Center for Ethics and Leadership

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lowering the Drinking Age

Boy, am I feeling old. My gut response to the Amethyst Initiative, a request by 100 college presidents to reopen debate on lowering the drinking age to 18, was, "No." My considered response after reading their reasons is unchanged. They say the illegality of drinking encourages alcohol's abuse. Huh? If I am drinking legally, I will be more respectful of the booze and myself? Because teenagers routinely break the drinking laws, they learn disrespect for the law. What? How many of those college presidents drive at 55 miles per hour on the nation's highways? Have they lost respect for the law? MADD got a very angry reaction from the president of Muhlenberg College after suggesting that the presidents were trying to make it easier on themselves with regard to campus drinking policies, but MADD has a point. The decision between allowing alcohol on campus with penalties for underage violations or instead trying to enforce a dry campus is one of the true headaches of managing college life. The lower age virtually eliminates the problem. I'm sorry, students; I know that you are adults in many ways at 18, but this is not one of them.

Catholics, Democrats, and Abortion

Jesuit philosopher John Kavanaugh has used his regular column in America to ask Barack Obama to address some of the concerns of those who oppose abortion. Kavanaugh's premise is that many Democratic positions, such as those on immigration, the poor, and others are more acceptable to many Catholics than those of the opposing party. He is not asking Obama to take a position against abortion, but rather a more moderate stance. Here, with slight abridgement, are Kavanaugh's three suggestions to the senator:

1. Support the Rev. Jim Wallis’s “abortion-reduction agenda,” with its economic
support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption as part of the
Democratic platform.

2. If you are interested in diversity and mutual respect, give a place at the Democratic
convention for Democrats for Life to show you are unafraid of difference and

3. Engage the arguments and evidence offered in opposition to second- and third-
trimester abortions.

These are good thoughts that could bring more reasoned discussion.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Religion in the Service of Politics

John McCain and Barack Obama write what their faith means to them in the August 18 issue of Time. Is there a plumb sufficient to measure the depths of politicians' cynicism? The trip from faith to each candidates' talking points is faster than a speeding bullet. Too bad the persuasiveness of the essays is not more powerful than a locomotive.

McCain uses three-quarters of his space to remind us that he is a former POW. He uses his penultimate paragraph to speak of the importance of caring for the most vulnerable of society, the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the unborn, before reminding us that he was once one so vulnerable and the recipient of extraordinary kindness from a Christian prison guard.

Obama's faith leads him to value a diverse, pluralistic society and to care about those without health insurance and about global warming. He has been taught by friends like Pastor Rick Warren and Bishop T.D. Jakes. So we are reminded by omission that the senator has clerical friendships with others besides Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Both candidates are careful to tell us that they are believing Christians.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

But Is Artificial Nutrition & Hydration Basic Care?

This week's America (August 4-11) carries an article co-authored by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, on artificial nutrition and hydration and patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Cardinal Rigali chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop Lori the Committee on Doctrine.

The question of the moral obligation to provide artificial nutrition and hydration to patients in PVS has a longer history than one might think. In the early 90s, local American conferences of Catholic bishops were divided on the question. Eventually John Paul II wrote that such treatment was life-sustaining and basic care and could not routinely be withdrawn. Noted Catholic moralist, Thomas Shannon described his reservations about this in America, and now the cardinal and bishop have responded.

There is much to agree with in their response. Patients in PVS cannot be dismissed, along with their medical treatment, as having a life not worth living, that is, a life without meaning or value. As the cardinal and bishop write convincingly, such reasoning too easily transfers to "anyone with mental illness, retardation or cognitive disabilities who is not able to pursue . . . 'worthwhile' activity." Yet I remain stuck on the starting point. I recognize the moral obligation of basic care --turning the patient to prevent sores, ice chips, and so on, but continue to have difficulty not placing artificial nutrition and hydration in the same category as ventilation and dialysis. Furthermore, something just does not look right about waiting for the need for either of these other two technologies to arise and then choosing not to apply them or waiting for a disease process to begin, such as pneumonia, and not treating it. One might argue that at that point the disease process has taken over. But is that not what raised the need for long-term nutrition and hydration in the first place?

Perhaps the issue is less the technology and more the need to further study the condition that has triggered the controversy. For the moment, this teaching is a difficult one for me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gotcha! at its Worst

Will Barack Obama be held accountable for every offensive remark made by an African-American supporter during this campaign? First, it was Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the right-wing media's feeding frenzy over Wright's "God damn America." (See my Tuesday, May 6, post "Jeremiah and his Jeremiads.") Now it's rapper Ludacris' current recording that insults Hillary Clinton with the b-word and assigns John McCain to a wheelchair. Ludacris is an Obama supporter and the senator has said he likes the rapper's music. So the Obama campaign was quick to denounce the lyrics, which do cross the line. But why does he have to?

Paris Strikes Back

If you haven't seen Paris Hilton's response to John McCain's making her the butt of his joke, here it is:

It's a hilarious poke at McCain as Paris plays the role of the airhead celebrity the way Marilyn used to play the dumb blonde. Oddly, a McCain spokesperson responded seriously by saying that Paris' energy plan indicated that she supported McCain's solution. Like the candidate, the campaign personnel seem not to realize when the best choice is to say nothing.