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William E. May

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology

John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at

The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C., USA[1]

Bioethics is a branch of moral philosophy (ethics) concerned in particular with determining the moral character of human acts affecting the generation, development, and care of the life and health of the human person. Theology is the disciplined study of God and of all other beings in their relationship to God. Catholic theology specifically is the disciplined study of God insofar as he has made himself known to us through divine public revelation, and of his relationship to all other beings, in particular, man. Catholic theology takes as its principles or “starting points” the truths of faith that God has made known to us through the revelation that Christ’s Church hands on. It seeks to determine the relationships between these truths of faith and other propositions that seem to be true.[2]

Precisely because of divine revelation the Catholic theologian believes that man “is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake.”[3]Man, alone of all creatures, was made “in the image and after the likeness” of God (Gn 1:26), and hence stands in special relationship to God, whose only begotten Son, the eternal Word, became man, “became flesh” (sarx egeneto) (Jn 1:14), precisely to save man and make it possible for human beings to become God’s children. Catholic theology holds that “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come; Christ the Lord, the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”[4]

Since bioethics is concerned first and foremost with the life, health, and well-being of the human person, and since theology — and in particular, Catholic theology — has a particular interest in the human person made in God’s image and called, in Christ, to a destiny far surpassing what eye has seen or ear heard or the heart of man conceived (cf. 1 Cor 2:9; Is 64:4), these two disciplines are first of all related in and through the human person. Consequently, the first part of this paper will take up the issue of human anthropology: what a human person is.

Bioethics, as noted already, is a branch of moral philosophy or ethics, and as such it seeks to discover what kinds of human acts affecting the generation, development, and care of the life of the human person are morally good or bad in light of basic moral criteria. Similarly, a major interest of theology concerns the moral character of human acts. Thus, a second part of this paper will focus on the morality of human acts, in particular, human acts bearing upon the human person.

Part One: The Anthropological Issue: What Is a Human Person? The Crucial Significance of This Question


This is a central issue in Catholic theology and contemporary bioethics. I will first summarize the Catholic holistic understanding of the human person, then examine a dualistic understanding of the human person widely accepted in influential bioethical circles, and conclude with a critique of a dualistic anthropology.

1. The Catholic Theological Holistic Understanding of the Human Person

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms, “the human person, made in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (no. 362). The human body is human and living precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul (ibid, no. 364). So closely united are body and soul in the human person that one must consider the soul to be the “form” of the “body.” [5] It is only because it is animated by a spiritual soul that the body in question is a living, human body.  As Pope John Paul II has said, the human person’s “rational soul is per se et essentialiter the form of his body,” and the “person, including his body, is completely entrusted to himself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his own moral acts.”[6]

Genesis 2 clearly shows that the human body is personal in nature; the human body in fact reveals or discloses the person. For the “man,” on awakening from the deep sleep that the Lord God had cast upon him and on seeing the “woman” who had been formed from his rib, declares: “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23). In uttering this cry, the man, as John Paul II has noted, “seems to say: here is a body that expresses the ‘person’.’’ [7]The bodily, sexual nature of the human person is a matter of utmost importance. In fact, sexuality, “by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts mutual and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something merely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.” [8]

The human body reveals a human person; and since the human body is necessarily either male or female, it is the revelation of a man-person or a woman-person. Precisely because of their sexual differences, manifest in their bodies, the man-person and the woman-person can “give” themselves to one another bodily. Moreover, since the body, male or female, is the expression of a human person, a man and a woman, in giving their bodies to one another, give themselves to one another. The bodily gift of a man and a woman to each other is the outward sign of the communion of persons existing between them. And this sign, in turn, is the image of the communion of persons in the Trinity. The human body, thus, is the means and sign of the gift of the man-person to the woman-person and vice versa in the communio personarum we call marriage. John Paul II calls this capacity of the body to express the communion of persons the nuptial meaning of the body.[9]

Moreover, in the bodily, personal act whereby they “give” themselves to each other, the man and the woman open themselves to the “gift” of new human life. The marital or conjugal act, one proper and exclusive to them, is the kind of act per se apt for communicating both a unique kind of love — marital love — and for handing on life from one generation of human persons to the next.[10]The marital act is more than a mere genital act between a man a woman who “happen” to be married; it is indeed one that actualizes their marriage, for in it the husband gives himself to his wife in a receiving sort of way and the wife receives him in a giving sort of way and in this bodily act they are called to cooperate with God in the raising up of new human life.[11]

