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Ask Chris Tollefsen: An Ethics Advice Column

Indeed, a person in such a crisis seems like he or she has a deep need for truthful communication. Once more, not every truth needs to be communicated. But the important truths that they are loved, that their life is of value, and that they have much to live for, can only be convincingly imparted by one whose trustworthiness is manifested by his or her unwillingness to speak falsely. The beginning of a clinical relationship seems to me precisely the wrong time to lead by saying what one thinks is false.
The parallel to vital conflict cases is clear: do not too quickly assume that death is inevitable. Do not too quickly assume that active rather than passive harm needs to be inflicted, even as a side effect.
Location is simply one more of those many factors that make no difference where the most foundational moral principles are concerned. The human embryo is a human being, whether in utero, undergoing cell division in vitro, or temporarily (or permanently) in frozen stasis in a “nursery,” as the Alabama Supreme Court tellingly, but somewhat ironically, calls it.
As always, I’ll give my best account of what seems reasonable in the situation. But it is only advice: everyone who writes needs to make an independent assessment about the soundness of my guidance.
I’ll certainly offer advice—my best account of what seems reasonable in the situation. But it is only advice: everyone who writes needs to make an independent assessment about whether the guidance I offer is sound.
By its nature, the wound of sin involves rejection of the way laid before human beings by God. In rejecting the guidance of the natural law, or of revelation, human beings render themselves incapable of fully realizing the offer of friendship that God extends when he offers them a way to their own fulfillment. Sin damages the person and the person’s capacity for relationship with God simultaneously. It is thus a radical self-exclusion from the communion of those whom God has called both to fulfillment and to perfect communion with Him.
No particular terminology that is adopted in medicine or law determines the moral issues of abortion, nor does any common usage of the word. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike are capable of recognizing that a range of medical interventions can end an unborn human being’s life. They differ, often radically, about the justice of most such interventions.
Genuine cases of conflict between maternal and fetal health raise difficult moral questions, but a necessary starting point is to affirm both that physicians must honor their commitment to the mother’s health and that the law’s just protection of unborn human life should not interfere with that responsibility.
Neither Michael Pakaluk’s criticisms of a statement by pro-life scholars on COVID-19 vaccines nor his positive arguments against those vaccines hit their mark. The purchase and use of HEK293 and similar cell-lines are not intrinsically impermissible. Well-formed people of good faith may be moved by the very strong reasons that exist to take the vaccine to do so.
Natural and legal rights are not like individuals of the same species, but analogous ways of identifying what justice demands. Natural rights provide a standard by which legal rights are to be understood and corrected; but legal rights are the means by which natural rights are to be secured and realized in a polity.
Practical reasons are where the action is if one is to engage agents, the culture at large, and even popes, in moral discussion, debate, and deliberation. There is really no alternative in an ethics of virtue, acquired or infused.
Manufacturing children using the genetic material of multiple parents is not a prospect to be celebrated. It is a dystopian technology, making children, as if they were consumer goods, and unmaking the family, as if it were not essential to the common good.
What happens if a possible future vaccine for COVID-19 is developed unethically, by using contemporary tissue from aborted children? Could pro-life citizens morally use such a vaccine?
The use of fetal tissue from aborted human beings in medical research predicates the health of some on the deliberate destruction of the lives and health of others. That predication is incompatible with the fundamental commitments of medicine. In the face of this global crisis, we must hold to our ethical principles more firmly than ever.
It is a mark of responsible governance, not authoritarian overreach, for states to act when the demands of public health call for such measures. It is true that the presumption of freedom, religious liberty, and parental authority are all at risk in an increasingly regulatory, secular, and statist culture, but it is an error to see vaccination policy as an essential battleground for defense of these important rights.
Silence is not enough. The wounds of the Church cannot begin to heal until Pope Francis honestly responds to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations. He has a responsibility to do so.
The confessing state exceeds the limits of its authority, either by acting to no good effect, or by acting contrary to good effect. Thus, the confessing state seems inappropriate as a matter not simply of prudence, but of principle.
We can’t afford to live without physicians who are devoted to always healing and caring, and never harming. Requesting physician-assisted suicide, like legalizing it, erodes that devotion. A refusal to ask, even on the part of those not committed to the inviolability of human life, helps sustain that devotion.
Members of iGen suffer from serious intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration.
On some rights—such as the right to life—there is no room for compromise. But assault weapons seem an appropriate point of compromise for proponents of a right to bear arms.
Reason operating without error judges that no human being should ever intend the death of another human being for any reason whatsoever. No achievable good can justify such a choice. And that is the foundation for the case against the death penalty.
There is a genuine tension, not just in Aquinas but in Church teaching more generally, between claims about the intrinsic goodness, sanctity, and inviolability of human life, and claims about political authority to kill. The second in a two-part series.
Arguments against the death penalty can be made not only on the basis of theology but also on the basis of natural law philosophy. The first in a two-part series.
Both human embryos and human five-year-olds are human beings equal in fundamental worth and dignity. But there are differences between the embryos and five-year-olds that are or can be morally relevant to the decision concerning whom to rescue.