Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Finnis on Thomas More, conscience, and morals

This essay, "Thomas More and Today's Crisis in Faith and Morals," by my colleague John Finnis, is, I think, a must-read.  It is relevant and responsive to many of the discussions and debates we've had here on MOJ over the years.  (It's hard to believe that we can now refer to things we've been doing on MOJ "over the years"!).

December 22, 2006 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sarat on "botched" executions

Death-penalty expert Austin Sarat has this FindLaw column, "When Executions Go Wrong: A Horribly Botched Florida Killing Adds Strong Impetus to a National Reconsideration of Capital Punishment," on the recent Diaz execution.  I'm not sure I agree that focusing on the method-of-execution debate the wrongful-conviction problem -- although very, very important -- is a good abolition strategy.  There will always be plenty of capital murderers whose factual guilt is unquestioned and unquestionable, and -- it seems to me -- it is also always possible for death-penalty supporters, legislators, and prison administrators to devise new execution protocols and methods.  Maybe it's just because I have an unhealthy attraction to abstract moral arguments, but it seems to me that the question, at the end of the day, remains, "do some murderers deserve the death penalty and, if so, may our governments administer that penalty?"   

December 22, 2006 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Human Nature, the Transcendent, and Truth (and the Seasonal Tolerance for Untruth)

I believe that humans are hard-wired to believe in a reality beyond the material world, and that this belief is most clearly evident in children.  So when we facilitate our children's belief in Santa (or the tooth fairy), are we supporting a healthy exercise of their capacity to believe in the unseen, or are we unhealthily fostering confusion between reality and make-believe?  In my house, we try to proceed carefully, not dispelling our daughters' belief prematurely but also not propping it up after they begin to show skepticism.  Last night my 6 year-old was quizzing me about the tooth fairy (she has been a frequent visitor lately), then related that one of her classmates told her that "Jesus and God aren't real -- they were just made up by some guy."  (In first grade!)  At that moment, my instinct was to pull back the curtain on Santa and the tooth fairy, then have a long talk about the historical reliability of the New Testament documents.  Thankfully, I remembered not to drop my own baggage on my 6 year-old, so I gently affirmed the reality of God and Jesus but did not attempt to disprove her other objects of faith.

But my question remains: do we strengthen or diminish our children's inclination toward faith when we prop up society's portrayal of make-believe as reality?  Our society is more than willing to lump Jesus in with Santa and the tooth fairy, and if we want to avoid that categorization, shouldn't we be drawing the boundaries now?

December 22, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Remembering Evil

Miroslav Volf has a beautiful essay on forgiveness and memory in the current Christian Century.  Here's an excerpt:

In a prayer on behalf of the survivors of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel writes: "Oh, they [the survivors] do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. But they no longer look at every passer-by with suspicion. Nor do they see a dagger in every hand. Does this mean that the wounds in their soul have healed? They will never heal. As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete."

Christian readers should not stumble over the first lines of this prayer and thus miss the import of its last sentence. For Wiesel's request for the Master of the Universe not to forgive killers and their accomplices echoes the psalmist's request that the sins of "wicked and deceitful men" may "always remain before the Lord" (109:15). Wiesel is a modern-day psalmist, not a follower of the Christ whose forgiveness knows no bounds.

But the last line of the prayer makes a point on which the followers of Christ will agree with Wiesel: Remembering horrendous evils and experiencing joy, especially joy in one another, are irreconcilable. A world to come that keeps alive the memory of all wrongdoings suffered—and not just of horrendous evils—would be not a place of uplifted radiant faces but one of eyes downcast in shame, not a place of delight in one another but a place enveloped in the mist of profound sadness. For Wiesel, the unforgiving and never-to-be-forgotten memory of the flames of Auschwitz precludes the experience of pure felicity. So it would be for everyone who remembered the wrongs of history truthfully and whose heart had not grown hard.

December 22, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

CST & Economic Justice Mini Course

Apologies for my long long silence.  I hope to make it up to you all over the break!

Just a word about CST teaching.  At the moment I am gearing up to teach a one-credit seminar in Catholic Social Thought and Economic Justice. I have frequently returned to our “brainstorm” last June, where some of us expressed frustration with a “march through the documents” approach to the CST survey.  We’ll see how this turns out, but as I do the syllabus, I sense that a seven-week course zeroing in on one topic provides some additional flexibility.  I thought I’d put out just a few thoughts that might be helpful if other folks are also gearing up to teach in this area.

In terms of getting them into the overarching principles in a short time, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church might seem to have a bit of a “cliff notes” feel, but as I reviewed it recently I had the sense that it provided a very helpful shortcut into the overarching principles – especially for a short course.  I’m dipping into chapters 2, 3 and 4 for the first day intro.

In order to avoid the “march through the documents” feel, I have tried to sprinkle throughout the course several concrete applications to discuss. After we spend week 2 drawing out some of the key theme from Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno, week 3 will move into a discussion of poverty and development (Populorum progressio and Octogesima adveniens) with a glance at some of the debates surrounding Liberation Theology.  Then in week 4 we’ll read Laborem exercens and explore the problem of billable hours and work schedules in large firm practice.