Finally, the human person, no matter what his condition, is a being of moral worth, the subject of inviolable rights that are to be recognized and respected by others, including the inviolable right of innocent human persons to life, not to be intentionally killed, and the right of children to be born in and through the conjugal act.[12]

Summary of the Understanding of the Human Person in Catholic Theology

We can summarize the understanding of human anthropology in Catholic theology in the following propositions: 1. The human person is a living human body, and, conversely, a living human body is a human person. 2. The male body person is meant to be a gift to the female body person in the communion of persons we call marriage. 3. Human sexuality is itself integral to the human person; it is a good “of the person,” and is meant to be expressed genitally only within marriage in the marital act, one “open” to the goods of communicating life and love.

In this understanding of the human person no distinction is made between a human being and a human person. All human beings are persons. Being a human being, therefore, has crucial moral significance inasmuch as a person surpasses in value the entire material universe and is never to be considered as a mere means or object of use but is rather the kind of entity to whom the only adequate response is love. [13]Being a human being, being a person, makes a tremendous difference.

2. An Influential Understanding of the Human Person Widespread in Contemporary Bioethics

Many contemporary authors prominent in bioethical circles distinguish sharply between being a human being and being a human person. These authors claim that for an entity to be regarded as a person, it must have developed at least incipiently exercisable cognitive capacities or abilities. Perhaps the most prominent advocates of this anthropology, however differently each articulates it in specifying the requisite abilities, are Peter Singer and Michael Tooley; the position is held, however by many contemporary bioethicists, for instance, Daniel Maguire and Ronald Green, and one of its earliest champions was Joseph Fletcher. [14]

According to this anthropology, not all human beings are persons, but only those with the requisite cognitive abilities. Being a human being has of itself no moral significance, and indeed some of the advocates of this position, in particular Singer, assert that those who believe that membership in the human species is of great moral significance are guilty of speciesism, a prejudice similar to such immoral prejudices as racism. [15]

Moreover, on this view our power to generate human life is that aspect of our sexuality that we share with other animals; as such it is part of that world of subpersonal nature over which the conscious person has dominion. As personal and human, our sexuality consists in its ability to enable us to break out of our prison of loneliness and enter into fellowship or communion with another conscious subject. This aspect of our sexuality is personal precisely because its existence depends on consciousness. We can thus sharply distinguish between sexual behavior, which can have various purposes, chief among which is pleasure whether solitary or mutual, and reproductive behavior. And new “reproductive” technologies enable us to overcome the limitations of genital reproductive “roulette” and generate life in the laboratory in order to enhance its quality. [16]As one author expresses the view: “Genital reproduction is less human than laboratory reproduction, more fun, to be sure, but with our separation of baby making from love making both become more human because they are matters of choice, not chance.” [17]

This view of the human person is, of course, dualistic inasmuch as it sharply distinguishes between a living human body and a living human person. Recently Leon R. Kass, chairman of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, emphasized that the kind of human “dignity” associated with contemporary bioethics and its underlying anthropology is “inhuman,” because it “dualistically sets up the concept of ‘personhood’ in opposition to nature and the body” and thus “fails to do justice to the concrete reality of our embodied lives…and pays no respect at all to the dignity we have through our loves and longings — central aspects of human life understood as a grown togetherness of body and soul.” [18]

If the person really is not his or her body, then the destruction of the life of the body is not as such an attack on a good intrinsic to the human person. Thus the lives of the unborn, the newborn, individuals in a “persistent vegetative state,” and many others are no longer valuable or inviolable. Indeed, the body, on this view, can become a “prison” or an intolerable burden on the person, and one is doing the person a favor and in fact protecting his “right to die” by euthanizing him or assisting him in suicide.

Summary of the Understanding of the Human Person Widely Influential in Bioethics

We can summarize this anthropology in the following propositions: 1. It conceives of the human person dualistically as a conscious subject distinct from and other than his body; 2. It regards the living human body not as the bodily person but as a privileged instrument of the nonbodily person; 3. It regards the procreative or “reproductive” aspect of human sexuality as part of the subhuman world over which the person has dominion and its “relational” or amative aspect as personal insofar as this aspect depends for its existence on consciousness.

