Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2008
Vote to allow the least harm to human life
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
This year’s Canadian federal election turnout set another record low as elections Canada figures show just 59 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. Nearly 10 million Canadians stayed away from polling stations.
There will probably be a new survey of non-voters in an attempt to find out reasons for non-participation and percentages will be attached to usual categories: just not interested; don’t like parties/candidates; vote doesn’t matter; don’t care about issues; busy at work; out of town; didn’t know where or when; too many elections; etc.
There will be calls for electoral reform, a proportional voting system, and even for a compulsory voting system where citizens are fined for not voting. Others will suggest that it will take a dynamic leader or significant event, such as a recession, to turn things around.
Confront the issues
In Canada we need candidates to confront the real issues.
I would suggest that we begin with the loss of respect for human life and dignity which is evident in so many ways: the legal void that permits abortion right up to birth; medical research that authorizes the destruction of embryos; a mentality that increasingly favours euthanasia and assisted suicide; the gratuitous violence in our communities; the abuse of women and children; the silence that surrounds so many situations of poverty; and the widespread incidence of prostitution, pornography and drugs.
These subjects were rarely discussed, if at all, during our election campaign. Leaders distanced themselves from such issues and restricted candidates in their parties from publicly taking a stand. And we wonder why there is such widespread apathy among the electorate!
By way of contrast, there were some interesting and engaging ballot measures voted on in the U.S. Arizona: Voted 56 per cent to 44 per cent to approve an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. California: Approved a ban on same-sex marriage by a vote of 52 per cent to 48 per cent, but rejected measure requiring parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor by a vote of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
Colorado: Voted 73 per cent to 27 per cent to reject amendment that would define the human person from moment of conception. Florida: Approved a ban on same-sex marriage by a vote of 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Michigan: Approved measure that would permit human embryonic stem cell research by 53 per cent to 47 per cent. Washington state: Voted 59 per cent to 41 per cent to allow doctor-assisted suicide.
The election of President Obama will be an enormous challenge for the pro-life movement. As a senator, he co-sponsored legislation called the Freedom of Choice Act and promised he’d sign it into law if Congress passed it while he was president.
Long sought by pro-abortion groups, the measure would overturn state restrictions on abortion, would impose wide-open abortion policy on the entire nation and remove the choice of medical providers to refuse in good conscience to provide morally offensive services.
The new president will get at least one, and possibly more opportunities, to nominate Supreme Court justices who support legalized abortion. With Democrats in control of the Senate by a wide margin, filibustering to block the confirmation of such nominees may not be possible. The new administration also is expected to overturn current limits on federal funding of stem-cell research and the policy that bars funding for groups which promote abortion overseas.
In view of the above, we might wonder “what happened to the Catholic vote?”
Conscientious voters are guided by their consciences. Conscience is a law “written” by God on our hearts that disposes us to love and to do good and avoid evil (cf. Romans 2:12-16).
It is important to remember, however, that it is possible for our conscience to be certain and at the same time incorrect about what is good and evil. For this reason, we have an equally serious duty to properly form or teach our conscience so that it can correctly judge what is good and evil.
In some moral matters, the use of reason allows for a legitimate diversity in our prudential judgments. Catholic voters may differ, for example, on what constitutes the best immigration policy or how to provide affordable housing; on the use of the death penalty or the decision to wage a just war.
The morality of such questions lies not in what is done (the moral object), but in the motive and circumstances. These prudential judgments do not involve a direct choice of something evil and take into account various goods.
A correct conscience recognizes that there are some choices that always involve doing evil and which can never be done even as a means to a good end. These choices include elective abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, the destruction of embryonic human beings in stem cell research, human cloning, and same-sex “marriage.”
Such acts are judged to be evil in and of themselves regardless of our motives or the circumstances. They constitute an attack against innocent human life, as well as marriage and family.
Catholics may not promote or remain indifferent to intrinsically evil choices.
In light of the above, it is correct that we would commit moral evil if we were to vote for a candidate who takes a permissive stand on those actions that are intrinsically evil when there is a morally-acceptable alternative.
So what do we do?
What are we to do, though, when there is no such alternative?
When there is no choice of a candidate that avoids supporting intrinsically evil actions, especially elective abortion, we should vote in such a way as to allow the least harm to innocent human life and dignity. We would not be acting immorally therefore if we were to vote for a candidate who is not totally acceptable in order to defeat one who poses an even greater threat to human life and dignity.
As for the Catholic vote, maybe some unholy alliances have been formed and the economy is our golden calf.