Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Playing God? Moral Arguments on Patents on Life"

I recently published some reflections on the issue of patenting of genes--human and non-human--from the perspective of religious and secular ethics. It includes reflections on the conference that St. Thomas's Murphy Institute co-sponsored with the Von Hugel Institute at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge (UK), last fall. A sample from my piece:

     The Cambridge conference showed how religious thought can make valuable contributions to debates over patents on life. Catholicism is well suited for these conversations, with its bedrock commitment to the dignity of human life, its history of reflection on the purposes and limits of private property, and its global network of institutions serving the poor and vulnerable....

     The conference also showed that the relationship between life patents and human dignity is complex. One cannot simplistically dismiss all patents in the genetic area as “playing God.” Christianity calls for us not to leave nature alone, but to exercise stewardship for the common good...

     But biotechnology, in the Pope’s words, also gives those with knowledge and economic resources “an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity,” and “nothing ensures that [such power] will be used wisely.” Thus patents related to living things still must be subjected to limits based in morality and the equal dignity of all persons. That means first (as all our conference speakers emphasized) that governments must continue to ban patents on natural products and processes, on human beings and on human organs.

     Second, even when biotechnology patents are appropriate, the effects of such technologies must be regulated to ensure they produce benefits, not harms.

UPDATE: Another piece on the issue, referring to our conference, by Simon Ravenscroft, one of our organizers, on the Religion and Ethics page of Australian television.



February 14, 2016 in Berg, Thomas, Current Affairs, Religion, Science | Permalink

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mary, Table of Intellectual Faith

Happy New Year everyone! 

Fr. Araujo rightly observes the tension between the types of rationality that dominate contemporary legal reasoning and the types of reasoning that Catholics see as harmonious with faith.  His question for us points deeper into the nature and structure of legal reasoning and the values that it advances. 

John Paul II was particularly aware of the tensions between scientific rationality and the faithful Catholic life. In Fides et Ratio, he wrote that Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, is the “sure haven for all who devote their lives to the pursuit of wisdom.” (108) The encyclical interprets her “unqualified yes to Gabriel’s message as a leap of faith that made possible the salvation of all persons.”  It is this parable of Mary that illustrates the proper relation of faith and reason that Catholic philosophers should seek to emulate. Just as she put aside her worldly concerns so that “the Word might take on flesh and become one of us,” so too should the faithful Catholic philosopher offer natural reason in the service of the divine. The encyclical notes that the “ancients” saw Mary as the “table of intellectual faith. In her they saw a suitable image of true philosophy and realized that they must be philosophizing with Mary.” Taken in this light, Catholic thought is engaged in the pursuit of true wisdom when it thinks like Mary thought.

Imagine the full human range of reason and emotion that Mary would have experienced. The feelings of joy, fear, confidence, self-doubt, pride, humility, triumph, wonder, awe, and mystery. What were Mary’s self-understandings? Surely, her heart and mind were united in her affirmation of her role in God’s plan. Mary knew what the modern world has only recently begun to re-discover, that rationality and affectivity are inseparable (see for example, Antonio Damasio’s Descartes' Error).

The reduction of the fullness of human reason to the dispassionate discursive rationality of scientific inquiry is particularly troublesome for lawyers. In her interesting book, The Language of Law School, the linguistic anthropologist, Elizabeth Mertz, suggests that legal education, particularly in the first year, promotes objective, dispassionate modes of legal analyses, which denude the student of moral intuitions and empathetic emotion. What’s more, this sort of disengagement from moral feeling may be necessary for the professional formation of the contemporary America lawyer. Nonetheless, when legal education and legal reasoning obscure the fullness of human wisdom in favor of instrumentalism, consumerism, and fanciful conceptions of autonomy, we should rightly be aghast, because as St. Augustine taught, the emotional detachment of the Stoic is fundamentally incompatible with a faithful Christian life. 

January 1, 2010 in Araujo, Robert, Religion, Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)