J/P Alert is the newsletter of the Justice and Peace office of CMSM. It is intended to inform and stimulate discussion and involvement among the members. Its contents do not necessarily represent official positions of CMSM.
[Joe Holland is President of Pax Romana, a Catholic movement for intellectual and cultural affairs. He is professor of philosophy at St. Thomas University of Miami Gardens, Florida. You can find the complete essay at pax-romana-cmica-usa.org/Documents/2009-03-27-embryonic-stem-cell-research.pdf.]
In press reports on President Barack Obama's recent executive order authorizing federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the mainstream press has portrayed the public ethical debate over the issue as one between "religion and science." Yet the deep debate, as carried on in bio-ethical commissions of the federal government or of research organizations receiving federal funding, is not really between religion and science but rather for the most part between two mutually opposed schools of philosophy.…
RELIGION CANNOT DETERMINE ETHICAL POLICIES FOR GOVERNMENT
First, religion can't settle such questions for governmental policy because we live in a religiously pluralistic society and because of the constitutional separation of church and state. …
Religious arguments from religious traditions certainly can and should influence the wider culture. They may also, and often should, influence the conscience of many legislators and judges. But when religious leaders or activists try to make them the explicit justification for public policy, their arguments will normally be trumped by the counter-argument of religious pluralism and separation of church and state.…
SCIENCE CANNOT DETERMINE ETHICAL POLICIES FOR GOVERNMENT
Second, science cannot settle such public-policy ethical questions either.…
The method of science is empirical and its language of verification is mathematical. Its discourse and judgments are thus strictly quantitative. By contrast, ethics is a qualitative discourse that goes beyond empirical and mathematical dimensions. So science may provide quantitative material for ethical evaluation, but by its very method it has no ability to enter the qualitative ethical dimension. Science may discover what can be done, but it has no ability by its own method to say what should be done. Thus, science is incapable of providing ethical guidance for public policy or even for the private sector.…
THE REAL PUBLIC POLICY ETHICAL DEBATE IS PHILOSOPHICAL
Philosophy is the only truly valid mode of discourse for ethically evaluating biological issues in the governmental arena in the United States. This is because the discourse of philosophy is based on human reason, which is open to participants from all religions as well as to those with no religion. Of course, that does not solve the ethical debate over embryonic stem-cell research, for there is a dramatic and often heated ethical battle among philosophers over this very question.
In its largest parameters, the philosophical battle over embryonic stem-cell research is waged by two philosophical schools: 1) philosophers following utilitarian ethics; and 2) philosophers following natural-law ethics. Most utilitarian ethicists reject the principle of a special universal human dignity entailing the "right to life" for all humans at every stage and in every condition of the human journey. By contrast, most natural law ethicists support such human dignity and its right to life for all humans at every stage of life and in every condition.
THE LONG-TERM PHILOSOPHICAL STRUGGLE TO DEFEND HUMAN LIFE
I would like to conclude with a reflection on the future of this philosophical debate from the perspective of those of us in the Catholic tradition which over centuries has embraced and defended a natural-law approach to philosophical ethics and which has been a constant and consistent defender of the dignity of human life, with the full right to life for all humans, including the unborn, the poor, the handicapped, and the terminally ill.
Philosophical ethics in the Catholic tradition, in so far as it addresses human dignity in public policy, may be likened to an airplane that has two wings. One wing is social ethics and the other is bio-ethics. The plane cannot fly without both. When so-called "conservatives" are in political power, social ethics is more often violated, and the aircraft tilts to the right and threatens to crash. When so-called "progressives" are in political power, bio-ethics is often more violated, and the aircraft tilts to the left and threatens to crash.
Yet today we face an increasing fusion of social ethics and bio-ethics in the new corporate-dominated age of bio-engineering. Here, as with social ethics, the poor may become the first victims. So we face a vast struggle to defend the ethics of human dignity on the two fronts, one social and the other biological, as they comes under ever greater attack from both so-called "conservatives" and so-called "progressives."
For this reason, the struggle to defend universal human dignity will be long and hard on the wings of social ethics and bio-ethics, and it will require a fresh generation of young intellectuals committed to the universality of human dignity and to natural-law ethics.
