Professor Beattie Makes a Good Point

Tina Beattie, Director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton, has posted a blog in The Tablet which makes an excellent point, demonstrating the hypocrisy of the outcry at Oklahoma's botched execution for a couple of reasons. First of all, she highlights the fact, reported in the Guardian, that British companies had been secretly exporting potassium chloride to America for use in executions. Next, Beattie makes the link between the use of this drug in US executions and the fact that it is also used in this country to inject the foetal heart in cases of late abortion. The website of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists offers this advice:
For all terminations at gestational age of more than 21 weeks and 6 days, the method chosen should ensure that the foetus is born dead. This should be undertaken by an appropriately trained practitioner. Intracardiac potassium chloride is the recommended method and the dose chosen should ensure that foetal asystole has been achieved … Consideration can be given to abolishing foetal movements by the instillation of anaesthetic and/or muscle relaxant agents immediately prior to potassium chloride administration.
In haughty tones, Beattie lifts herself above the "din of angry rhetoric" to state:
Few issues are as resistant to informed and reasoned debate as abortion, and any attempt to open up such a debate risks being hijacked by bitter polemicists on both sides. Yet wherever one stands on the legality and morality of abortion these are vital ethical issues. When there is such clear contradiction and denial as there is with regard to the uses and abuses of drugs like potassium chloride, it is in the public interest that such debate should be had, and that voices of reason should seek to be heard over the din of angry rhetoric. The question that will not go away is why the British public would be outraged at the use of a drug for the purposes of capital punishment, when one of our most prestigious medical organisations recommends its use for the purposes of killing a potentially viable baby.
It's a good point, but we shouldn't forget, (in fact it's rather astounding that she is making this point, given that:) her own position on abortion is that the unborn child is not a person. In an examination of the morality of abortion: Abortion, Tradition and Compassion, Prof. Beattie attempts to justify her position by misappropriating the doctrine of the Trinity. And I quote:
‘Given that in Christian theology the understanding of personhood is fundamentally relational because it bears the image of the Triune God, it is hard to see how an embryo can be deemed a person before even the mother enters into a rudimentary relationship with it. As many as one in four pregnancies may spontaneously abort during the first eight weeks of pregnancy, often without the woman knowing that she was pregnant.'
So if a mother dies in childbirth the child can't be deemed a person because she never enters into a rudimentary relationship with it? As a father of five amazing children, I can tell you that even when they were in utero, I was in relationship with them, let alone their mum! In a typically truculent and in all honesty, highly offensive climax to her (frankly bizarre) reasoning, Beattie states:
 'As some Catholic ethicists point out, the logical corollary of this position is that a woman should baptise every menstrual period – just in case.’
As Protect the Pope pointed out back in September 2012, Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of sacramental theology knows that the Sacrament of Baptism cannot be administered to a dead child. In the tragic circumstances of a miscarriage or stillbirth the child has already died. For Prof. Beattie to write that a 'woman should baptise every menstrual period - just in case' not only indicates a lack of basic knowledge on her part, but also displays a shocking insensitivity towards Catholic parents who are suffering the grief of miscarriage or stillbirth.

In the same article, Beattie seems to be arguing for abortion in cases of rape and utilising a utilitarian logic for her argument which fundamentally contradicts the position that murder of an innocent is always unjustifiable. Her assertion that abortion is sometimes "the lesser of two evils" advocates a moral position fundamentally opposed to Catholic Moral Theology. Given her elevated position in Catholic circles, surely this sort of public pronouncement, with no orthodox counterpoint, must be extremely worrying for the hierarchy as it serves to convince the laity that Catholic doctrine is outdated and inconsistent (both allegations leveled in the article linked to above).

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a need to find ever more consistent rational arguments in order to justify the requirements and to provide a foundation for the norms of the moral life. This kind of investigation is legitimate and necessary, since the moral order, as established by the natural law, is in principle accessible to human reason. Furthermore, such investigation is well-suited to meeting the demands of dialogue and cooperation with non-Catholics and non-believers, especially in pluralistic societies.

