Tag Archives: Liberty

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.

Individual liberty during a crisis – a salute to federalism

Two recent crises have tested the mettle of our nation, revealing much about our citizens and government. The emergence of the coronavirus challenged our public health response. Experts recommended measures to slow transmission and avoid overwhelming our critical care capacity. Government officials deftly responded with restrictions that also disrupted economic and social life, including cherished liberties.

Another crisis emerged from the protest movement centered on concerns about racial bias from police. Violence associated with these protests has caused death, injury, and destruction in communities already suffering from coronavirus restrictions. But protestors and government responses to their actions are also raising important questions that cause us to reflect upon the health of our civil society.

In both crises, state and local governments exercised primary responsibility. Our constitutional system embraces federalism, which ensures that states retain “police powers” for the purposes of protecting the health, safety, and morals of the people. Constitutional limits on those powers entail a balance of individual rights against other social goods. As the Supreme Court explained in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), “the rights of the individual … may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.”

States possess wide discretion in choosing measures to thwart disease, and political accountability is the primary constraint on those measures. Public officials routinely claim their policies are rooted in science, but political preferences often dominate. Notably, religious gatherings have been restricted as “nonessential” activities in order to inhibit contagion. Some churches and synagogues have challenged those restrictions as unfairly targeting religion. Public-interest law firms have done important work in advancing their claims against officials who abuse their powers, with mixed success.

Public officials have attempted to constrain the impact of violence associated with the protest movement, but they have willingly subsumed restrictions on public gatherings to facilitate the airing of grievances. Ironically, the protest movement has unwittingly raised other important questions apart from its questions about racial injustice. Is a protest assembly more “essential” than attending church? Is identity politics a new and preferred form of religion? Does this (quasi) religion embrace mercy and forgiveness, or just condemnation and smiting? Are protestors more committed than traditional religious people content to stay home from church?

The protest movement also reveals the selective nature of the claimed preference for scientific truth among the political class. Available data casts doubt on the movement’s claim that police routinely and unfairly target minority suspects with violence. Nevertheless, political leaders routinely embrace this false narrative, which may mollify some protestors but does nothing to solve genuine problems in our communities including disparate impacts from crime. Unfairly casting aspersion on police likely increases violent targeting against police and reduces police effectiveness, with the greatest adverse impacts likely felt in minority communities, further damaging the health of our civic bonds. We can do better.

Our federal system allows local responses that reflect varying conditions and values. Citizens choose their local government and live with the results – for better or worse. They can hold their leaders accountable in the next election, and we can all watch and learn from these different outcomes.

Our government reflects the reality of our fallenness, and the state of our spiritual commitments. Growing a culture of ordered liberty that fosters human thriving requires commitment from vigilant citizens who believe that the common good must be informed by deeper enduring truths, and who are willing to act on those beliefs. Perhaps more than ever, the content of the common good needs nurturing – in some places more than others.

EDWARD A. MORSE is a law professor and member of the board of directors of the Thomas More Society (ThomasMoreSociety.org), a national public interest law firm based in Chicago and Omaha devoted to restoring respect in law for life, the family, and religious liberty

America is broken

Sen. Rick Santorum calls on Legatus members change the culture despite the odds . . . 

Many people are saying that America is broken and, yes, it is broken.

But that’s no reason to lack hope. It is every reason to be energized, because you are here at a time in American history when your country needs you, when you and everything you do can make a difference to have the hand of God put over America again. God’s hand was removed because we let it happen. It happened on our watch.

Senator Rick Santorum

Senator Rick Santorum

Hostile culture

If you’re like me, you were once living a life you’re not proud to talk about. But things in my life changed and put me on a different course. Marriage turned my life around when I dedicated myself forever and unconditionally to my wife, and she to me, under God. And when children came along, something else in my life changed: faith. Until then, faith was part of my life, but it wasn’t at the center of my life. It didn’t drive what I did; it was just something that I did on Sunday — and sometimes not even then. There was no personal, intimate love for our Savior.

There are millions of people in America who are just like I used to be — lost, despite being full of ambition and thinking they’re very successful, but missing something in their lives. More and more people are like that because, unlike in the past when there was a culture of faith in America, that’s no longer the case. God has been kicked out of the public square, the schools, popular entertainment.

Mother Teresa said that God does not call us to be successful: He calls us to be faithful. After fighting so hard in the Senate repeatedly to pass a bill outlawing partial-birth abortion and repeatedly losing against President Clinton, in the eyes of the world I was a failure. But I learned that in the eyes of God, success or failure was not mine to determine.

Amidst all that fighting and losing, all those debates and press coverage served to expose the full horror of abortion to the American people. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, attitudes on abortion began to change. So in what we thought was losing, God gave us a victory.

When you’re doing what John Paul II always admonished us — “be not afraid” — the culture will not be kind to you. But God will bless your sacrifices. He will bless the failures.

Fixing America

America is broken because we are afraid to fight. Surveys report that 75-80% of Americans believe in God, that about 40% of people call themselves conservative, and only 15-20% are liberal. Yet who is transforming our culture? How are they winning when there are more of us? They are winning because they are committed, they are united, they fight everywhere. They will not tolerate dissent.

Now we have people here who have had the courage to stand up, and you’re paying a price. But don’t you feel good about taking a stand, doing what you’re being called to do? Many of you are doing it in your businesses, but are you doing it in your schools? What about your churches? Is your pastor one of those pastors who doesn’t feel comfortable talking about those things that may drive people out? Are you holding him accountable for it? Let me assure you that the folks who don’t want to hear about those things, they’re chewing his ear every time he may have the courage to speak out.

Look back at the American Revolution, when everything was stacked against the colonials fighting the British. How did they win? Read the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence if you have any doubt how they won: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” How many of us are pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to fight for the gifts that those men fought and died for?

The hardest thing to do is not winning and establishing freedom, but maintaining freedom. We have our lives. We have important things to do. But we don’t live at a time in America when we can afford to stop fighting.

Historian Christopher Lasch wrote, “Every day we get up and tell ourselves lies so that we can live.” We say, “I can’t do anything. What can I do?” I have a one-word answer: something.

Now again, you are doing something. You’re members of Legatus. But you folks are powerful people, influential in your community and your church. You need to look deep inside and ask yourself, “Am I doing all I can do to serve Him and the country He blessed so much? Or am I telling myself lies, so that I can live and do what I want to do?”

SEN. RICK SANTORUM is CEO of EchoLight Studios. He served as a U.S. Senator representing Pennsylvania from 1995-2007. This article is from a talk he gave at the Legatus Summit on Feb. 7, 2014.