In addition, this fresh young generation will have to take up as equally important and even foundational the philosophical equivalent of yet another part of the aircraft, namely the fuselage which supports the wings. Holding up the two wings of social ethics and bio-ethics is the fuselage called environmental ethics. This too is under strong attack today. So, as we face a complex and sometimes frightening future, the total philosophical aircraft - social ethics, bio-ethics, and environmental ethics - all need to be seen as within a holistic philosophical vision.
[“Another wave of threats has once again swept across Colombia, this time warning of an imminent ‘social cleansing’ of ‘undesirable’ individuals from Colombian society. Colombian churches and others are reporting that the violence unleashed by these alleged paramilitary threats has already left three young people and seven fishermen dead in Chocó.” (Latin America Working Group) The following is a communication of the Colombian Religious Conference about the current situation in Colombia.]
Communication from the Religious of Colombia in
“Choose life, so that you and your descendents may live…For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live.” (Dt 30:19-20) “I have come that you may have life, and have it in abundance.” (Jn 10:10)
The Religious of Colombia, following its mission in favor of life and in fidelity to the Project of Jesus, who offers fullness of life to all people, wishes to have its voice heard against the present reality, in which impoverished and excluded are most adversely affected. In the context of the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, we wish to affirm our love for life in this accompaniment of a crucified and massacred people in the midst of the armed conflict. We must be defenders of life, in all its manifestations. Life, as a gift of God, has sacred value. All citizens, therefore, are called to defend it.
It is urgent that above all we make the dignity of the human person prevail.
We believe in and must work for an inclusive society, where all have space, where no one is left out, and in which the rights of the weakest and most impoverished are protected. We affirm that it is possible to transform this situation of violence through dialog and negotiation: “The conflict that the nation is experiencing will not be solved by arms” (Archbishop Rubén Salazar, president of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference).
As Religious we feel a deep concern for the painful events presented to us: the destruction of life in a society where situations of death are a daily occurrence. We reject the crimes that are increasing every day, the disappearances, the threatening pamphlets, the terror, the armed checkpoints, the curfews in neighborhoods and countryside, which bring about forced displacements and violent action from armed groups. We reject also the strong persecution and prosecution of leaders and defenders of human rights and organizations of civil society.
The suffering and terror in the faces of children, young people, adults, men and women of African descent, indigenous, peasants, among others, affect us deeply. They are uprooted from their land and lose their roots, dignity and future.
We cannot remain indifferent in the face of an inhuman situation that excludes and discards those considered “superfluous” and “disposable” and wishes to apply with violence so-called “social cleansing.”
We insist that in the face of an order to kill, the voice of God must prevail, which says: “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13), as Archbishop Oscar Romero expressed so well to the Salvadoran people: “I beg you, I order you, a beseech you in the name of God, stop the repression.”
Let us listen to the cry of God that demands of us for each murdered person: “Cain, Cain, where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9).
As Religious we call on society in general not to be intimidated and desensitized in the face of this logic of death that wants to impose itself. We reject it emphatically. Our silence and indifference in the face of every proposal of the anti-kingdom converts to a covert complicity.
We invite all of society to respect life, most especially that of the weakest and most impoverished, to defend it with dignity, so that all may live a life with dignity.
In this Holy Week we unite ourselves with the sorrow and hope of all the crucified of our people and in a special way with the families of the victims, in order to celebrate with them the Easter that is the victory of life over the projects that death wants to impose on us.
Sister Luz Marina Valencia López, STJ
Father Daniel Arturo Vásquez, CM
Father Guillermo A. Garcia Hernández, TC
Tuesday March 24, 2009
U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) today reintroduced their “Global Security Priorities” Resolution.
The resolution recognizes “the paramount need to address the threat of international terrorism and protect the international security of the United States by reducing the number of and accessibility to nuclear weapons and preventing their proliferation;” calls for directing “a portion of the resulting savings toward child survival, hunger, and universal education;” and calls “on the President to take action to achieve these goals.”
The resolution notes that the United States and the Russian Federation have pledged to significantly reduce nuclear arms in coming years, resulting in up to $13 billion in annual savings. Importantly $1 billion of this savings would go to support the Nunn- Lugar Program. The resolution also calls for a significant portion of those savings to be directed toward investments in child nutrition, health care, and education programs.
