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« Medicare, Medicaid, and the Deficit | Main | Torture, Faith and Law »

01/27/2011

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Felapton

God knows I am no fan of Bishop Olmsted and in the same position I would almost certainly have decided just as Sister McBride did. But Kristof's trivialization of the question misrepresents both of them.

This was a decision of the form: If I do A, then I uphold a principle upon which the lives and welfare of many people depend, but I must sacrifice one person's life and welfare right here and now. If I do not-A, then this person here and now will not suffer and die, but I undermine a principle which protects many people, incrementally contributing to the distinct possibility that *they* will eventually suffer and die (prematurely.)

It requires superhuman confidence in one's convictions to do the second thing. Sister McBride did not and the Bishop Olmsted may wellnot have either if he had been on the scene. Many people would consider it outright unethical to ever allow any actual person to die purely for a principle, even one upon which the many lives depend. But it can happen that the first decision (the one in favor of principle) is objectively the right one. Bishop Olmsted believes that he has Christ's guarantee that no matter how difficult it is to do so, upholding the sanctity of life will save more lives and souls than committing an abortion, even if the abortion is certain to save one life right away. (It is true that he may be mistaken in that belief, just as anybody can be mistaken about anything
they believe.)

Don't lawyers make similar decisions all the time? Suppose you have evidence that the criminal you are prosecuting is guilty, but you know the evidence has been illegally obtained. But you also know if the criminal gets off, he will go kill more people. But if the law against illegally obtaining evidence is undermined or nullified, many innocent people could be convicted of crimes, possibly even executed. What should you do?

This was not a clash of "rival religious approaches." It was two dedicated, courageous, compassionate Christians with a hellish decision to make and live with. Bishop Olmsted was not indifferent to the life of the woman with pulmonary hypertension,
and Sister McBride believes as profoundly in the sanctity of life as any Catholic. Neither of them "gave Jesus the heave-ho", neither is "focusing on dogma, sanctity, rules and punishment" and neither needs Nicholas Kristof to tell them who is "more Christ-like."

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