However, as Veritatis Splendor makes clear: part of the effort to work out such a rational morality (for this reason it is sometimes called an "autonomous morality" ) there exist false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action. Some authors do not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the will is involved in the concrete choices which it makes: these choices are a condition of its moral goodness and its being ordered to the ultimate end of the person. Others are inspired by a notion of freedom which prescinds from the actual conditions of its exercise, from its objective reference to the truth about the good, and from its determination through choices of concrete kinds of behaviour. According to these theories, free will would neither be morally subjected to specific obligations nor shaped by its choices, while nonetheless still remaining responsible for its own acts and for their consequences. This "teleologism", as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called — according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought — "consequentialism" or "proportionalism". The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the "greater good" or "lesser evil" actually possible in a particular situation.
Beattie's position on abortion encompasses both of these falacious positions: it advocates abortion in order to avoid pre-calculated, foreseeable consequences and also argues for a lesser evil in order to bring about a greater good. Pope St. John Paul II goes on:
The teleological ethical theories (proportionalism, consequentialism), while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behaviour which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values. The acting subject would indeed be responsible for attaining the values pursued, but in two ways: the values or goods involved in a human act would be, from one viewpoint, of the moral order (in relation to properly moral values, such as love of God and neighbour, justice, etc.) and, from another viewpoint, of the pre-moral order, which some term non-moral, physical or ontic (in relation to the advantages and disadvantages accruing both to the agent and to all other persons possibly involved, such as, for example, health or its endangerment, physical integrity, life, death, loss of material goods, etc.). In a world where goodness is always mixed with evil, and every good effect linked to other evil effects, the morality of an act would be judged in two different ways: its moral "goodness" would be judged on the basis of the subject's intention in reference to moral goods, and its "rightness" on the basis of a consideration of its foreseeable effects or consequences and of their proportion. Consequently, concrete kinds of behaviour could be described as "right" or "wrong", without it being thereby possible to judge as morally "good" or "bad" the will of the person choosing them. In this way, an act which, by contradicting a universal negative norm, directly violates goods considered as "pre-moral" could be qualified as morally acceptable if the intention of the subject is focused, in accordance with a "responsible" assessment of the goods involved in the concrete action, on the moral value judged to be decisive in the situation.
The evaluation of the consequences of the action, based on the proportion between the act and its effects and between the effects themselves, would regard only the pre-moral order. The moral specificity of acts, that is their goodness or evil, would be determined exclusively by the faithfulness of the person to the highest values of charity and prudence, without this faithfulness necessarily being incompatible with choices contrary to certain particular moral precepts. Even when grave matter is concerned, these precepts should be considered as operative norms which are always relative and open to exceptions.
In this view, deliberate consent to certain kinds of behaviour declared illicit by traditional moral theology would not imply an objective moral evil.
These theories can gain a certain persuasive force from their affinity to the scientific mentality, which is rightly concerned with ordering technical and economic activities on the basis of a calculation of resources and profits, procedures and their effects. They seek to provide liberation from the constraints of a voluntaristic and arbitrary morality of obligation which would ultimately be dehumanizing.
Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question. The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord.125 When the Apostle Paul sums up the fulfilment of the law in the precept of love of neighbour as oneself (cf. Rom 13:8-10), he is not weakening the commandments but reinforcing them, since he is revealing their requirements and their gravity. Love of God and of one's neighbour cannot be separated from the observance of the commandments of the Covenant renewed in the blood of Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit. It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29) and accept even martyrdom as a consequence, like the holy men and women of the Old and New Testaments, who are considered such because they gave their lives rather than perform this or that particular act contrary to faith or virtue.
I would recommend a careful reading of the whole Encyclical. If Prof. Beattie had, she might have been able to frame her argument better.

I suppose I am just "the din of angry rhetoric", but I do wonder how Tina is a Professor of anything! Is she simply opening up a debate on this issue? Surely as a professor, she should know how extensively these issues have been discussed and be able to employ better reasoning than "consequentialism" or "proportionalism"?  I also find it rather difficult to take her lecturing seriously on this issue when she seems happy to defend abortion in direct contradiction to fundamental Catholic teaching as summarised in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
One has to wonder if Professor Beattie is not an example of the trend highlighted by Dr. Joseph Shaw, of 'enemies being rewarded', while friends are left out in the cold?
What we are seeing is a deliberate policy, where conservative-leaning people in authority attack their friends and protect their enemies.
Perhaps the real hypocrisy could be coming from those who embrace this woman and provide her with a prestigious platform, while proclaiming themselves to be Catholic.


  1. Well, yes, she exposes an hypocrisy which is well worth the exposure, not that the drug companies will see the hypocrisy. For them a foetus is not a person, but a thing. As, you point out, it is for Professor Beattie. In which case it is hard to fathom why she is making this point.

    Has she recanted her quoted position on the personhood of foetuses? I hope so, because the application of her criterion of rudimentary relationship seems ridiculous. How much more intimate a human relationship can you get than the biological one of a baby being born from and within the flesh of a woman? It would seem that relationship in this context is psychological, and to that degree it would be largely subjective. Once the criterion for establishing human personhood is reduced to a subjective one, we can have no answer at all to the Nazi position that those they term "untermensch" should be exterminated. Why is their subjective judgment any less valid than Beattie's?



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Pope Francis: we planned it all before the conclave

A Cardinal writes: “Roma loquitur. Confusio augetur.”

Cardinal Müller: Fr James Martin's Teaching is Heresy