Medical Assistance in Dying and Conscientious Objection

Recently in Canada it has become legal for those suffering from “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” (i.e., terminal illnesses) to consent to have their lives ended by a physician. Even more recent is a paper by Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk arguing that healthcare professionals should not have the right to conscientious objection. Below are some notes I took while reading the paper:

  • They are right that paternalism (e.g., “shut up, I’m the doctor, I know what’s best for you”) in medical care is bad.
  • But their paper is paternalistic toward healthcare professionals. Their argument relies on turning the government into the ultimate authority, which only stubborn doctors would refuse to follow. To their credit, they admit that there are current cases where they think the law is wrong, but they say doctors should still follow the law in these cases!
  • The paper appeals to the will of the majority when it’s convenient: “if society thinks contraception, abortion and assistance in dying are important, it should select people prepared to do them, not people whose values preclude them from participating. Equally, people not prepared to participate in such expected courses of action should not join professions tasked by society with the provision of such services.” But earlier, while trying to explain why their arguments have failed to persuade lawmakers, they said the reason is “the influence of organized religion in society. The more religious a society is, the more religious values are imposed on people.” So it’s wrong for societies to impose their will when religious, but it’s alright for them to do so when they are pro-contraception, etc. Also, it’s clear that current society, while approving of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, etc., also thinks the right to conscientious objection is important.
  • A good thing about the paper is that it recognizes that such debates (about medical assistance in dying, abortion, etc.) can only be fully resolved by figuring out if these things are evils or goods – but they go on to just assume that they are good without really arguing for it.

After reading the paper, I also found out that Brandon Watson had written a blog post on a similar document. I think he is right to say that responses to conscientious objections often act as though what a doctor’s judgment is about the morality of euthanasia, abortion, etc. is purely a “personal view” and so it does not have the same right as an objection to a medical treatment that the doctor sees as harmful. But in fact, both types of objections are about what is good for the patient. Furthermore, despite use of phrases like “personal views,” such ethical views are often supported by arguments that can be publicly evaluated.


  • A blog post about when Wittgenstein left his professorship to work at a hospital pharmacy. More information is available in chapter 21 of Ray Monk’s biography. Here is one page from that chapter.
  • Here is an entertaining lecture by William Dunham about Leonhard Euler. If you can’t watch the whole hour, at the very least watch the genius proof shown from 32:31 onward.
  • Carlo Rovelli considers the accuracy of Aristotle’s physics. Valuable because its conclusion is so contrary to what is commonly believed: “Aristotelian physics lasted long not because it became dogma, but because it is a very good empirically grounded theory.”
  • At Commonweal, David Bentley Hart has written an article called Christ’s Rabble, about how the New Testament views wealth. It’s nice to hear that he’s finally done his NT translation.
  • A captivating article by John Stamps over at Fr. Aidan’s blog, about finding the ‘original’ Jesus. My favorite part is when he points out how, during a time of deistic anti-miracle rhetoric, the Jansenists were able to work miracles in Paris, the center of the Enlightenment (almost as if God was being cheeky about the whole thing). And near the end you can find a good summary of the whole article: “If we eschew the distractions of a theoretical pursuit of a historical Jesus, we’d see faith in the living Lord was never a matter of poring over learned tomes in a divinity school library. Whether in 1st century Corinth, 11th century Byzantium, 18th century Germany, or 21st century San Jose, we always encounter the living Jesus in very specific ways—catechesis, prayer, Eucharist, almsgiving, proclamation, obedience, Bible study, the experience of active love, just to name a few.”
  • An interview with Met. Hilarion (h/t Laudator Temporis Acti). Very interesting to know that as a teen he became a fan of Federico García Lorca.

  • A Divine Liturgy in sign language, with a quote from Patriarch Kirill about not excluding those with disabilities from the Church.

The Sexual Revolution

Depending on who you ask, the response to the question “when did the sexual revolution begin?” will probably be one of two eras: either the 1960s, or, more rarely, around the 1920s or 1930s. Fr. Benedict Ashley takes the latter view in his autobiography (see p. 125 here). Illustrating this view, the Cambridge Apostles society of the 1910s and 1920s never made much of a secret of the promiscuous sexual relationships between some of its male members. And of course, it should be noted that the highly controversial Marriage and Morals by Bertrand Russell was published in 1929.

On the other hand, just look at the contrast from two excerpts from The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, one from one era, the other from the other era.

The first is from 1934 (source):


The second is from 1972 (source). It is noteworthy that the article begins with the author saying “not only is this the era of sexual enlightenment, but it is also the age of contraception, legalized abortion, early sterilization, and great concern about population control … We are told we are living in a sexual revolution.” Then he adds:


This would seem to support the view that the sexual revolution really began in the 1960s. It is remarkable to see the change in attitude about the matter. In the first article, it is promiscuity that is the social menace, whereas in the second article, it is over-population. In the article from the 1930s, it is taken as a matter of fact that promiscuity is an evil, whereas by the 1970s, such a view seems antiquated (as it is still seen now). Overall, it is best to say that the sexual revolution occurred over a longer period of time than usually allowed, and it was more prominent in certain areas (e.g., England) earlier than in others (e.g., America, especially the more conservative parts).

It would be wrong to end a post about contraception and the sexual revolution without linking to a famous article from that period about that subject: Contraception and Chastity by Elizabeth Anscombe.

