Posts Tagged ‘Natural Law’

How the Law Kills

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

The world was transfixed over the last week by the tragic case of Alfie Evans. This poor young boy, not yet two years old, was the center of a legal dispute in which his life hung in the balance. His case has a greater significance, though, because it is a demonstration of how bad law can kill.

A quick synopsis of the basic facts of Alfie’s case will help put us understand this bigger picture. Not long after he was born, he started showing symptoms of a neurological disorder and had to be hospitalized. The condition was never diagnosed, but it progressed and left Alfie in a coma and dependent on assisted food, hydration and breathing. After over a year of treatment, the doctors decided that further treatment of Alfie was futile and that his recovery was impossible. I am sure that they made that diagnosis in good faith. But his parents disagreed, and searched out other options for continued treatment or, failing that, they wanted to bring Alfie home.

Here is where the bad law makes its appearance. In the UK, the law gives the court authority to overrule parental decisions if there is a dispute between the doctors and parents over life-sustaining treatment for their child, based on his assessment of the “best interests of the child”. And that’s what happened here. The court overruled the parents and gave permission to the doctors to remove Alfie from life support.

So without any proof of abuse or neglect or any other misconduct on the part of Alfie’s parents — in fact, all the evidence was that they were devoted to him — their parental rights were stripped from them simply because they disagreed with the doctors about how to care for their son. The court actually went even further, and forbade Alfie’s parents from choosing any other kind of treatment, and even forbade them from taking him home. This is an astonishing result. Alfie had the right to have his care decided upon by his parents, not by doctors or judges. I can only describe this as judicial kidnapping.

As bad as that law is, the underlying principles are even worse. The initial court that ruled on Alfie’s case gave great authority to a document called “Making Decisions to Limit Treatment in Life-limiting and Life-Threatening Conditions in Children: A Framework for Practice”, issued by the Royal College of Paedriatics and Child Health in 2015. This “guidance” sets out the standards under which medical decisions will be made for critically ill children who are dependent on “life-sustaining treatment”. In that document, there are two fatal errors that inevitably distort the way that doctors will approach the care of children on life support, and that create a significant bias in favor of death.

The first error is this astounding statement: “The principle of the sanctity of life is not absolute.” All the errors in Alfie’s case, and all those like it, stem from this tainted source. If the sanctity of life isn’t absolute, then of course courts and doctors will put conditions on preserving it. When that decision is made in the context of our society’s fear and even disgust for disability and diminished capacity, this guarantees that imperfect lives will be systematically devalued and discarded. And that’s exactly the calculus that the court was making, applying the principle set out elsewhere in the document that life-sustaining treatement can be ended “when life is limited in quality”. Operating from these premises, it makes perfect sense that a misguided court will reach the horrific conclusion that a patient like Alfie is better off dead.

This is the evil doctrine of “lives unworthy of living”, the wicked notion that “It can in no way be doubted that there are living human beings whose death would be a deliverance both for themselves and society, and especially for the state, which would be liberated from a burden that fulfills absolutely no purpose”. This discredited principle from the infamous 1923 book Permitting the Destruction of Life Not Worthy of Life , which led to the involuntary euthanasia program of the Nazis, keeps coming back under different guises. Pope Francis called it by another name: “the throwaway culture”.

Along with this fatal flaw comes the second error, which can be found in this key definition: “Life-Sustaining Treatments (LSTs) are those that have the potential to prolong life. They may include… Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration”. Considering assisted nutrition and hydration as “treatment” is very common in the medical world. But it is utterly misguided.

Food and water are not medical treatments but basic human needs, like shelter, clothing, air and sanitation. They are fundamental human rights, and caregivers have an obligation to provide them if a person can’t do so for themselves. This stems from their inherent dignity as a human person, which is never lost because of condition or prognosis. This is a foundational perspective of sound medical morality. By rejecting this norm, the UK doctors ensured that some of their patients, whose lives are no longer considered worth preserving because of a negative prognosis, will be killed by starvation or dehydration.

These distorted principles produced the regime of law that killed Alfie Evans and betrayed his parents: a law that permitted a judge to substitute himself for Alfie’s parents; an underlying bias against the value of life with a disability; and an erroneous notion that a fundamental human need can be denied if the overall prognosis is bad. All of that adds up to a law that leans in favor of death.

We are dangerously close to following it here. It’s true that our Supreme Court long ago recognized the natural law principle that “the child is not the mere creature of the State” and that parents have the authority to oversee their health and upbringing. But we have already seen courts and laws interfere with that sacred family relationship. For example, children can get contraceptives and even abortions without their parents even being notified. That is a dangerous path, and it is even more treacherous when combined with trends in the medical world like increasing approval of assisted suicide and euthanasia, futile care theory, cost pressures, and the invidious social fear and disdain for disability. It leads inexorably to euthanasia, the fancy word for murder by doctor.

The Alfie Evans case is a test study for how the law can kill. This is why we cannot give an inch in our resistance to assisted suicide and euthanasia, and why we can never surrender to the Culture of Death.

The Obscenity of the Culture of Death on Display

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

If anyone wonders where the Culture of Death leads, it is there before our eyes — the government of the UK is planning on starving a toddler to death against his parents’ fervent wishes, for no other reason than that he has a disability. The government and the courts have prevented his parents from moving the child to another hospital, and have decided that he is better off dead.

The story is about little Alfie Evans, who will be two years old on May 9 — if he survives. Not long after he was born, he started showing symptoms of a neurological disorder and had to be hospitalized. The condition still hasn’t been diagnosed, but it has progressed and left Alfie in a coma. His parents have been with him the whole way and have not given up hope for him.

In December, the hospital decided to go to court to terminate the parents’ rights to determine Alfie’s health care. The reason was that the hospital considered Alfie’s case to be hopeless and that he would be better off dead. The legal battle over Alfie’s life has engulfed the UK and Europe. Court after court refused to grant his parents the right to continue his treatment or to take him elsewhere.

Others have stepped up to offer help to Alfie. The Holy Father has pleaded for him. The Vatican-related Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome has offered to take him, and another hospital in Munich has done the same. Italy granted Alfie citizenship in hopes that this would convince the UK courts to release him to be transported to the Bambino Gesu.

The courts have remained adamant that Alfie must die.

On Monday evening the hospital took Alfie off life support. To their surprise, he didn’t die, but breathed on his own. Undaunted, the hospital withheld food and water from him for a day. Try to wrap your brain around that. The hospital tried to murder Alfie by starving him to death. Fortunately, they renewed life support and feeding when a new round of court appeals began.

Awaiting the final ruling of the court, the Holy Father arranged for a military helicopter ambulance to transport Alfie. But again, the courts were unmoved. The latest judge ruled that dying was in Alfie’s best interests and that he could not be taken from the country.

It’s difficult to even think about this case without crying and becoming enraged. I’m a parent and I can’t even imagine the pain Alfie’s parents are going through. I’m a lawyer and I can’t comprehend the mind of a lawyer and judge who can be so heartless in his rulings.

This is the product of a culture where every life is not valued for its own worth, regardless of function, capability, and usefulness. This is the product of a “throwaway culture”, as Pope Francis calls it, where the answer seems to be to discard troublesome life. This is the product of a huge structure of sin created by and fed by abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, violence, indiscriminate war. This is the product of a society with a very, very deep spiritual sickness.

Alfie is a victim of the Culture of Death at its most obscene.

Tomorrow, April 26, we will be having a Mass and prayer vigil for Alfie. We will start at Holy Family Church on East 47th Street with noontime Mass, and we will walk up the block to the UK Mission to the UN on 2nd Avenue between 47th and 46th Streets, where we will pray. Please join us in prayer if you can’t join us in person.

The Higher Law and Our True King

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Every so often, there is a remarkable confluence of events that reminds us of God’s will and His activity in our world. In just the past few days, we’ve seen another example of that, one that reminds us of the dire consequences if we continue to forget that God’s law is the highest law and that Christ is our true King.

Last week, a federal District Court judge ruled that a Texas abortion law was unconstitutional. The bill prohibited “dismemberment abortion”, which is defined in stomach-churning terms as:

dismember[ing] the living unborn child and extract[ing] the unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or a similar instrument that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slices, crushes, or grasps, or performs any combination of those actions on, a piece of the unborn child’s body to cut or rip the piece from the body.

This horror is known in the medical world as a “D&E” abortion — “dilation and extraction”. Such cold clinical terms are used to avoid acknowledging the reality of what is done to a living human being.

