, with its staggering toll of over 60 million lives, is in its formative stage now. Twenty states have banned late-term abortion after five months of pregnancy based on the unborn child’s capacity to feel pain; Mississippi has banned abortion after 15 weeks; a flurry of bills would end lethal discrimination against babies with Down syndrome; among many developments.

Providential guidance and hard work have brought us to the remarkable point of having a pro-life president who has promised to nominate only pro-life Supreme Court justices, a promise kept with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. President Trump may have the rare chance to tip the balance of the court.

The rub is that President Trump can nominate the country’s most brilliant jurists, but the Senate still has to approve them. There is currently a slim Republican majority in the Senate, but not a solid pro-life majority. Time after time, abortion extremists have attacked exceptionally qualified nominees for their faith and principles, and the battles will only intensify in the future.

SBA List has long foreseen this fight and our strategy is in place. Historically, the president’s party suffers in midterm elections. When voter turnout is low, victory often belongs to those who simply show up – so we created the largest, most effective pro-life grassroots team in the country and have spent months laying the groundwork for that victory.

We began our field operation last summer with canvassers visiting homes in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri. We are poised to expand into four additional states with vulnerable pro-abortion senators to meet an ambitious goal of visiting two million homes before November. We are well on our way, having visited 700,000 homes already.

SBA List is uniquely focused on locating and motivating low-turnout pro-life voters, those who are prone to skipping an election but are motivated by the life issue. This is a nonpartisan project. We find pro-life Democrats, Independents, and Hispanics who are receptive to our message and can be persuaded to vote for pro-life candidates, then we encourage them to get out to the polls.

We preach to the choir – and it works. Like most Americans, the voters we target are with us on the issues: they overwhelmingly oppose late-term abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion, and the radical pro-abortion agenda. However, they are not voting. They may not realize how critical this election is to the future of unborn children or how extreme their senator’s record is, especially when politicians obfuscate and misrepresent their stance. By delivering this message personally at their homes, we increase voter turnout by 6.6 percent on average.

In so doing, we are going head-to-head with America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, and their allies, who have announced plans to spend $30 million on the midterm elections. The stakes have never been higher.

An opportunity like this for the pro-life movement truly comes once in a lifetime. We must seize it with all our hearts. With God’s grace and pro-life Americans’ prayerful support, together we can reclaim the Senate and the courts, protect unborn children and their mothers, and end one of the greatest injustices in human history.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List. SBA List’s mission is to end abortion by electing leaders and advocating for laws that save lives, with a special calling to promote pro-life women leaders. She is also a Legate of the Northern Virginia Chapter.

Catholics have a ‘way’ with faith and reason

Each year, the center for Bioethics and Human Dignity names a recipient of the Ramsey Award. Paul Ramsey, a Methodist, was an admired ethicist who wrote on theoretical and practical matters, including just-war theory, fetal research, and the patient as person. Although the CBHD is Protestant in origin and outlook, the vast majority of its award recipients have been Catholics. The winner in 2017 was David Albert Jones, the Director of the Anscombe Center in Oxford. Our own Father Albert Moraczewski, OP, former president of The National Catholic Bioethics Center, received the honor in 2008. Why are members of the Catholic faith receiving this prize in disproportionate numbers?

Edward J. Furton, M.A., PH.D.

There are many elements that make the Catholic faith unique, beginning with unity under the papacy, a long apostolic tradition handed down from Christ, our sacraments, and especially the sacrifice of the Mass. As Catholics, we see our faith as one, true, holy, and apostolic faith. Yet these elements do not explain the outsized influence Catholics have in bioethics. Protestants, in fact, consider these things just as contentiously as they did at the time of the Reformation.

The key is our openness to reason. Catholics have long held that faith works with reason, not that it eradicates reason. The great thinkers of our tradition have willingly absorbed the knowledge of philosophy, science, and the wider culture in a manner unlike any other religious faith. And many nonCatholic thinkers have made important contributions to ethics and moral philosophy in a similar manner — and we have embraced these truths.

The apostle Paul taught that God’s existence can be known through the things that are made [Rom 1:20] and that there is a moral law written into the heart of all human beings [Rom 2:15].

Catholics see St. Paul’s words as references to natural theology and natural law morality, that is, to that body of religious truth that is available to all human beings through the exercise of reason. A rational understanding of God and the moral order is not limited to Christians, but can be discovered by any thoughtful person who cares to objectively examine the evidence given in nature. This is not always an easy task, and many people have fallen into preconceived patterns of thinking, making it very difficult for them to see the moral order of the world as it exists around them.

But in principle, the Catholic defense of the power of reason to know certain theological and moral truths, even without revelation, gains us access to a much wider sphere of influence than does the Protestant reliance on Scripture alone. We are able to appeal to what is good and evil in human action without appeals to scriptural authority. This enables us not only to learn widely from others, but to engage in moral discussion with virtually anyone regardless of their views on religion.