May he hate himself, may he love himself…

It is extremely dangerous to make man see how similar he is to the beasts, without showing him his greatness. It is again dangerous to make him see his greatness, without his baseness. It is again more dangerous to leave him ignorant of both. But it is very beneficial to show him both.
May man, then, know his worth. May he love himself; for he has in himself a nature capable of good; but may he not love on this account the base things he uses it for. May he despise himself because this capacity is void, but may he not hate on this account this natural capacity. May he hate himself; may he love himself: he has in himself the capacity of knowing the truth and of being happy; but he has no truth, either constant or satisfactory. I would like then to bring this man to desire to find it, to be ready and remove his passions to follow where he will find it; and knowing how much his knowledge is obscured by the passions, I would like for him to hate in himself the concupiscence which determines it of itself; so that it will not blind him when he makes his choice and will not stop him once he has chosen.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, roughly translated from pp. 69-70 (174-175) of this edition.


  • Jeff Mirus provides (with good commentary) some of Henri de Lubac’s notes from before and during Vatican II. One comment still relevant for today: “It must be confessed that our exegetes, in commission or outside, withdraw into a philological and critical role; they are pure specialists; they do not know how to bring out the doctrines that stem from the Bible or to show its spirit.”
  • Divna Ljubojević chants Agni Parthene and Kyrie Eleison. What a voice!
  • Fr. Christiaan Kappes has two documents about reconciling Orthodoxy and Catholicism through St. Mark of Ephesus and medieval ecclesiology: part 1 and part 2. What I found most interesting was his remark that in the Middle Ages, a considerable number of theologians held the view that churches out of communion with their own could still be part of the church, “in partial communion,” like a hand that has lost blood circulation but is still part of the body (albeit perilously). This is a far cry from what we usually hear these days (from both Catholic and Orthodox apologists alike). Fr. Kappes has great knowledge of and love for Byzantine theology, all while being a faithful Catholic priest. Hopefully one day his talents and efforts will lead to the reunification of East and West.
  • Talks from a book launch for Unlocking Divine Action by Fr. Michael Dodds, OP. There is an excellent talk by Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, OP from 10:48-23:53 about “emergence” and formal causality and using philosophy of nature as a bridge between science and theology. Extremely well done!
  • A report from PPRI about why Americans are leaving religion for good (h/t Gregory Stackpole’s twitter, @ThePalamite).
  • An article from Scientific American about creationism in Europe. It makes some fair points, but misses key issues for why people prefer creationism. Evolution is very often presented materialistically (sometimes unwittingly), even though it can be just as well understood in other ways. It’s no wonder then that religious people oppose it. Perhaps scientists should look at themselves first before assuming everything is due to creationist obstinacy.
  • The last three links here are all related, of course, to the relationship between science and religion in popular culture. Modern theologians have done a poor job, it seems to me, at actually explaining how natural science fits with theology: often it’s just a confused attempt at reconciling the two in a way that can make it come across as desperation (e.g., “God could have been behind evolution”). No wonder religious claims seem unconvincing to many modern people. Works by Thomists like the River Forest Thomists (e.g., Ashley and Wallace), as well as Fr. Mariusz above, have been very well done in this regard, but are sadly too little known.

Sapientia Avis Magni

Traveller, do you not know how a poet can live beyond the grave? You stand and read this verse: it is I, then, who am speaking. Reading this work aloud, your living voice is mine.
– St. Possidius, Life of St. Augustine, 31.8, citing an unknown pagan poet

A note, it’s like leaving a little piece of you behind to talk to people when you can’t be there.
– Big Bird, Sesame Street, episode 3325


  • Many remark on the supposed irreconcilability between the philosopher’s alleged duty to follow the evidence wherever it leads and the believer’s commitment to his faith. Pater Edmund Waldstein addresses this in a great post on how it is possible for believers to honestly consider arguments that contradict their faith. A glimpse at his take: “Aristotle in the Physics certainly takes the arguments of Melissus and Parmenides on the unity and immobility of being seriously in the sense that he carefully examines their evidence, and tries to see what led them to think thus. But … he is not open to being persuaded by their conclusion. And the reason is that the reality of plurality and motion in the world is more known to us than any of the abstract premises from which Parmenides and Melissus are working. There is nothing unserious about Aristotle’s approach. On the contrary there would be something unserious about approaching the question with an agnostic attitude toward the reality of plurality and motion.”
    [Apologies to Pater Edmund if this notifies him twice. A couple days ago I accidentally posted the draft of this part before I should have, which I then deleted.]
  • Over at The Smithy, Michael Sullivan wrote a post on the same subject.
  • Of course, Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen by St. Augustine should always be mentioned as a very brief but powerful argument on the necessity of faith. (This reminds of the very insightful point C. S. Lewis makes at the start of this article, that using one’s reason is not always the rational thing to do).
  • The entire text of Ivan Illich’s Medical Nemesis is available online here. It must be kept in mind that Illich was a social critic, not a doctor. Some of his information is dated now, and while I certainly do not want to endorse everything he says regarding medical science, I feel he makes some valuable comments about society’s abuse of medicine.
  • Bekkos has posted an amazing resource: the entire Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique available freely online. There is an extremely valuable entry on Georgios Scholarios written by Jugie that details not only his life, but also summarizes his works.
  • What did Manhattan look like in 1609? This is pretty cool, since from time to time I’ve always wondered what my neighborhood looked like 500, or 1000, or 2000 years ago.
  • Another article from the same source on personifying inanimate objects. One reason for why even scientists tend to anthropomorphize (e.g., ‘fluorine wants to have a full outer shell of electrons’) is that there is a likeness between how humans naturally tend to certain goods and how inanimate objects tend to certain states (e.g., fluorine by its nature tends to have a full outer shell of electrons, particles by their nature tend to move to a region of lower concentration, etc.).