It should go without saying that any body of law that fails to protect human beings from this form of cruel torture — a practice once universally condemned as a crime against humanity when it was done in the death camps — is uncivilized and unworthy of respect or obedience. Sadly, in the Culture of Death that has perverted and desecrated America and our constitutional law, such a barbaric practice is not only legally protected but is held up as one of the highest values in our law. That a prestigious court would grant legal protection to an act of human vivisection is a symptom of a profound cultural and civic sickness.

This sad conclusion is made even clearer by the other event that happened in the last few days. Our liturgical calendar sets aside the last Sunday before Advent as the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. It is worth looking back to the magnificent encyclical letter, Quas Primas, by which Pope Pius XI inaugurated this celebration.

To begin with, the Holy Father stated that “It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power.” (17)

He then recounted some of the consequences of this failure to recognize the authority of Christ as law-giver, judge, and administrator of all societies:

… the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. (24)

Does this sound familiar? The Holy Father was writing in 1925, in the aftermath of the devastating Great War, yet he could have been commenting on the catastrophe we see all around us today. He then went on to outline the benefits of recognizing our true King as the source of all law and authority:

When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony… If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent… Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished. (19)

It’s not popular to speak in these terms these days, because one is usually accused of being a theocrat or a religious fundamentalist. But it is nothing like that at all. It is a simple recognition that if our society were governed by the laws of God, then we would have true peace and justice. And no horror like a dismemberment abortion would be tolerated or even contemplated. But that is only possible if we recognize the authority of God’s higher law and Jesus Christ as our true King.

The Catholic Lawyers’ Moment

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Last night, I was honored to receive a very nice award — the Charles Carroll Award from the New York Guild of Catholic Lawyers.  Many of my friends and colleagues were able to attend the Red Mass and the reception afterwards, and it was a very humbling experience.  Here is the talk I gave at the award ceremony:

All Glory and Honor to God, and thanks to Him for the opportunity He has given me to serve Him.  “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

I don’t like speaking about myself, but fortunately I don’t have to, because this award is really not about me.  It’s about a cause.

I have been involved in public policy work for the Archdiocese for many years.  It’s a tough job, especially here in New York. Back in June, the Legislature voted to re-define marriage, a bill we worked very, very hard to hold off.  Afterwards, I was asked how I can keep doing this, how I avoid getting discouraged.  Part of it is because I’m Irish, and I love a cause that’s worth fighting for, even if it is against all odds.

But it’s also because I see a big picture, one that — by the grace of God — gives me great hope  and determination.

In 1987, Pastor (later Father)  Richard John Neuhaus wrote a book called “The Catholic Moment”.  He argued that a unique opportunity had arisen for the Church to offer moral guidance for the development of public policy, particularly in promoting a culture of life.

I believe that we are still in that Catholic Moment, and what’s more, I think there is a particularly important role for Catholic lawyers.  I believe that we are in a “Catholic Lawyer’s Moment”.

We all know the challenges.  Our world is deeply in the grips of a culture of death.  Attacks on human life from conception to natural death.  Genetic manipulation that threatens the integrity of humanity itself.  Hostility to fertility that is becoming more and more a hallmark of health care policy and practice.  A redefinition of marriage, overturning the foundation of society.  And increasing threats to the religious freedom of churches and individuals, threats that come from a secularist mindset that would exclude religion entirely from the public square.

In our profession, this secularism finds a partner in a soul-free legal positivism.  I recall my first year of law school, where we were taught from the beginning that there are no objective or transcendent values in the law.  Natural law was derided as outdated and sectarian.  Instead, we were told over and over that law is whatever the legislator or judge decides it is, based on their own values.  It is entirely an act of political will.  As one of my law professors liked to say, “It’s all up for grabs”.  I once gave a talk to a group of lawyers and when I mentioned natural law one of them said to me “I thought we got rid of that years ago.”  Really?  I’d like to see the bill that did that.

We see this alliance of secularism and legal positivism in many places.  Just yesterday, it was before the United States Supreme Court, in the most important religious liberty case in decades.  At stake is the ability of churches to operate without interference and control by the government in the selection of clergy and other staff members who have religious functions.  A key question for the Court is the nature of religious freedom — is it something inherent that requires special protection in the law, or is it something that the government can grant or withdraw, as it pleases?   The Administration filed a brief that took such a narrow view of religious freedom that both Justice Scalia and Justice Kagan expressed their surprise during oral argument.