After a conference hosted by the CBHD near Chicago, I chanced to share a taxicab with a physician who was headed to South America to do medical work for the poor without pay. This was to be his twoweek “vacation.” We got to talking about Thomas Aquinas and Catholicism. I pointed out to him the paradox of the Ramsey Awards. He nodded and agreed. “You Catholics have been doing this work in medical ethics for a lot longer than we have. We need your knowledge, but you need our enthusiasm.”

The harmony that exists among the Christian denominations of today is quite remarkable. We work across denominational lines because we share many concerns about the direction of our shared culture. We are happy to share the wisdom of our tradition with other Christians even as they inspire us with their evangelical zeal. Perhaps we can establish a Pope Saint John Paul II Award for the Evangelization of Culture and regularly award it to Protestants. A fitting return!

EDWARD J. FURTON, PH.D., is Director of Publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center (Philadelphia), and among its team of seven ethicists. He’s editor-in-chief of NCBC’s awardwinning National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly and Ethics & Medics.

Care for others actualizes human heart

According to a Roman myth, Care was amusing herself one day by molding earth in various shapes. Finding a particular shape that she wanted to have life, she beseeched Jupiter to grant it a soul. Jupiter obliged but objected when Care wanted the new creature to be named after her. Saturn, the god of time, intervened, ruling that upon death, the creature would return to earth, its soul to Jupiter, but all the time it was alive it was to be entrusted to Care.

Our name is Care. We realize our identity when we care for others. The inability or reluctance to care shows a human being to be less than humane. Caring for others is so fundamental to human nature as to coincide with it. There are many forms of care.

Therefore, we can express our essential humanity in many caring ways. When we prefix the word “health,” we refer to the most evident, appealing, and urgent of all forms of care. The first obstacle in the path of health care is inconvenience. This was not a problem with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Jean Vanier, Tom Dooley, Jérôme Lejeune, Mother Alfonsa, and many other heroes of health care. But in a society overshadowed by the Culture of Death, inconvenience is an obstacle that many people find difficulty in overcoming.

If one category of human life –the unborn –can be deemed worthless, so can other categories, such as the severely disabled, the elderly, and the terminally ill. Wesley J. Smith, in his book, Culture of Death, offers some shocking examples of this reluctance to be health-givers. In one instance, a daughter asks her mother’s doctor why he is refusing to prescribe antibiotics for the 92-year-old woman. The doctor defends his position by stating that “an infection will kill her sooner or later. So it might as well be this infection.” In another example, a doctor remarks, “If anyone so much as whispers cortisone [a palliative agent] or ‘uncertain diagnosis,’ I’ll hit him (136).

” We find an extraordinary and most edifying example of health care between a man, better known to the world for his basketball exploits, and his wife of 63 years. During the last dozen years of their marriage, Bob Cousy’s wife, Missie, was slowly succumbing to the ravages of dementia. Each morning, Cousy would lay out Missie’s pills, the newspaper, a fiber bar, and a banana. Then he would gently awaken his “bride” and lead her to the kitchen where she would read the newspaper. It would take two or three hours for her to get through the pages since she would underline each sentence in every story. She would ask her husband the same question over and over. She sometimes hallucinated, became disoriented, and struggled to retain her balance. But she always recognized her husband and bristled at any suggestion that she was suffering from dementia. Cousy did all the household chores while graciously letting her think that she did them herself.

When she passed away in 2013, the former basketball great was inconsolable. “I can’t put the pills out in the morning. And I can’t care for her anymore,” he said. Nonetheless, each night, when he goes to bed, he tells his wife that he loves her. He never felt defeated by the challenge of caring for his ailing spouse on a full-time basis. “It drew us closer together,” he said. “It was never a chore, because I knew she would have done the same for me.” Bob Cousy’s rightful name is Care, not “The Houdini of the Hardwood.”

Love does not look at inconvenience, nor does it shrink in the presence of suffering. A person who is sick calls forth in us a special feeling of solicitude. Our attitude toward others is truly humane when we see them, as we should see ourselves, as mortal, fragile, and dependent. Therefore, I and my neighbor are always in need of reciprocal care.

DONALD DEMARCO’s latest book is Why I Am Pro-Life and Not Politically Correct. He is a senior fellow of Human Life International, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University (Waterloo, Ontario), adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College (Cromwell, CT), and regular columnist for St. Austin Review.

When is it okay to withhold food and water?

Making decisions about assisted nutrition and hydration can be challenging. We are blessed with the gift of the Catholic Church’s clear moral teachings to guide us. While assisted suicide and euthanasia – seeking to eliminate the sufferer as a means of removing suffering – are always immoral, there are nonetheless times when there is no moral obligation for a patient to receive food and water. Here’s a quick primer on when and why.