3. Critique of Dualistic Anthropology

Dualism separates the consciously experiencing subject — which dualism identifies with the “person” — from that subject’s body. Various arguments show the falsity of dualism. In my opinion one advanced by Patrick Lee is cogent. Lee summarizes it as follows:

1.Sensing is a bodily act, that is, an act performed by a bodily entity making use of a bodily organ. 2. It is the same thing which senses and which understands. 3. Therefore, that which understands is a bodily entity, not a spiritual [or conscious] substance making use of the body. [19]

Peter Singer, for example, engages in acts of sensation much as Fido the dog does. Such acts are and can only be bodily acts, acts that Singer, a bodily being, performs by making use of such bodily organs as eyes, ears, skin, etc. Singer is the same entity who can understand arguments such as his argument regarding speciesism. Singer, who is a person, is thus a bodily entity, not a spiritual or conscious subject using a body other than himself insofar as he is the same entity that engages in acts of sensation and in acts of understanding.

To put matters another way, if someone breaks your arm, he does not damage your instrument but hurts you.

Moreover, why should exercisable cognitive abilities be a trait conferring value on those who have it? Lee raises this issue elsewhere and says that the proper answer is that such functions and the capacity for them are “of ethical significance not because [these functions] are the only intrinsically valuable entities but because entities which have such potentialities are intrinsically valuable. And, if the entity itself is intrinsically valuable, then it must be intrinsically valuable from the moment that it exists,” and the entity with such potentialities exists from the time that a living human body exists. [20]

The dualistic claim that not all human beings are persons but that only those who possess exercisable cognitive abilities are to be so regarded is, moreover, marked by debates among its own advocates over precisely which ability or abilities must be exercisable if an entity is to be classified as a “person.” This claim inevitably leads to arbitrary and unjust criteria of “personhood.” A group of Catholic thinkers in England gives a devastating critique of this arbitrariness; it is worth citing them at length because their critique ably pinpoints the arbitrariness involved. They write:

The rational abilities necessary to these [cognitive] abilities are various, and come in varying degrees in human beings. If actual possession of such abilities is a necessary condition of the claim to be treated justly, questions will have to be faced precisely which abilities must be possessed, and how developed they must be before one enjoys this claim to be treated justly. And these questions can be answered only by choosing which to count as the relevant abilities and precisely how developed they must be to count. But any such line-drawing exercise is necessarily arbitrary….Arbitrary choices may be reasonable and unavoidable in determining some entitlements….But if one’s understanding of human worth and dignity commits one to being arbitrary about who are to be treated justly (i.e., about who are the very subjects of justice), it is clear that one lacks what is recognizable as a framework of justice. For it is incompatible with our fundamental intuitions about justice that we should determine who are the subjects of justice by arbitrary choice. The need for a non-arbitrary understanding of who are the subjects of justice requires us to assume that just treatment is owing to all human beings in virtue of their humanity. This indispensable assumption is also intrinsically reasonable. It is true that the distinctive dignity and value of human life are manifested in those specific exercises of developed rational abilities in which we achieve some share in such human goods as truth, beauty, justice, friendship and integrity. But the necessary rational abilities are acquired in virtue of an underlying or radical capacity, given with our nature as human beings, for developing precisely those abilities. [21]

This dualism, as John Paul has noted, is one of the roots of the “culture of death.” Referring to this dualism in Evangelium vitae, the Holy Father explicitly identified as one of the major roots of the “culture of death” “the mentality which…recognizes as a subject of rights only the person who enjoys full or at least incipient autonomy and who emerges from a state of total dependence on others.” [22]

Indeed, as Germain Grisez has said, “moral thought must remain grounded in a sound anthropology which maintains the bodiliness of the person. Such moral thought sees personal biological, not merely generically biological, meaning and value in human sexuality. The bodies which become one flesh in sexual intercourse are persons; their unity in a certain sense forms a single person, the potential procreator from whom the personal, bodily reality of a new human individual flows in material, bodily, personal continuity.” [23]

Part Two: The Morality of Human Acts

Here I will summarize Catholic theology on the meaning and morality of human acts and then the predominant moral methodology characteristic of contemporary bioethics rooted in a dualistic anthropology. I will conclude with a critique of that methodology.

