"I happen to believe in the people and believe that the people are supposed to be dominant in our society. That they, not government, are to have control of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible with an orderly society." - Ronald Reagan

On Santorum and Zombies and the doctrine of double effect.

Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Public relevance inevitably carries a strict price; one paid in loss of privacy, in scrutiny and criticism. In the case of Rick Santorum, who enjoyed a renewed relevance in the wake of the Iowa caucus results, this has included a number of misguided attacks on the neonatal loss of his Gabriel. These attacks are not particularly original, largely being echoes of criticism on blogs after the formation of his exploratory committee and again after the formal announcement of candidacy.

Much of the commentary gets the basic facts wrong; claiming that Karen Santorum had “an abortion”, or at least that labor was voluntarily induced. Others refer to Gabriel as stillborn or a fetus, despite his (albeit brief) survival outside the womb. Some get the events correct on the face, but insist on dehumanizing the child by referring to him as “it”.

Even those that concede the facts, and allow that events as they occurred did not violate his professed beliefs or political stances, nonetheless conclude he is a hypocrite because they would have induced labor if necessary to preserve Karen’s life. This betrays the ignorance of the accusers, not merely of a candidate but of Catholic teaching in general. The Santorums went well beyond the demands of their faith.

The key concept is called the doctrine (or sometimes principle) of double effect, which allows that some actions have a positive and negative effect. There are generally four criteria that need to be satisfied for such an act to be considered moral. First, the act in and of itself must not be intrinsically evil. Second, the positive effect must be the intention. Third, the positive effect must not be consequence of the negative effect. Fourth, there must be grave reason for permitting the negative effect.

For example, let’s say you are in a group of people fleeing zombies. Even if tripping a companion would preserve the lives of yourself and your other companions, it would not be moral under this test, as the positive outcome would be achieved through an act of deliberate, intentional evil.

Alternately, let’s say your band of survivalists makes their escape down an alley with a chain link fence, but one member of the group is a particularly slow runner. Even though locking the gate would consign the fate of the lagging member, it would be moral under this test, as his death would incidental rather than intentional.  Though the ultimate consequence of sacrificing one for the survival of the many is the same, the nature and intent of the immediate action is fundamentally different.

Using this standard as guide, it is clear that induced labor would have been well justified.  No one disputes that Karen was in grave and immediate danger, and no act of intrinsic evil or directly evil intent would have been performed.  There is simply no evidence that the actions or intentions of the Santorums were anything but aligned with their faith.

One Comment on “On Santorum and Zombies and the doctrine of double effect.”

  1. #1 Mattia said at 01:08 pm on March 13th, 2012:

    The thing about Rick Santorum is, no one is paying aentttion. He handed out jam at a campaign event. The guy who has the Google problem of being synonymous with fecal remnants was handing out jars of jelly at an event. He is desperate for aentttion, which is probably why he is talking about the topic other Republican candidates don’t want to talk about gay marriage. Gay marriage is not a winning issues for Republicans anymore. They were happy to use it as long as it was, but it’s not anymore. Santorum is in the back of the pack and, aside from being a total homophobe, is probably hoping to get the ultra right on his side by taking on cultural issues in such a strong way. This is a primary, after all.I might be somewhat comforted if he became the general election nominee. Pennsylvania rejected him when he tried to run for re-election. Will America really vote this guy to the highest office? I really doubt it. 1

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