In his carefully reasoned examination of the recent case of the conjoined twins Jodie and Mary (12/2), Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D., criticizes British medical arrogance, narrow pastoral advice and judicial bullying. This is unfair.
I too deplore the doctors and courts removing this excruciating moral dilemma from the parents. And I regret that the courts supported the surgeons’ conviction that sacrificing Mary to save Jodie was the lesser evil. But the doctors and the judges, no less than the parents, acted in good faith.
First, the surgeons, bound by their profession to save life wherever possible and to seek the maximum good, acted out of this conviction and not from anti-religious prejudice. (Indeed, as we have just learned, one of the three surgeons at St. Mary’s Hospital is Catholic and another is evangelical.)
Second, while it is true the British judicial system is excessively influenced by utilitarianism and consequentialism, the appeal court made strenuous efforts to accommodate sanctity-of-life premises, and even took the unprecedented step of receiving ethical guidance from the Catholic Church. The judges accepted four out of five of the arguments made by Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminsteralthough they used them to come to a different conclusion.
As for narrow pastoral advice, I cannot see how the counsel offered by the church to the parents of the Siamese twins, either here or in their native Malta, could have been different. As Sulmasy accepts, double-effect doctrine does not apply in this case: Mary’s death was the means of prolonging Jodie’s life.
The basic Catholic premiseexplicitly upheld in European but not British lawis that the prohibition against taking innocent life trumps the obligation to preserve life whenever possible. If this view is narrow, the bedrock of civilization may not be as broad as we believe.
Assistant Editor, The Tablet
Brother Daniel Sulmasy’s concise and precise assessment of the case of the conjoined Maltese twins (12/2) should be part of ethics courses not only in medical schools but in law schools and seminaries as well (12/2). This case is real, not hypothetical. Real advice was forthcoming from each of the three traditional ministerial professions: medicine, law and religion. The family from Malta deserved better from all three.
For me his critique also points up the importance of having a physician ethicist teach medical ethics, rather than a theoretical or philosophical ethicist.
W. J. Duhigg, M.D.
Kudos to John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., for his critique of capitalism’s version of Christmas (12/16).
A step further: We don’t allow Easter to permeate Lent. If we want to put Christ back into Christmas, we Catholics might avoid the sentimental idolatry of the secular season by keeping Christmas out of Advent and reap the spiritual benefits of this undercelebrated season. But that’s another article.
Thank you for David S. Toolan, S.J.’s review of Michael Ruse’s Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (Book Reviews, 12/9). Although some Christians reject the Darwinian explanation of our similarities with our evolutionary ancestors, the primary conflict between Darwinism and Christianity lies in explanations of the differences between humans and our evolutionary ancestors.
Christianity claims that we have the potential to be moral animals, claiming we have the capability to choose between altruism and aggressive self-interest. Darwinism’s only explanation for the fact that our cultural and individual behavior patterns do evidence a vacillation between cooperative caring and exclusive self-interest, depending on environmental influences, are the feeble explanations of the selfish gene theory and the kinship theory, which deny rather than explain this difference.
But the evolution of our decision-making brains is not the only difference Darwinism has so far failed to explain. There are the problems of consciousness, of our dependence beyond childhood for general well-being upon emotionally close relationships and the vital role emotional communication plays in these relationships and the problem of our many-faceted sexuality. Denying the reality of consciousness, ignoring the behavioral significance of our relational emotional dimension and our emotional intelligence, and dismissing variations in sexuality as aberrations are not adequate explanations for how they have evolved. Both
Darwinism and Christianity face the challenge these questions pose. I have more faith in both to meet this challenge than Michael Ruse apparently has.
Marilyn M. Kramer