In Butter. But Not Co-operating

1. Gold for Mexico in fút. 2. Gold for Team USA, worthily won in a Sunday-morning thriller, which was perfectly timed to unfold immediately after Mass. 3. Rental house has two porches, free bikes, skylights, ceiling fans. On vacation… Dude, I am swimming in the good sweet butter of life.

But I am like the (beach) dog that cannot let go of the bone. The religious-freedom-is-not-the-issue bone…

The National Catholic Bioethics Center produces precise moral analyses, based on incontrovertible principles and developed via careful distinctions. Few organizations in this world make so much sense so consistently.

When he discusses artificial contraception, President Barack Obama lies, flimflams, and cravenly tries to marginalize us Paul-VI feminists–i.e, kind-hearted, reasonable people (like Mahatma Gandhi) who think women deserve better than poison for the womb.

Can such a day come? Namely, a day on which campaign-stumping President Obama refers to some actual facts—facts which the careful analysts of the NCBC failed adequately to take into account in one of their expert moral studies?

Well, it happened. On Thursday.

The NCBC published a vademecum for business owners to guide their discernment about how to handle the federal contraception-coverage mandate (which has now gone into effect for all “non-religious” employers). While I do not hold myself out as an expert on the “health-care industry,” the NCBC’s essay strikes me as realistic when it comes to laying out the options which a business owner/operator has.

The NCBC essay proceeds from this thesis: The business owner must understand the mandate as an attack on his/her religious freedom, and, therefore, he or she must reflect by this light on how to co-operate (or not) with this law.

The essay does not demonstrate the truth of this thesis. That religious freedom is under attack is taken for granted, just like the essay takes the sinfulness of using artificial contraception for granted. This strikes me as a serious problem with the NCBC’s argument, because, while the latter presumption has indeed been amply demonstrated (using artificial contraception is certainly immoral), the former (that religious freedom has been attacked by this particular provision of this law)—to my mind—has not been demonstrated.

The NCBC posits: A willing assent to the HHS mandate constitutes implicit formal co-operation with evil, i.e.: The end of the external act (in this case, complying with the law by making payments for health coverage), which for the sake of some advantage or interest the co-operator does intend (in this case, continuing to provide health care for employees without exposing the business to almost-certainly-lethal fines and punishments), includes from its nature or from circumstances the guilt of the sin of the principal agent. (The principal agent being the employee who poisons a baby in the womb with the pills paid for by the “health” plan, or does other evil things with the money.)

The NCBC contends that Catholic moral teaching prohibits co-operation with this unjust law, citing Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 74. (To my reading, this paragraph of the encyclical actually considers the co-operation of health-care workers in immoral acts.)

Okay. Fair enough. First let’s face some music. This is indeed about the killing of innocents. All of us were newly conceived zygotes at one time, and no one poisoned us before we had a chance to tuck ourselves into mamma’s uterine-wall blanket. To poison someone else under such circumstances? No. Not okay. And totally not okay to let someone else do that without vociferously protesting. We must protest vociferously. Yet such poisoning is what Kathleen Sibellius & Co. insist that all insurance plans must provide, free of charge.

The mandate is wrong. The mandate is unjust. No question whatsoever about it.

BUT: If I run a business that has succeeded well enough to generate cash that can pay (in whole or in part) for my employees’ health plans; if I ‘willingly assent’ to transfer some money from the coffers of my enterprise to the coffers of a health-care company—do I thereby willing assent to an act which includes from its proper nature or from circumstances the guilt of poisoning little zygotes, not to mention other immoral blandishments which a family weblog ought not to spell out?

Seems to me that, if I run a company and authorize the transfer of funds, I may very well not be co-operating in these evils. I may very well be: Complying with the law—a law, albeit unjust in this respect, that was enacted by a duly constituted representative government, and which pursues a good end (the ACA, taken as a whole, pursues a good end); I may very well simply be doing my duty as I understand it, namely to put this particular money (which I do not think belongs properly to me or my company, but rather to my employees insofar as they might need it for the sake of their health)—I am simply putting this money where it belongs, that is, in the hands of the doctors and health-care professionals.

