November 7, 2013
In one year alone (2012), Belgium boasted of 1,432 legal cases of euthanasia. Belgium even sanctions euthanasia for children over the age of 12 with parental consent. Now, delirious with the culture of death, it is looking to extend euthanasia to children below the age of 12. In the United States, euthanasia is not legal at all. Nonetheless, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont allow physician assisted suicide. The only real difference between the first and the second is who administers the lethal drug.
Speaking to a gathering of Catholic gynecologists and obstetricians on September 20, 2013, Pope Francis affirmed the value of all human life. He said, “In all its phases and at every age, human life is always sacred and always of quality. And not as a matter of faith, but of reason and science!” Astutely did the Holy Father recognize that, while many dedicated to medical science work hard for new cures to ensure a disease-free life, some medical professionals seem to abandon respect for life itself. He characterized this contradiction as a symptom of a more widespread “cultural disorientation.”
Contributing to this cultural disorientation is the secularists’ virulent campaign to divorce reason from religion. Without religion, each individual becomes the ultimate authority on what is moral and what is immoral. Each person is left to decide his or her moral values on the basis of his or her own experience and feelings. As a result, the parameters of right and wrong in society wind up being in constant flux based on the power of the majority. Moral values become nothing more than the debris of subjective opinions. And, individuals are insidiously left as prey for those who preach and advance the culture of the young, the beautiful and the famous. As the fog of this disorientation settles in, human dignity is accorded only to those whom the community of the subjective judge worthy of it. The prophet Jeremiah warned against this long ago. He said, “They are deluding you, they retail visions of their own, and not what comes from the Lord’s mouth” (JER 23:26).
In the midst of so many conflicting judgments on what is right and wrong, there is a growing tendency to abrogate to the state what rightly belongs to the individual. In the June 16, 2005 issue of
The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, R. Alta Charo, professor of law and bioethics, argued that the government should limit what health care professionals can decide on their own. Even if they judge something to be immoral, the state should override their personal judgment and force them to violate their consciences in certain cases. She made the same argument to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
The recent mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (June 28, 2013) requiring employee health insurance for contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization is a logical consequence of such arguments. It is a clear example of the state legislating morality and sweeping aside the reasoned arguments of those who object. Underlying this decision is the assumption that, when religion and the state are in conflict, the state should take priority. What a recipe for disaster! This assumption totally bypasses the role of a well-informed conscience.
Deep within each person is the voice of conscience. Conscience is the voice of God, resounding in the human heart. God is all goodness and truth. He himself calls us deep within our being to respond to his presence in our lives. He calls us to avoid evil and to do good. He invites us to use our reason and to come to understand what is true and false, what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral in his eyes.
With our reason, we can look to creation and begin to understand what makes for good order and what makes for our own right relationship with others. With our reason, we can look to the moral teaching of the Church. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church proposes moral truths to guide our conscience in choosing good and shunning evil. The Church does not impose on us extrinsic rules of right and wrong. Hardly! On the basis of reason and faith, science and revelation, the Church proclaims the truth about the human person and the world and, then, invites us to form our conscience according to truth. The Church teaches that the human person can never understand the gift of life itself apart from God and his invitation to eternal friendship.
We have a moral obligation not to act against our conscience. But, first, we must have an informed conscience. Our conscience is not a matter of feeling. It does not allow us to do whatever we want. Nor does it allow us to create our own truth. Rather, our conscience allows us to come into contact with moral truth and thus direct our lives to goodness and, ultimately, to God who is goodness itself.
On the one hand, each person must follow his or her conscience rightly formed in God’s truth. When the majority or the government allows or, worse yet, mandates a certain action and an individual’s well-informed conscience forbids that action, the person cannot act in violation of his or her conscience without causing harm to themselves and others. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.”
On the other hand, the person who follows a rightly informed conscience contributes to the good of all. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
Sadly, some people see no relation between the role of their conscience and certain aspects of their lives. They do not bring to the tribunal of their conscience all their thoughts, words and deeds. They exempt their conduct in business, their decisions about sexuality and their enjoyment of material possessions. But every aspect of our life stands beneath the guiding light of our well-informed conscience.
When we banish the role of conscience from all our decisions, the effect is catastrophic. “Conscience will only impose itself for so long. Wars of attrition against conscience sooner or later take their toll, and, like a beaten dog, conscience returns like a whimpering dog to the corner of our souls” (Thomas D. Williams,
Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience). Ignoring our conscience and not nourishing it with moral truth deadens it. And, when conscience dies, the innocent die as well.