John A. Di Camillo, Ph.D., Be.L

Food and water may be withheld when the facts of the situation prove ineffective or harmful, not when someone simply decides “it’s Grandma’s time to go.” There are several critical distinctions at play.

Most importantly, nutrition and hydration are distinct from medical treatment. This establishes a general obligation to provide food and water, even by medically assisted means, when the patient cannot take food orally. They are basic human care that every person deserves, regardless of health condition or life expectancy, and so the default action should always be to provide, with medical assistance if necessary. That said, there are three exceptions to this norm based on three additional distinctions.

First, food and water may at times be distinct from nutrition and hydration. That is, they sometimes fail to achieve their finality of nourishment and hydration. There is no duty to provide food and water by oral or by medically assisted means when the body cannot assimilate them.

Second, serious burdens associated with the effects of food and water on the body, or with the assisted means of delivering them, are morally distinct from the minor inconveniences typical of simple and safe administration. Food and water may therefore be withheld when there is moral certitude of serious harms, complications, or discomfort connected with their use, even if they are still able to nourish and hydrate.

Third, imminence of death based on a specific, identifiable cause is distinct from generally declining health or vague expectations about death. Food and water may be withheld if death is imminent, but imminent must not be confused with inevitable. For example, assisted nourishment and hydration may be withdrawn if death is expected within hours or a day due to an advancing cancer, but should not be stopped based solely on a doctor’s prognosis that the person will inevitably die “any day now.”

In sum, food and water must be provided when they actually nourish and hydrate, unless they entail a serious burden or death is imminent. It would be euthanasia to “let Dad die naturally” by withdrawing food and water when he is able to absorb them without significant harm or discomfort. It might be legitimate, however, to withdraw medically assisted nutrition and hydration if Mom is bloating from hydration her body cannot absorb, if Grandpa is experiencing serious issues with recurring infection at the surgical insertion site of a tube, or if Dad is in his final hours with a metastasized cancer.

There are various pitfalls to watch out for in applying these teachings. First, life itself, no matter the person’s health condition, can never be invoked as a “burden” to justify withholding food and water. Similarly, the fact that food and water will not enable a patient to recover from illness or regain lost function is not evidence for “futility.” Food and water can only be assessed as effective or ineffective with reference to their proper finality: nourishing and hydrating. Finally, death is inevitable for us all, but imminence is very narrowly defined and difficult to establish.

In today’s technological and bureaucratic health care context, families are bombarded with all sorts of pressures and confusion. So let us carefully reflect on these key distinctions in the Church’s moral tradition, which can equip us to defend human dignity and advance the culture of life in concrete decision-making.

JOHN A. DI CAMILLO, PH.D., BE.L., is a staff ethicist at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He earned his bioethics doctorate and licentiate degrees at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He lives in Narvon, PA with his lovely wife Serena and their four children.

‘Customized marriage’ is grace-infused by God

Mary Hasson, JD

Recent marriage research offers important insights for spouses and for “remote marriage preparation” for our children. In The Marriage Paradox: Why Emerging Adults Love Marriage Yet Push It Aside, researchers Brian Willoughby and Spencer James of Brigham Young University observe that although most millennials aspire to marriage, they are the least marrying generation to date. The problem? Unrealistic expectations. They expect a soul mate but postpone searching for one until they finish school and climb the career ladder. They vaguely imagine a future that feels more settled, more conducive to finding that “perfect match.” But they worry about recognizing their soul mate—what if they’re wrong? What if someone better comes along? Millennials, who came of age assuming everything can be customized — from running shoes to espresso to social media — risk “treating affective relationships…[as] disposable,” writes Pope Francis. Those habits set real marriages — between two very flawed human beings — up for failure, or serious disappointments. Unrealistic expectations are compounded by cultural changes redefining marriage and parenthood as paths to personal fulfillment. Millennials, observes Willoughby, “believe you get married when you find someone that makes YOU happy…you have children when they will make YOUR life fulfilled by becoming a parent. Having a family is something the [that] serves individual happiness and contentment; it is less about societal obligation than it might have been 1-2 generations ago.” Marriage measured by self-centered peaks of personal fulfillment won’t make it through the inevitable valleys of sin and struggle—or experience the joy of generous love.

A friend who persevered through a bumpy marriage remembers well the many months when he was preoccupied by the tantalizing lie that divorce would make him happier. Many couples, even young marrieds, experience this, says a recent study (The National Divorce Decision making Project, 2015): “[I]n a culture with high divorce rates and widespread concerns about the fragility of marriage it is hard not to have some thoughts about divorce when problems and disappointments exist in the marriage. It’s hard to swim upstream against such a strong cultural current.” Most marriages survive those situations if those thoughts spur the person “to try to strengthen or repair a relationship.”