1. The Meaning and Morality of Human Acts in Catholic Theology

Catholic theology is concerned with human acts, i.e., acts proceeding from a deliberating and choosing person, for many reasons. First of all, such acts get things done, i.e., they bring about states of affairs in the world, and the acting person is responsible for them. But a far more important reason for Catholic theology’s concern with human acts is the truth that it is in and through one’s freely chosen acts that one gives to himself his identity as a moral person. Centuries ago St. Gregory of Nyssa perceptively noted:

All things subject to change and to becoming never remain constant, but continually pass from one state to another, for better or worse….Now, human life is always subject to change; it needs to be born ever anew….But here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings…; it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions. [24]

As Pope John Paul II, in continuity with the Catholic theological tradition, has emphasized, “It is precisely through his acts that man attains perfection as man, as one who is called to seek his Creator on his own accord and freely to arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” Our freely chosen deeds, he continues, “do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man, but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his most profound spiritual traits.” [25]  Our moral character, in other words, can be defined, and Grisez so defines it, as the “integral existential identity of the person — the entire person in all his or her dimensions as shaped by morally good or bad choices — considered as a disposition to further choices.” [26]

Although we are free to choose what we are to do and, in and through these freely chosen deeds, to make ourselves the kind of persons we are, we are not free to make what we choose to do to be good or bad. We know this from our own experience, for we know that at times we have freely chosen to do things that we knew, at the very time we chose to do them, were morally wrong.

To choose well we need truths to guide our choices. Catholic theology recognizes that “the highest norm of human life is God’s divine law, eternal, objective, and universal, whereby God orders, directs, and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community according to a plan conceived in wisdom and in love.” [27] But God has so made man that he is able, under the gentle disposition of divine providence, to come to an ever deeper grasp of this divine plan, and man’s participation in this divine, eternal law is precisely what we mean by the “natural law.” [28]

The very first truth meant to help us make true judgments and good moral choices, as Sacred Scripture teaches, is the twofold commandment to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Matt 22:37-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14). [29] But if we are to love ourselves and our neighbor, we will choose and otherwise will that the goods of human existence, goods such as life itself, including bodily heath and integrity, knowledge of the truth and appreciation of beauty, interpersonal friendship and justice, and marriage flourish both in ourselves and in others. [30] Thus the Fathers of Vatican II teach us that the “norm” for human activity is that, “in accord with the divine plan and will…[it] should harmonize with the authentic good [bono autentico] of the human race, and allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.” [31]

Precisely because we are to love our neighbors as ourselves we must love the goods perfective of them and meant to flourish in them. It is for this reason that St. Thomas said that “we offend God only by acting contrary to our own good,” [32] and that Pope John Paul II insists that “the different commandments of the Decalogue are really only so many reflections on the one commandment about the good of the person, at the level of the many different goods which characterize his identity as a spiritual and bodily being in relationship with God, with his neighbor and with the material world….The commandments of which Jesus reminds the young man (in Mt 19:16ff) are meant to safeguard the good of the person, the image of God, by protecting his goods.” [33]

Catholic theology holds that the morality of a human act depends on three factors: the object of the act, its end, and the circumstances in which it is done. [34] Of these the primary source of the morality of a human act is the object, and no wonder, because the object of the act is precisely what the acting person chooses to do. The object, as Pope John Paul II makes clear, is not some physical event in the external world, but is precisely what the acting person freely chooses and in doing so makes himself to be the kind of person willing to do this, [35] e.g., intentionally kill an innocent person, make a baby in the laboratory, etc. Thus, if I choose to kill an innocent person, killing an innocent person is the object of my act specifying it as an act of killing, and I make myself to be a killer by choosing to do so.

The end for whose sake I choose to do what I do is another source of an act’s morality, and so too are the circumstances in which I choose to do it. If the act is to be morally good, all these factors — object, end, and circumstances — must be good, and if any of these factors is bad or evil then the entire act is vitiated.  Bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu. But the primary source of the morality of an act is the object freely chosen. If this is bad, no end or circumstance can make it good. People frequently seek to justify (or, better, rationalize) their acts by appealing to the end for whose sake they choose to do them, and they frequently redescribe their actions in terms of their hoped-for consequences, i.e., the end for whose sake they chose to do them. Thus some rationalize mercy killing by describing it, not as an act of killing, but of alleviating human suffering or helping a person to die with dignity.

