Monday, April 21, 2008

On Cooperating with Evil - a short discourse

In June 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life, an arm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released a letter entitled, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Human Foetuses." Its purpose was "to clarify the liceity of vaccinating children with vaccines prepared using cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses." Although the document is specifically addressed to the pediatric vaccination question, it's treatise would certainly apply to all other issues which pose challenging tests to this principle of cooperation with evil.

The following excerpts are the related salient points of that Pontifical letter.

[begin excerpt]
The principle of licit cooperation in evil

The first fundamental distinction to be made is that between formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation is carried out when the moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, sharing in the latter's evil intention. On the other hand, when a moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, without sharing his/her evil intention, it is a case of material cooperation.
Material cooperation can be further divided into categories of immediate (direct) and mediate (indirect), depending on whether the cooperation is in the execution of the sinful action per se, or whether the agent acts by fulfilling the conditions - either by providing instruments or products - which make it possible to commit the immoral act. Furthermore, forms of proximate cooperation and remote cooperation can be distinguished, in relation to the "distance" (be it in terms of temporal space or material connection) between the act of cooperation and the sinful act committed by someone else. Immediate material cooperation is always proximate, while mediate material cooperation can be either proximate or remote.

Formal cooperation is always morally illicit because it represents a form of direct and intentional participation in the sinful action of another person. Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit (depending on the conditions of the "double effect" or "indirect voluntary" action), but when immediate material cooperation concerns grave attacks on human life, it is always to be considered illicit, given the precious nature of the value in question.
A further distinction made in classical morality is that between active (or positive) cooperation in evil and passive (or negative) cooperation in evil, the former referring to the performance of an act of cooperation in a sinful action that is carried out by another person, while the latter refers to the omission of an act of denunciation or impediment of a sinful action carried out by another person, insomuch as there was a moral duty to do that which was omitted. Passive cooperation can also be formal or material, immediate or mediate, proximate or remote. Obviously, every type of formal passive cooperation is to be considered illicit, but even passive material cooperation should generally be avoided, although it is admitted (by many authors) that there is not a rigorous obligation to avoid it in a case in which it would be greatly difficult to do so.
[end excerpt]

Note in the third paragraph above, it states that “Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit (depending on the conditions of the "double effect" or "indirect voluntary" action)”.

[begin excerpt]
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:

1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
3. The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect .
[end excerpt]

Additionally, it is pertinent to assess the possibility of scandal when applying the principles. The USCCB bishops directives for “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” is a good reference point:

#71 "The possibility of scandal must be considered when applying the principles governing cooperation.Cooperation, which in all other respects is morally licit, may need to be refused because of the scandal that might be caused. Scandal can sometimes be avoided by an appropriate explanation of what is in fact being done at the health care facility under Catholic auspices. The diocesan bishop has final responsibility for assessing and addressing issues of scandal, considering not only the circumstances in his local diocese but also the regional and national implications of his decision.”

A footnote to #71 gives a description of "scandal" quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil" [no. 2284]; "Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged" [no. 2287].

With these definitions in mind, the traditional teaching concerning cooperation in evil may be summed up according to the following principles. (1) Formal cooperation is never permissible because the intent that the sinful act occurs is itself an objective violation of God’s law. (2) Immediate material cooperation is never possible because by cooperating in the sinful act itself, one is also violating God’s law even though he cooperates for some other reason. (3) Mediate material cooperation may be permissible, provided that the action of the cooperator is not itself a violation of God’s law and provided that the cooperation is done for a proportionately serious reason. In deciding this last point, various factors must be taken into account: (a) the more serious the harm of the sin, the more significant must be the good sought to justify cooperation; (b) the more proximate or necessary the cooperation, the more significant must be the good sought. Further, the scandal involved in such cooperation must be seriously considered.


No comments: