The Personalist Project

Personalist Project Adviser Josef Seifert is the seventh member of the Pontifical Academy for Life to call for its president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, to step down or be removed from office over public comments that “appeared to condone the abortion of the unborn twins of a nine-year-old rape victim in Brazil.”
Here is an article about the scandal.
See also Professor Seifert’s open letter on the question. The whole thing is more than worth reading, but below is a sample paragraph, responding to the Archbishop’s published suggestion that the moral status of such “therapeutic abortions” was a difficult question addressed to the consciences of those directly involved.

He even said that it was an act of mercy and life-saving, given the alleged danger the girl had been in and the terrible abuse the girl had suffered and the pains she might have had to suffer in the future. All of this implies that it was even a good act under the circumstances. All of these and similar statements are in full tune with a moral theological position that has been widespread among many Catholic moral theologians for decades and still is held by many, mainly among those theologians who opposed Humanae Vitae. This ethical view is called proportionalism or consequentialism. According to it, there are no intrinsically morally wrong acts which to commit is sinful under all circumstances. There is no intrinsically wrong act at all, according to this opinion, that could not be justified by its consequences, i.e., if it’s foreseeable good consequences outweigh the bad ones. This position, which also I have criticized in many articles and an unpublished book, would undermine the basis not only of Church doctrine but of Socratic ethics and of morality itself, and was clearly condemned in Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Veritatis splendor, which taught unambiguously that this position (defended by Fuchs, Demmer, Böckle, Schüller, and many other Catholic moral theologians), is gravely false and contrary to Catholic ethical teaching.

Comments (4)

Rhett Segall

#1, Mar 6, 2010 8:54am

I read Josef’s essay with great interest and can understand his repudiation of the abortion of the twins of the 9 year old girl on the principle that the direct taking of innocent human life is intrinsically wrong and always evil. I suspect the unborn twins could have been delivered by caesarean section.

But doesn‚Äôt the situation beg the question as to what constitutes innocent human life? I believe that the crux of the issue with the 9 year old was whether the pregnancy was a threat to her life. A human life may be materially a threat to another,and thus not “innocent”, without being a formal threat. Some one with small pox would be a material threat to other humans with out being a formal threat.  An insane person wielding a gun would be a material threat without being a formal threat. Society should deal with material threats as often as possible with some kind of containment, e. g. quarantine. But that is not always possible. In the often used life boat scenario a person trying to save himself by getting into a boat that could only safely hold 12 people when 12 people were already in the boat would be a material threat to the safety of the 12. Wouldn‚Äôt the 12 have a right to prevent the person from getting into the boat or, if he started to get in, to force him out of the boat?

Surely it’s modern technology that enables surgeons to deliver babies by C section. But what about places in the world where there isn’t modern technology? Might it not be morally permissible to abort a fetus which was a material threat to the mother’s life if there were no other method available to deliver the baby?

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Mar 6, 2010 11:07am

Rhett, I don’t think it is thought that the poor little girl’s life was in danger from the pregnancy.

Scott Johnston

#3, Mar 6, 2010 2:58pm

In any case, it is never permissible to do evil (such as intentionally, directly killing another human being) for a good end. The reason does not matter when it comes to actions which are in themselves intrinsically evil. One cannot intend to do an inherently evil thing without sinning. No matter what.

“Innocent” in the moral context referred to when abortion is analyzed means a person who has not been found guilty of a capital offense through a due process of justice. In other words, an innocent person is not deserving of a punishment of death meted out by other human beings in a position of authority to do so on behalf of the common good, and so should not be deliberately killed.

The scenarios above seem like red herrings. Small pox and a mad gun wielder would not require taking their lives in order to protect others. And the life boat thing—I mean no offense—but this hypothetical is a rather useless academic exercise. In actual life, I can’t imagine the choice being so stark between life and death. For example, the extra person could stay in the water but hold onto the side of the boat. Then, people could rotate. Each person takes a turn in the water for one hour. In such way, each person gets 12 hours in the boat, and one hour in the water holding the boat. Creating artificially stark options (death or life) when in fact such a stark choice would not be present does not accomplish much that is truly beneficial intellectually or in the living of live.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Mar 6, 2010 3:39pm

I’ve heard those called “unreal hypotheticals”.  They’ve done a lot, in my opinion, to add moral confusion to contemporary ethics.  Which is not to say that there are not genuinely perplexing concrete cases, such as the case of ectopic pregnancy, wherein (as I understand it) there is no chance of either the mother or the baby surviving if the pregnancy is allowed to continue. 
In such cases, I only wish that medicine would put its efforts toward seeing whether there aren’t ways of trying to save the baby—by moving it to the uterus or by raising it in an artificial womb…
But I am really out of my depth here and perhaps should not even have said so much.

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