As we have seen, Catholic theology recognizes human acts as morally significant mainly because in and through them we give ourselves our moral identity. Moreover, it rightly teaches that “reason” recognizes that certain kinds of acts, specified by their objects, are intrinsically evil and proscribed by absolute moral norms. It does so, as John Paul II teaches, because such acts cannot be referred to God because they violate the dignity of the person made in his image by violating his goods, goods such as human life itself. [36]

Among such acts are acts specified by the following kinds of objects:  killing innocent human persons (and this includes abortion and euthanasia or mercy killing), adultery, making babies in the laboratory, contraception.

Summary of Catholic Theology and the Meaning and Morality of Human Acts

The understanding of human acts and their morality in Catholic theology can be summarized in the following propositions. 1. Human acts get things done, i.e., they bring about states of affairs in the external world, and human persons are responsible for causing them. But human acts are of crucial moral significance primarily because at their core is a free human choice, so that human persons determine themselves and give to themselves their moral identity, their character, in and through the acts they freely choose to do. 2. The highest “norm” or “truth” to guide us in making true moral judgments and good moral choices is God’s eternal law. Our intelligent participation in this law is the natural law. We can thus speak of a “participated theonomy.” [38] 3. The fundamental moral principle is the love commandment, which requires us to love the goods meant to flourish in ourselves and others, goods such as life itself, including bodily life and health, knowledge of the truth and appreciation of beauty, friendship, marriage, etc. 4. The primary source for the morality of an act is the “object” freely chosen here and now. Reason attests that some kinds of acts, as specified by their objects, cannot be referred to God precisely because they violate the dignity of the person made in his image by violating his goods. Such acts, among them the intentional killing of innocent persons, are intrinsically evil and proscribed by absolute moral norms.

2. The Meaning and Morality of Human Acts Widely Influential in Contemporary Bioethics

Various forms of consequentialism, among which can be included utilitarianism and proportionalism, dominate contemporary bioethics. Common to all types of consequentialism is the claim that the right way to make true moral judgments and good moral choices is to consider the different alternatives of choice and to choose the one that promises the greater balance of good over evil; we are to choose the “greater good” or the “lesser evil.” Those advocating this way of making moral judgments and choices imply that this is self-evidently true, for after all, it would be absurd to choose the lesser good or the greater evil. Consequentialism, moreover, focuses on human acts because of their ability to get things done, to have effects or consequences in the external world. It does so because it is allegedly by comparing these consequences, i.e., these states of affairs brought about in the external world, that one can determine which alternatives in truth promise the “greater good” or the “lesser evil.” [38]

This consequentialist method of making moral judgments looks at human actions “from the outside,” as it were, seeing them as events which cause determinate effects. It is thus interested in human acts insofar as they get things done or have consequences. Actions thus conceived, however, are explained by interpreting the foreseen connection between act-event and its effect as being the reason why a rational agent has performed the act in question. The action itself and its effects are thought to be simply events or states of affairs non-moral or pre-moral in themselves; only the reasons that an agent might have for causing effect x through action-event y are regarded as having moral significance. Thus the reasons, i.e., the ends intended by the agent, are considered morally decisive. Thus for consequentialists any act-event having x effects can be morally justifiable for the right reason or end, and it can be redescribed in terms of the end for whose sake it was done. [39] One can, in short, do evil, allegedly non-moral or pre-moral, so that good may come about, and one can describe the act in terms of the good state of affairs that comes about or that one anticipated would come about. For consequentialists, therefore, for example, the act-event of killing an innocent person can be morally described, not as intentionally killing an innocent person but as “protecting human dignity, alleviating unbearable suffering,” etc. Again, consequentialists, in considering the issue of “therapeutic cloning” can conceal what is done by describing the act, not as one that makes new human life which is to be killed for its stem cells, but as producing stem cells for therapeutic research.

In short, on this view there are no acts that are intrinsically evil and proscribed by moral absolutes.

This widely influential way of making moral judgments and choices also emphasizes the autonomy of the moral agent. For those championing this approach to morality there is no appeal to a more-than-human-source of meaning and value. It is rather up to the individual person, in company with others in his society, to determine the criteria to be used in making moral judgments. Today many in bioethical circles accept the four criteria or “principles” elaborated by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, namely, the principles of “autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice.” [40] These principles, however, are simply asserted and serve a function similar to civil laws or club rules that can either be strictly applied, compromised, or “balanced” by “weighing” various factors.

