How to Fail the Double-Effect Test
July 9, 2008 § 20 Comments
Catholics have a grave duty to conscientiously object[*] to the abortion legal regime, according to the Magisterium of the Church.
Some Catholics propose that we set that grave duty aside in order to work with pro-choice people on other issues, issues which (putatively) have an impact on the rate of abortions. It is necessary to set aside our duty to object to pro-choice laws, the theory goes, in order to achieve solidarity with others and thereby accomplish a reduction in the number of abortions through extra-legal means.
In this proposal, setting aside our grave duty as Catholics is a cause of our ability to make common cause with pro-choicers. But under double-effect, it is not permissable for the good effect we seek to be caused by a bad effect of our act or by an evil act or omission.
So the theory clearly fails double-effect, even if we grant its rather dubious factual premeses. It is precisely an evil omission – ignoring our grave duty to conscientiously object to the abortion legal regime – which causes solidarity with pro-choicers, a solidarity which those who propose this approach would employ in the pursuit of fewer abortions.
This is rather like skipping Mass in order to gain solidarity with non-Catholics in the pursuit of some good end. It is never licit to do evil in order that good may come of it; and deliberately setting aside a grave duty in order to cause a good effect – where deliberately ignoring the positive duty is in itself what actually causes the good effect – is doing evil in order that good may come of it.
[*] A grave duty to conscientiously object may mean any number of things. But “go along quietly and don’t make any trouble” isn’t one of them.