Most struggling couples who stay committed eventually experience thriving marriages. The study found that 28% of couples “thought their marriage was in serious trouble at some point in the past but not recently.” Almost “90% of them said they were glad they were still married;” only 1% wished otherwise.

Marriages can and do turn around. Couples survive “rough times” in various ways:

[M]ore than 90% said, “Over time, things changed and just got better or weren’t as hard.” A similar proportion said, “My commitment to keeping my marriage/family together was strong.” Also, “I/my spouse worked at fixing some problems and improving our relationship,” was endorsed as helpful by nearly all who reported serious marital problems in the past…[O]ne in four got some counseling (together or alone) [and] 75% said it was helpful.

In sum, “[p]atience, perseverance, promises, and some relationship perspiration” help resolve marital problems and prayer and the sacraments provide the spiritual nourishment to love and live marriage as God intends.

My friend with the bumpy marriage (a car buff) offers this analogy to explain the deep happiness he and his wife now enjoy, after decades of marriage (paraphrased): “When you’re newlyweds, your marriage is like your first car—it’s the best, shiny and new, an exhilarating ride. As the miles pile up, the shine dulls. Hard driving, season after season, takes its toll. Repair costs increase and satisfaction drops…it’s tempting to want to trade up. But you persevere, care for the car, and value its fundamental soundness. After logging many miles, you realize your car is a classic. You experience great satisfaction, cherish its value, and the years of memories and life it represents.” That’s marriage, through the eyes of a car guy. It testifies to the grace of lifelong marriage—customized by God.

MARY HASSON, JD, directs the Catholic Women’s Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Spotlighting objective truth in moral debates

Edward J. Furton, M.A., PH.D.

Debates over ethical questions often conceal a more fundamental disagreement about whether morality can be objective. A moral judgment that is subjective does not bind anyone, while a judgment that is objective is binding because it is grounded in something that is recognized to be true. The statement, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion” is a good example of the first approach. The second approach holds that moral judgments can be right or wrong because they stand in relation to something that exists apart from our feelings, desires, and personal opinions. Because this standard is external, it can serve as a common object of agreement among two or more people.

A fuller description of this objective system of morality begins with the term teleology, which comes from the Greek words: telos, meaning “purpose, goal or end,” and logos, meaning “knowledge, reason or science.” Our ability to know the purposes of things is the foundation of the traditional Western view about the nature of the good. Those who seek to defend a common and objective moral standard would do well to appeal regularly to the idea of purposes in nature.

To take a very simple example, food is a purpose, goal or end of human action. We devote a great deal of time and energy to growing, cooking and consuming food. Food is an objective good. This is obvious. We would laugh at anyone who said that this is just our opinion. Obviously, we cannot just eat anything we want. Babies may sometimes put dirt in their mouths, but it is not food. Because food is an objective good, it generates moral problems, for example, malnutrition and starvation, waste of food, and the transmission of disease. All of these evils are also objective. They inhere in the goodness of food and the possibility of its loss or corruption.

Life is likewise an objective good. All things strive to preserve themselves in existence. Again, no one would say that this is simply a personal opinion. We know this to be true through observation. Human beings strive to preserve their lives. By stressing that the unborn child naturally desires to live we compel our opponents to deny the obvious. Thus a fetus is just a “blob of tissue.” Of course, the fetus is a highly complex organization whose entire purpose is to grow, develop and perfect its own life. This too is obvious, and we win when our opponents deny what is as obvious as this.

Other goods are more complex, but nonetheless show themselves to be inherently purposeful. Marriage, for example, has several interrelated purposes. Companionship and sexual intimacy are two, and these are directly related to the birth and education of children. The wider secular society tells us that marriage is just a social construct, as if it were produced by our own imagination. Nature tells us otherwise. The purpose of the male and female sexual anatomy is the engendering of offspring. So too are the psychological differences between men and women. Some couples are sterile and so cannot have children, but it is obvious that nature intends the difference between the sexes for the purpose of generation.

All of these examples take their bearings from what is objectively given within nature. This is the only proper basis for moral argumentation. When we form our arguments around the purposes of nature we compel our opponents to confront what I like to call “moral facts.” The goodness of food, life, marriage, and other similar examples, shows itself in nature. We want our opponents to deny what is obvious, namely, that these goods are objective, and when they do, ask them how they can take a position that is so contrary to self-evident fact. Nature exists as a teleological system. Our arguments are at their best when we appeal to the purposes of nature in defense of the objectivity of the good.

EDWARD J. FURTON, M.A., PH.D., is an ethicist at The National Catholic Bioethics Center (Philadelphia), Director of Publications, and Editor-in-Chief of NCBC’s award-winning National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.