Importantly, the resolution states that “addressing the needs of the very poor in the world, particularly children, reduces a source of international tension and local despair that contribute to terrorist initiatives.”
The resolution, H. Res. 278, will likely be referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
As our country teeters on the brink of a deepening military quagmire in Afghanistan, Pax Christi USA lifts up the impassioned cry of Pope John Paul II:
“No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a solution to the very problems which provoked the war.”
The “trail of resentment and hatred” in Afghanistan has deep roots—a tragic history of foreign occupation, proxy wars and the support of extremist elements—the consequences of which contributed to the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The U.S. “war on terror” has not proven to be an effective framework for ensuring security nor reducing terrorism. Instead, this reliance on military strategies has fueled the spiral of violence and further destabilized the region.
Now, our nation’s leaders are preparing to increase U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. We fear that such a “surge” will only inflame violence in the region, putting at greater risk U.S. and Afghan lives—without building the deeper foundations for a long-term peace...
[Read the full statement at www.paxchristiusa.org/news_Statements_more.asp?id=1525.]
[The complete article can be found at www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2009/2009-03-27-03.asp]
ISTANBUL, Turkey, March 27, 2009 (ENS) - Twenty countries have officially challenged the Ministerial Declaration released Sunday at the close of the week-long World Water Forum because it defines water as a human need rather than as a human right.
Latin American states played a key role in gathering signatures on a counter-declaration that recognizes access to water and sanitation as a human right and commits to all necessary action for the progressive implementation of this right.
Countries that signed the counter-declaration are: Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Chad, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Panama, Paraguay, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Venezuela. Switzerland has declared its support although a formal signature is expected to take months to finalize.
The U.S. delegation, led by Daniel Reifsnyder, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and sustainable development, took the position that "there is at present no internationally agreed right to water or human right to water, and there is no consensus on what such a right would encompass," according to State Department spokesman Andy Laine.…
Pope Benedict XVI last July called for recognition of the right to water. In his message to the international exposition on Water and Sustainable Development Spain, the pontiff said, "The use of water, which is regarded as a universal and inalienable right, is related to the growing and urgent needs of people who live in destitution, taking into account the fact that limited access to potable water has repercussions on the wellbeing of an enormous number of people and is often the cause of illnesses, sufferings, conflicts, poverty and even death."
Some 880 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, while 2.5 billion people do not have access to sanitation, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a report last week.…
The Ministerial Declaration listed a set of non-binding recommendations, including greater cooperation to ease disputes over water, measures to address floods and water scarcity, better management of resources and curbing pollution of rivers, lakes and aquifers.
The World Water Forum is held every three years - the next meeting is scheduled for 2012.
During his recent trip to Angola, Benedict XVI insisted that the poor “must not become one of the casualties” of the economic crisis, and pledged that the Catholic church “will always be found standing alongside the poorest of this continent.” Nor did Benedict restrict himself to pious exhortations. He got down to brass tacks, demanding that developed nations live up to their “oft-repeated promise” to devote 0.7 percent of their Gross National Product to assistance for impoverished nations.
Senior Vatican officials have taken the pope’s lead. This week, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, released a message to the G-8 “Social Summit,” which brought together labor ministers from the G-8 nations as well as China, Brazil, Mexico, India, South Africa and Egypt in Rome March 29-31. Bertone argued that fine-tuning economic structures is not enough; the economy must be given a “human face,” the cardinal insisted, including guarantees of a “basic level of income and security” for the millions of persons who have recently lost jobs because of economic contraction.
The pope took up the fate of the poor again in a hard-hitting letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in conjunction with this week’s G-20 meeting in London. Benedict wrote that his Africa trip had allowed him to “see first-hand the reality of severe poverty and marginalization, which the crisis risks aggravating dramatically.” Benedict expressed concern that the poor may not be sufficiently visible in the G-20, since “sub-Saharan Africa is represented by just one state and some regional organizations.” That imbalance, Benedict wrote, “must prompt a profound reflection among the summit participants, since those whose voice has least force in the political scene are precisely the ones who suffer most from the harmful effects of a crisis for which they do not bear responsibility.” The pope closed by insisting that the elimination of extreme poverty by 2015, as called for by the United Nations Millennium Goals, “remains one of the most important tasks of ou time.”
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
T. Michael McNulty, SJ, editor
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