It is ironic that, even as the secularists try to push religious belief out of public affairs and the positivists deny objective moral truth, there is a strong desire for guidance from the Church and from Catholics.  In debate after debate over tough moral issues, the media and public officials and regular people want to know where the Church stands.  They expect us to play a major role, and they look to Catholics for direction, even when they are sure to disagree.

In 2008, when the Holy See issued a major statement on bioethics, it was a major news story.  The media gave it extensive coverage — even in the New York Times.  Leading secular bioethicists and policy makers paid very close attention.  The same thing has happened in many other major debates — over the health care bill, the redefinition of marriage, cloning, assisted suicide and so on.

Why?  Because there is a hunger for truth and clarity, and Catholics can provide it.  We have a rigorously reasoned approach to difficult topics that is the result of careful analysis and has been developing for centuries.

We also have an understanding of the human person that is attractive and compelling — because it is true.  The secularist and positivist view of human nature is materialistic, morally relative, and utilitarian.  It is pessimistic and hopeless and dehumanizing — and false.  And people know that in their hearts.

Our view of the human person is Incarnational.  We believe that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God, and we believe that Jesus Christ, true God, became a true man.  We know that people aren’t just objects to be discarded when they are no longer useful or have become a burden.  We recognize that we are meant to be a gift to others, and not exploit them for our own benefit. We understand that our spirituality is central to who we are, and it can’t be ignored or relegated to the sidelines.  I cannot be a religious person in private, and a secularist in the public square — I am not two people, but one.  We are realistic about humanity, with all our flaws and problems, but in the end we are positive and hopeful.

We also know that there is objective truth, and there is a law of good and evil that has been written by God into the human heart — the natural law.    It appeals to people because it is true, because it speaks to the truth in their hearts.   And it gives us a common language for debate with others in the public square.

Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict spoke to the German Parliament about the foundations of law.  The Holy Father stressed that politics and law cannot be based solely on a drive for success or power — but that is the inevitable tendency of legal positivism.  Instead, he said that all law must be rooted in reason and natural law — only then will it respect the dignity of every human person.

This understanding of law is the antidote to the pessimism and nihilism of the secularists and positivists.  It gives us the foundation to uphold what is right and good and most human — polices that embody justice, charity, and the common good, and laws that protect the most vulnerable, and defend freedom and human rights.

We are called to do this in the public square, in our work, in our law practices, and in our everyday lives.  I look around the room and see people who are doing this, and I am in awe of them.  Supporting  organizations and political candidates who defend human life.  Filing briefs to defend crisis pregnancy centers or to oppose exploiting women by buying their eggs for cloning.  Giving practical assistance to mothers in crisis.  Representing doctors and nurses who are facing enormous pressure to sacrifice their religious values and participate in abortions.

And getting into the arena as advocates for justice and truth — that is what we are trained to do, and nobody does it better.

At the end of the fight over marriage in Albany this Spring, the day before the final vote, it was crazy in the Legislature.  A key Senator was called off the floor to meet with some constituents.  He walked through the corridors — filled with shouting protestors with their anti-religious signs and slogans.  There in the hallway, he met with a Catholic family — a husband and wife and their small children.  And there, amidst all the chaos and madness, they spoke quietly to him about the nature of marriage, family, and conjugal love.  It was a powerful and beautiful moment.

Our society is yearning for that kind of moral leadership.  We as Catholics and especially those of us who are Catholic lawyers can respond to that need.

It is very humbling to receive this award, named after Charles Carroll.  Two hundred and thirty five years ago, in 1776, he recognized that a special moment had come, and he responded — and signed the Declaration of Independence.  That document appealed to the natural law, and proclaimed the inalienable rights given to us by God, including the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Charles Carroll and the other signers pledged to defend those rights with their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

I hope that none of us will have to risk our lives or fortunes, as Charles Carroll did.  But I believe that we now stand at another special time in history, and we too have a cause.  We have an opportunity to build a culture of life, to defend the dignity of every human person, to protect families and the vulnerable, to stand up for the liberty of religious people, and to safeguard the freedom of our beloved Church.

We are Catholics, we are Catholic lawyers, and this is our moment.  This is a cause for which we can pledge our sacred honor.  This is a cause worth fighting for.