Summary of the Meaning and Morality of Human Acts Widely Influential in Contemporary Bioethics

This approach to morality can be summarized as follows: 1.The right way to make moral judgments and choices is to consider the possible alternatives of action and choose that alternative which promises the greater balance of good over evil, or the “greater good” or “lesser evil”; 2. Human actions are basically events having effects (consequences) in the external world and are, as such, non-moral or pre-moral. Their moral quality is determined by identifying the reasons (i.e., ends) for whose sake a rational agent seeks to initiate certain act-events in order to bring about certain effects. 3. One can describe or better redescribe one’s acts in terms of the hoped for good effects one seeks to bring about as a result. 4. There are no moral absolutes or intrinsically evil acts. 5. There is no more-than-human source of meaning and value (=eternal law or God); rather, human autonomous agents have the responsibility to articulate norms of behavior for given human cultures.

3. A Critique of the Morality Widely Influential in Contemporary Bioethics

As noted, this morality is consequentialistic and claims that the right way to make moral judgments and choices is to compare alternatives of choice and choose the one promising the greater balance of good over evil. However, as John Paul has noted, “everyone recognizes the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of evaluating all the good and evil consequences and effects — defined as pre-moral — of one’s own acts: an exhaustive calculation is not possible.” [41] Germain Grisez, John Finnis and others have shown that this moral position is utterly untenable because it fails to recognize that the goods perfective of human persons — the goods at stake in morally relevant choices — are utterly incommensurable and hence not subject to the kind of calculation consequentialism demands. [42]

The “autonomy” championed by proponents of this ethic is false, for it makes man the measure of all things. It is, in fact, as John Paul II teaches, one of the roots of the “culture of death” insofar as it is based on a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them.” [43]

The kind of “principles” elaborated by Beauchamp and Childress and their followers, as John Finnis and Anthony Fisher, O.P., correctly note: “have their grounding and proper meaning only within a fully developed ethic” one rooted in a sound anthropology and a recognition of the role that basic human goods play in grounding moral norms. Outside that context, and in the dualistic anthropological context of contemporary bioethics, their “principles” are merely a somewhat legalistic set of rules subject to the arbitrary interpretation of allegedly “autonomous” moral agents.[44]


1. This paper was prepared originally for presentation at the Congresso per la Federazione Dei Centri Internazionali di Ispiratione Personalista, “Quale Personalismo?” 9-10 giugno 2003, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore/Centro di Bioetica Roma.

2. Germain Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, Vol. 1 of his The Way of the Lord Jesus (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), pp. 3-5.

3. Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, 24.

4. Ibid., 22.

5. On this see Council of Vienne (1312; DS, 902); see also Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 365.

6. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor (1993) 48.

7. See Pope John Paul II, “The Nuptial Meaning of the Body,” General Audience of January 9, 1980, in John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1997), p. 61.

8. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris consortio) (1982), 11.

9. See, Pope John Paul II, “The Nuptial Meaning of the Body,” General Audience of January 9, 1980, in John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, pp. 60-63; “The Human Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedom of Love,” General Audience of January 16, 1980, in ibid., pp. 63-66.

10. Genital coition is indeed the only kind of personal, bodily act through which new human life can be given. Non-married persons can engage in genital coition, but unlike husbands and wives, who have irrevocably “given” themselves to one another in marriage, such persons, so the Catholic understanding of the human person, male and female, contends, have not capacitated themselves to “welcome human life lovingly, nourish it humanely, and educate it religiously,” i.e., in the love and service of God and neighbor. On this see St. Augustine, De genesi ad literam, 9,7 (PL 34, 397). Husbands and wives, however, by getting married, have made themselves “fit” to generate new human life and give it the home it needs and to which it has a right where it can grow and develop. On this see Pope Paul VI, Encyclical, Humanae vitae (1968), 12, Latin text: “coniugii actus…eos idoneos etiam facit ad novam vitam gignendam.”

11. On this see Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation on The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris consortio), especially 17-20, 28-32; Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981), Chapter Four; William E. May, Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family Is Built (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), Chapter Two; Germain Grisez, Living a Christian Life, Vol. 2 of The Way of the Lord Jesus (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 1993), pp.553-680.

12. On this see Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae (1995); Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,  Donum vitae (1987).

