Spheres of Responsibilty and Hypocrisy …

So, a new story is making the rounds about what is claimed to be the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. The one’s over a lawsuit levelled at them because they didn’t perform a C-section on a woman who was having a heart attack to save her seven month old twins. The purported hypocrisy, however, comes in with the defense, where one of the legal defenses raised is that under the law in Colorado the foetus is not a person, and therefore under the law in Colorado they cannot be held legally responsible for “Wrongful Death” because it has been clearly determined that that only applies to persons, and a foetus is not one. Of course, this contradicts the Catholic Church’s stance that foetuses are persons and that they should be considered such under the law, and so leads to suggestions that they consider it a person until someone wants to hold them accountable for what they do to one, at which point they deny it.

(Note that this organization doesn’t seem to be officially affiliated with the Church, and this isn’t yet explicitly a decision advanced or advocated by the Church).

At first skimming and first thought, I was fairly neutral on this, but on reflection I think that the position here is actually completely right, and it all comes down to the fact that the counter-argument is being made in a legal context, and not a moral one. Essentially, what’s happening is this: they are being taken to court to be held legally responsible for their actions in that matter. They are not, in this case, being held morally responsible for their actions. And the law in Colorado is exactly as cited above: foetuses aren’t persons, and you can only be held legally responsible for Wrongful Death if a person has died. So, in terms of how this shakes out:

1) Regardless of the organizations stance on whether or not they would want to pursue this line of argumentation, the law firm they hired would have to because it’s actually the law. They would be a very terrible law firm if they allowed their clients to accept legal responsibility for something that, by the law, they are not actually legally responsible for, and any judge that didn’t call them out for malpractice would also be a very poor judge.

2) Their views on their moral responsibility in this case are irrelevant to whether or not they should accept legal responsibility, because legal responsibility does not reflect moral responsibility. So there’s no hypocrisy in saying “Yes, we think that morally a foetus is a person and so we have moral responsibility, but by the law we don’t have legal responsibility, and that’s what we’re arguing over here”.

3) That they want there to be that legal responsibility does not, in fact, change the fact that the law does not give them that legal responsibility. This can also lead to a bit of a smug sense of satisfaction knowing that if the people who want to hold them responsible here had just changed the law to what the Church wanted, they could hold them responsible … but since they didn’t, they can’t. In fact, at this point it would look like those who are charging them with hypocrisy are the hypocrites, wanting the law to allow the direct killing of foetuses in the case of abortion but when the Church simply asks that the laws they support be applied to all people equally they turn around and insist that they, who oppose the law, should therefore not share its protections.

This is a bit of a reverse is/ought fallacy, which is the argument that if you think that a law ought to be a certain way then you must be treated as if it is a certain way. But that’s false, and again this is all about how the law really is, not about how they want it to be.

Now, that “moral responsibility” part is really important, because I do think that they need to examine what happened and find out why they didn’t try the C-section to save the twins’ lives. Even without the Catholic morality in the mix, it would seem that even basic medical procedures would demand that they give it a shot. So they really do need to find out why it happened, figure out how to ensure it won’t happen again, and give restitution for their likely moral lapse. None of that means that they are legally responsible for a Wrongful Death if the legal defense is right, and that does not mean that they need not fight against being held legally responsible for what they are not, in fact, legally responsible for by appealing to the actual laws, even if they wish the laws were different.

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