May 23, 2012

ZE12052301 - 2012-05-23


Distinction Between Choosing and Accepting

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 23, 2012 ( Here is a question on bioethics asked by a ZENIT reader and answered by the fellows of the Culture of Life Foundation.
Q: I am a theology teacher in an all-boys Catholic high school in New Jersey. While discussing the morality of end-of-life issues, specifically the moral imperative in transplant medicine to comply with the “dead donor rule” (it would be wrong to harvest organs from a person who is almost dead) a student asked why if Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross is morally good, wouldn’t it also be morally good for someone near death to offer a vital organ to save another’s life (“Go ahead and remove my heart and give it to the chap who needs it; I am going to die soon anyway”)?  In both cases persons are giving their lives for the benefit of others. - J.P., New Jersey
E. Christian Brugger offers the following response:
To answer this question, we need first to get clear what Jesus did and didn’t do and then compare that with the person who donates a vital organ to his neighbor. 
Strictly speaking, Jesus did not will his own death; nor did he will that others should kill him. Both would have been suicide. Jesus accepted death as a foreseen and inevitable consequence of doing the Father’s will, which was to preach the Good News to Israel, to persevere in that preaching despite the hostility of the religious leaders, and not to draw back even when the threat posed by that hostility became murderous.
At the Last Supper, Jesus did will to make an offering of himself in order to establish the New Covenant. Because he knew everything that would happen as a consequence of making this self-gift, his choice to offer himself on Holy Thursday included within it the willing acceptance of suffering and violent death. We might use the analogy of a father who chooses to throw himself in front of a train to thrust his son out of the train’s path. The father knows he will be killed, but his choice is not a choice for death -- it’s not suicide. He accepts death as necessarily entailed in his choice to save his son.
Although God the Father brought great good out of Jesus’ death, nevertheless those who killed him, and all who approved of it, did what was objectively wrong. Why? Because, as Pilate acknowledged, Jesus was an innocent man. The Father knew, however, that the leaders of the people would condemn him and he consequently willed to work his (the Father’s) salvific plan in light of it. Jesus did what was pleasing to the Father and those who brought about his death did not. Similarly, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, in willingly taking the place of another prisoner in the starvation cell in Auschwitz, was not killing himself. He was voluntarily accepting an unjust and lethal punishment in place of another man.
The man or woman who offers a vital organ to save another’s life does something not only similar to what Jesus did, but also different in a critical respect. The action may be motivated, like Jesus’ choice to go to Jerusalem, out of self-sacrificing love. Say a young man, who is dying, offers his heart to his elder sister who has a fatal congenital heart condition to save his sister’s life. This saving-type of act may be motivated by the man’s deep love for his sister. And if motive were all that we took into consideration in morally assessing an act, then the act would be praiseworthy. But acts not only have motives, they also have “matter”. In assessing an act, we not only ask “why” the act is being done, we ask “what’s being done”. This “what” is sometimes referred to in tradition as the “moral object” (cf. Veritatis Splendor, no. 78). 
The man here is directing a transplant team to remove his heart. This, he knows, will bring about his death. He may not be directing the act with an intention to die, that is, in order to bring about his death. So it may not be suicide. But the act, he knows, is a killing-type of act. And he wills that it be done. 
This is different in at least two respects from Jesus’ act. First, Jesus’ captors intended to kill him; they had no interest in the redemptive quality of what Jesus suffered at their hands. Second, and more importantly, Jesus never said, and indeed would not have said: “take my life so that I will save the world”. He did not direct anyone to crucify him, did not authorize his killers to kill him, did not approve of their actions. Scripture says he “became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8); he “submitted and opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:7). In other words, he accepted death. 
The man who directs that his heart be removed, intends the act that brings about his death. Right-to-die advocates would say that persons are entitled to exercise this type of self-determination over their lives, especially if their motives are praiseworthy. Catholic teaching, on the other hand, holds that only God rightly exercises this type of authority over human life. We are not lords, but only stewards over our lives. 
Accepting our death in obedience to the Father’s plan is an expression of that humility and poverty of spirit that we see summarized in the first Beatitude (cf. Matt. 5:3). Ordering others to carry out an act that we know will cause our death is exercising a type of lordship over our lives that is incompatible with Christian discipleship. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Churchteaches (on organ transplantation): “it is not morally admissible to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons” (No. 2296).
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E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics and director of the Fellows Program at theCulture of Life Foundation; and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.
[Readers may send questions regarding bioethics to The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. The fellows at the Culture of Life Foundation will answer a select number of the questions that arrive.]

May 15, 2009

More Americans “Pro-Life” Than “Pro-Choice” for First Time

Also, fewer think abortion should be legal “under any circumstances”

by Lydia Saad
PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.
The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.
The May 2009 survey documents comparable changes in public views about the legality of abortion. In answer to a question providing three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal, about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.
Gallup also found public preferences for the extreme views on abortion about even -- as they are today -- in 2005 and 2002, as well as during much of the first decade of polling on this question from 1975 to 1985. Still, the dominant position on this question remains the middle option, as it has continuously since 1975: 53% currently say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances.
When the views of this middle group are probed further -- asking these respondents whether they believe abortion should be legal in most or only a few circumstances -- Gallup finds the following breakdown in opinion.
Americans' recent shift toward the pro-life position is confirmed in two other surveys. The same three abortion questions asked on the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey were included in Gallup Poll Daily tracking from May 12-13, with nearly identical results, including a 50% to 43% pro-life versus pro-choice split on the self-identification question.
Additionally, a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center recorded an eight percentage-point decline since last August in those saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, from 54% to 46%. The percentage saying abortion should be legal in only a few or no cases increased from 41% to 44% over the same period. As a result, support for the two broad positions is now about even, sharply different from most polling on this question since 1995, when the majority has typically favored legality.
Republicans Move to the Right
The source of the shift in abortion views is clear in the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey. The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) calling themselves "pro-life" rose by 10 points over the past year, from 60% to 70%, while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
Similarly, by ideology, all of the increase in pro-life sentiment is seen among self-identified conservatives and moderates; the abortion views of political liberals have not changed.
"Pro-Life" Up Among Catholics and Protestants
One of the more prominent news stories touching on the abortion issue in recent months involves President Barack Obama's commencement speech and the bestowal of an honorary doctorate degree on him at the University of Notre Dame -- a Roman Catholic institution -- on Sunday. The invitation has drawn criticism from conservative Catholics and the church hierarchy because of Obama's policies in favor of legalizing and funding abortion, and the controversy might have been expected to strengthen the pro-life leanings of rank-and-file Catholics.
Nevertheless, the swelling of the pro-life position since last year is seen across Christian religious affiliations, including an eight-point gain among Protestants and a seven-point gain among Catholics.
Gender Agreement
A year ago, Gallup found more women calling themselves pro-choice than pro-life, by 50% to 43%, while men were more closely divided: 49% pro-choice, 46% pro-life. Now, because of heightened pro-life sentiment among both groups, women as well as men are more likely to be pro-life.
Men and women have been evenly divided on the issue in previous years; however, this is the first time in nine years of Gallup Values surveys that significantly more men and women are pro-life than pro-choice.
Bottom Line
With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation's policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans -- and, in particular, Republicans -- seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position. However, the retreat is evident among political moderates as well as conservatives.
It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public's understanding of what it means to be "pro-choice" slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.
Survey Methods
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 7-10, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Gallup Poll Daily results are based on telephone interviews with 971 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 12-13, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.