If this is what I am doing when I sign the check that gets sent to the health-care company; if I understand that others bear the moral responsibility for how this money will be used; if I consider it to be my employees’ business–and not mine–if they do something with this money that they should not do, have I committed a sin when I put the check in an envelope and send it?

IMHO, dear reader: No.

Now, if I turn around and vote for someone who presents zygote-poisoning as the Holy Grail of health care, then I will most certainly have to answer for having done so. But if one of my employees poisons a little zygote with a pill for which the company health plan paid, have I co-operated culpably in that killing? If I pray and fast for justice and chastity and truth, but say to myself: “Gosh, I never thought of it as my money to begin with. How can I be guilty of something that I myself never did, never smiled at, never condoned, have always voted against? I am guilty just because I did what I considered to be my duty as the captain of a business enterprise that succeeded well enough to find itself bound by this new law—a law which I myself never made? Now I am a sinner? I don’t get it.”

Frankly, dear reader, these strike me as altogether blameless reflections that a businessman or -woman might make. And they would be the reflections of a businessman or -woman in the process of exercising his or her religion with perfect freedom.

So, I continue to hold: The HHS mandate involves dastardly evil of the highest order. But the evil is not the infringement of “religious freedom” (whatever that is). The evil is the poisoning of zygotes, the reducing of women to the status of implements for venereal pleasure, the thwarting of God’s plan for marriage and child-bearing. The people who are morally responsible for these evils will have to answer for them. But I think the business owner in question can legitimately claim to be free of this moral responsibility, the NCBC’s conclusions notwithstanding.

I wholeheartedly invite arguments to the contrary.

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2 thoughts on “In Butter. But Not Co-operating

  1. If I offer you a job to do not for free but for some compensation – some cash and some benefits including health care – and ‘if I ‘willingly assent’ to transfer some money from the coffers of my enterprise to the coffers of a health-care company…’ aren’t I doing more than transferring funds but rather providing a service – one that in this case could do grave harm to little zygotes- in exchange for your work?

    Seems this fuller look at the situation debunks your argument. No?

  2. Brother, I appreciate your chiming in.

    But I don’t believe that the point I made gets debunked by your assertion here. The key concept, it seems to me, in your reply would be “providing a service.”

    I agree with you that if I, as an employer, understand myself to be providing a service to my employees by paying all or part of their health-care premiums, then I cannot escape the moral culpability of formal co-operation with evil, because a zygote may die, after the womb is poisoned with a pill I undertand myself to have paid for.

    But my point is precisely this: The employer may very well not understand himself to be “providing a service.” He may understand himself to be dutifully obeying the law of justice which binds him to turn over the money in question to the people who care for his employees’ health.

    If a pitcher is struggling on the mound and an expert catcher helps him strike a batter out by calling for just the right pitches and framing them perfectly with his glove, then the catcher has done the struggling pitcher a service. But if the pitcher has all his stuff, waves off stupid signals from the catcher, and strikes the batter out with pitches the catcher never thought of, placed in corners of the strike zone that the catcher never anticipated, then the catcher has simply done his duty when he caught the pitches. The pitcher “owns” the strikeout.

    People work for me. Our common enterprise produces enough wealth to pay for health care. Is it me “providing a service” to them when I fork over the money? Or is it me avoiding the sins of greed and grandiosity, which is what I would be guilty of, if I didn’t fork it over?

    If I honestly think that the money belongs to me, then I cannot pay it out for evil things. But if it isn’t my money, then…

    I think that Catholic moral analysis should never eliminate the possibility that an act, which may appear from a particular point-of-view to be evil or a co-operation with evil, may in fact be done with perfectly good faith. If it is POSSIBLE that an act could be done in good faith, then it cannot be proscribed altogether; it can only be condemned when the agent intends evil by doing it.

    But I long to hear your refutation of all this.

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