Week 5 will focus on Sollicitudo rei socialis and Economic Justice for All, and we’ll consider the US Reception of Catholic Social and Economic Teaching – assigned texts include Charles E. Curran, The Reception of Catholic Social and Economic Teaching in the United States (in Ken Himes’ Modern Catholic Social Teaching volume), and excerpts from the 1984 letter by the Lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, Toward the Future: Catholic Social Thought and the U.S. Economy.

For week 6 we’ll read Centesimus annus and explore CST Perspectives on Corporate Structures and Law & Economics.  If anyone’s teaching in this area, take a real close look at Mark Sargent’s two pieces – Competing Visions of the Corporation in Catholic Social Thought, J. Catholic Social Thought 561 (2004); and Utility, the Good and Civic Happiness: A Catholic Critique of Law and Economics, 44 J. Catholic Legal Studies 35 (2005) (both at the sidebar under his name).  They strike me as really terrific teaching tools which quickly and neatly summarize the debates in this area, probing the creative tensions within CST.  For the Law & Econ critique we’ll also dip into my Toward a Trinitarian Theory of Products Liability.

Then week 7 concludes the course with some reflections on potential constructive models, including a glance at The Economy of Communion Project, and we'll also explore the question of whether it’s fair to clients to bring CST economic perspectives to bear on legal analysis (dipping into some of the "religious lawyering" ethics analysis.

I’ll keep you posted on their reactions.  I am planning on having fun with this, and hope they do too!  The course has filled to capacity – so I have the sense that there’s real interest in digging in.

I won't say Merry Christmas because I hope to post again before then!

Best, Amy 

December 21, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Followup to Yesterday's Post

[For yesterday's post, click here.]

New York Times
December 21, 2006

Italian in Euthanasia Debate Dies

ROME (AP) -- A paralyzed man at the center of a right-to-die debate in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation died after he was taken off his respirator, days after an Italian court issued a contentious ruling in the case.

Piergiorgio Welby, 60, died late Wednesday of cardiorespiratory arrest, said Mario Riccio, the doctor who removed the respirator. Riccio said Thursday that Welby had a constitutionally guaranteed right to refuse treatment.

''This must not be mistaken for euthanasia. It is a suspension of therapies,'' said Riccio. ''Refusing treatment is a right.''

Riccio said he was ''very serene'' and did not fear legal consequences.

According to Italian law, assisted suicide can carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Welby had been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a teenager. He was confined to a bed, attached to a respirator and communicated through a voice synthesizer. He was receiving nourishment through a feeding tube.

On Saturday, a Rome judge recognized Welby's right to refuse treatment but ruled that doctors were not obligated to take measures that would result in the patient's death -- even at the patient's request. The ruling urged legislators to address the issue, saying that for the moment the decision to pull the plug ''is left to the complete discretion of any doctor to whom the request is made.''

The case divided doctors and politicians and gripped the public's attention in a country where the Catholic church still wields influence.

Euthanasia is illegal in Italy, and the Vatican forbids the practice, insisting that life must be safeguarded from its beginning to its ''natural'' end.

In the past few months, Welby had made a plea to Italy's president, and appealed to Italian courts to have his respirator taken away.

''My dream ... my desire, my request -- which I want to put to any authority, from political to judicial ones -- is today in my mind more clear and precise than ever: being able to obtain euthanasia,'' Welby said in his appeal this fall to President Giorgio Napolitano.

In another setback for Welby, a panel of Italian medical experts, the Higher Health Council, said Wednesday that a respirator does not constitute ''extraordinary means'' of keeping a gravely or terminally ill person alive and so need not be removed. The panel, whose opinion is not binding, also decided that precise guidelines for doctors were needed urgently to spell out what the law allows and what it does not.

U.S. law generally permits patients to ask that medical treatment be withheld or withdrawn, even if it raises their risk of dying. Voters in Oregon went further and approved the first physician-assisted suicide law in the U.S. in 1994, but it is now under legal challenge.

December 21, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

CLT and Sports Law? or Animal Rights Law?

A question for you theologians:  does the Catholic intellectual tradition offer anything that might help with a discussion of the appropriate regulatory scheme to prevent future tragedies of this type (courtesy of the Andy Borowitz Report)?

Brawl Erupts at Reindeer Games

Rudolph Suspended for Season

The epidemic of sports violence spread to the North Pole last night as a brawl erupted between fans and reindeer at this year’s reindeer games, resulting in the ejection and suspension of Rudolph for the remainder of the season.

The games, a holiday classic that dates back to 1949, had a mostly uneventful history until 2002, the year that beer and other alcoholic beverages first became available for sale at the event.

Since then, fans say, the reindeer games have drawn increasingly unruly crowds who aggressively goad the hoofed creatures with catcalls and obscenities.

“Given how wasted the fans are, it’s amazing that something like this didn’t happen sooner,” said Harlan McDougal, a fan who makes the trip from Pittsburgh every year to see the reindeer play.

Rudolph, who was fined by the league for spitting in the face of Blixen earlier in the season, was the object of the fans’ ire from early in the first period.