13. See, Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p. 41.

14. See Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994). See also Daniel Maguire, Death by Choice (New York: Doubleday, 1974) and Sacred Choices: The Right to Contraception and Abortion in Ten World Religions (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2001), Ronald Green, The Human Embryo Research Debates: Bioethics in the Vortex of Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), and Joseph Fletcher, Morals and Medicine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954, 1979) and Moral Responsibility: Situation Ethics at Work (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967).                                   

15. Singer, Rethinking Life and Death, p. 173; cf. pp. 202-206, where Singer elaborates his new “fifth new commandment,” Do not discriminate on the basis of species.”

16. See Ashley Montagu, Sex, Man, and Society (New York: Putnam’s, 1969), especially Chapter One, “The Pill, the Sexual Revolution, and the Schools.”

17. Joseph Fletcher, “Ethical Aspects of Genetic Controls: Designed Genetic Changes in Man,” New England Journal of Medicine 285 (1971) 776-783; see also Fletcher’s book, The Ethics of Genetic Controls (Garden City,N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1970), significantly subtitled, Ending Reproductive Roulette.

18. Leon R. Kass, M.D., Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002), p. 17; cf. p. 20.

19. Patrick Lee, “Human Beings Are Animals,” in Natural Law & Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez, ed. Robert P. George (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1998), p. 136. Lee develops this argument on pages 136-143.

20. Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), pp. 26-27; emphasis added.

21. Euthanasia, Clinical Practice and the Law, ed. Luke Gormally (London: The Linacre Centre for Health Care Ethics, 1994), pp. 123-124. A similar critique was advanced in 1978 by Germain Grisez and Joseph Boyle in their book, Life and Death with Liberty and Justice: A Contribution to the Euthanasia Debate (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 220-224.

22. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, 19.

23. Germain Grisez, “Dualism and the New Morality,” in Atti del Congresso sul Settimo Centenario di Santo Tomasso d’Aquino, Vol. 5, L’Agire Morale (Naples: Edizioni Domenicane, 1975), p. 325.

24. St. Gregory of Nyssa, De Vita Moysis, II, 2-3 (PG 44, 327-328), cited by John Paul II in his Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 71.

25. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 71.

26. Germain Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, p. 59.

27. Vatican Council II, Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis humanae), 3.

28. On this see ibid., in particular note 3 where the Council Fathers refer to three texts of St. Thomas regarding natural law as our intelligent participation in God’s divine law. See also Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), 16; Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 12, 40-42. See also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, 91, 2; 94; 100.

29. On this see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, 100, 3, ad 1.

30. On the goods of human existence, perfective of human persons, see the following: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, 94, 2; Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 12-13; Germain Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, pp. 121-133.

31. Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), 35.

32. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 3.122: “Non enim Deus a nobis offenditur nisi ex eo quod contra nostrum bonum agimus.”

33. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 13.

34. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1750-1754; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, 18.

35. See Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 78.

36. Ibid., 80.

37. Ibid., 41.

38. Accurate descriptions of consequentialism, utilitarianism, proportionalism are provided in the following sources: John Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1983), pp. 80-108, “Utilitarianism, Consequentialism, Proportionalism…or Ethics?”; Germain Grisez, “Against Consequentialism,” American Journal of Jurisprudence 23 (1978) 449-62. Pope John Paul II repudiated consequentialist methodologies in his Encyclical Veritatis splendor. He noted that these methodologies today are frequently described as “teleological.”

39. See Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics, pp.114-120 where Finnis describes this feature of consequentialism. See also Martin Rhonheimer, “Intrinsically Evil Acts and the Moral Viewpoint,” in Veritatis Splendor and the Renewal of Moral Theology, ed. J. A. DiNoia, O.P. and Romanus Cessario, O.P. (Chicago: Midwest Theological Forum, 1999), pp. 168-171.

40. Tom Beauchamp and James Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics (5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

41. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 78.

42. See John Finnis, Moral Absolutes: Tradition, Revision, and Truth (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991); Grisez, “Against Consequentialism”; Christian Moral Principles, chapter 6.

43. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium vitae, 19.

44. See John Finnis and Anthony Fisher, O.P., “Theology and the Four Principles of Bioethics: A Roman Catholic View,” in Principles of Health Care Ethics, ed. Raanan Gillon (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1993), pp. 31-44.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2003

Version: 29th April 2003

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