“Fans were shouting at him,” Mr. McDougal said. “I didn’t hear everything they said, but let’s put it this way -- they were not shouting out with glee.”

After nearly two periods of such abuse, Rudolph had had enough, prancing into the stands and attempting to gore several fans with his antlers.

Mr. McDougal said that alcohol may have played a role in Rudolph’s violent rampage.

“It was obvious that he had been drinking,” Mr. McDougal said. “Did you check out his nose?”

Elsewhere, as part of a new plan to eradicate the insurgents, President Bush said he favors increasing the number of Taco Bells in Iraq.


December 21, 2006 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sisk on Religious Liberty

My colleague and MoJ-er Greg Sisk is interviewed by Christianity Today regarding his empirical work on the success rates of religious liberty litigants.

December 20, 2006 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

What Should the Law Be for a Case Like This?

New York Times
December 20, 2006

A Poet Crusades for the Right to Die His Way

ROME, Dec. 19 — Many patients on respirators are not conscious and so cannot say whether they want to live or die. But Piergiorgio Welby is still full of words, hard and touching ones, that may be changing the way Italy thinks about euthanasia and other choices for the sick to end their own lives.

“I love life, Mr. President,” Mr. Welby, 60, who has battled muscular dystrophy for 40 years, wrote to Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, in September. “Life is the woman who loves you, the wind through your hair, the sun on your face, an evening stroll with a friend.

“Life is also a woman who leaves you, a rainy day, a friend who deceives you. I am neither melancholic nor manic-depressive. I find the idea of dying horrible. But what is left to me is no longer a life.”

Now Mr. Welby’s long drama appears to be nearing its final act. Last weekend, an Italian court denied legal permission for a doctor to sedate him and remove him from his respirator. Fully lucid but losing his capacity to speak and eat, he is deciding whether to appeal or to perform an act of civil disobedience that will kill him.

He is doing so in a very public way. Until a recent steep decline in his condition, he used a little stick to rapidly peck out blog entries with one hand. His book, “Let Me Die,” was just released. Near daily front-page stories chronicle the political, ethical and, with the Catholic Church a vital force here, religious issues his case presents.

“Dear Welby: Wait Before Taking Yourself Off” the respirator, read a front-page headline on Tuesday in La Repubblica, written by a top Italian surgeon, Dr. Ignazio Marino, who is also a senator for the Democrats of the Left. He had visited Mr. Welby the day before.

What has given the case a particular political twist is that Mr. Welby, attached to a respirator for nine years, has long been a spokesman for euthanasia and is a central part of the Radical Party’s effort to have it legalized. In fact, members of the Radical Party have offered to personally remove his respirator if asked — and may do so any day now in a frontal challenge to Italian law.

But the Catholic Church and many of this traditionally minded nation’s politicians on the left and the right not only oppose euthanasia generally but are also not entirely sure what to do about Mr. Welby’s case. He says he is not seeking to commit suicide but to remove himself from medical treatment he does not want.

“It is an unbearable torture,” he wrote two weeks ago.

To decline forced medical treatment is allowed under Italian law, experts say, but Italy has another law that makes it a crime to assist in a death, even with consent. So a doctor could not detach the respirator without risking prosecution.

The church, too, has conflicting teachings about what to do in this case, and what the Vatican thinks has a deep impact not only on the nation’s political class but also on doctors tied to the scores of Catholic-run hospitals around Italy.

The defense of life is central to the social doctrine of the church, and so it opposes abortion and capital punishment. Only last week Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his opposition to euthanasia, saying governments should find ways to let the terminally ill “face death with dignity.”

The church also opposes medical treatments to artificially prolong life, but several church officials have worried recently that ending artificial life support could result in de facto euthanasia.

“The problem is to know if we find ourselves truly in front of a case of an artificial prolonging of life,” Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, the Vatican’s top official for health, said in a recent interview with La Repubblica.

Seeing the church as one major obstacle to dying as he wants to, Mr. Welby, a poet and prolific writer, has had little patience with the Vatican’s argument for a “natural end” to life.

“What is natural about a hole in the belly and a pump that fills it with fats and proteins?” he wrote in his letter to the president. The letter was delivered with a video of Mr. Welby in his bed at his home in Rome attached in silence to the respirator, with a laptop at his bedside reading his words in a spooky synthesized voice.

“What is natural about a hole in the windpipe and a pump that blows air into the lungs?” he wrote. “What is natural about a body kept biologically functional with the help of artificial respirators, artificial feed, artificial hydration, artificial intestinal emptying, of death artificially postponed?”

{There is more.  To read on, click here.]

December 20, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Harsh words against tradition and morality

Today's Washington Post carries a highly charged critique against Christians who hold and express traditional moral views especially on sexual matters HERE. The article, entitled "Episcopalians Against Equality" written by Mr. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post staff, presents a curious view of equality in support of his position. Moreover, his assertions identify as bigots those who disagree with his views. But, his harsh words are not restricted to Episcopalians for he speaks of the Catholic Church's "inimitable backwardness" on matters that are dear to him. In short, his rhetoric should be a source of concern for those who cherish religious liberty in this country and elsewhere.   RJA sj

December 20, 2006 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)