Ethics & Morality Archives

Link Catch-up

I haven’t posted as much recently.  I thought summer would slow things down, but apparently not so much around our house.  I’ve been collecting things to write on, but they’re starting to get stale, so before they’re completely irrelevant, here are a few quick hits to start the week.

Economy:  Never mind whether or not you got TARP funds, the Obama administration may be looking to cap your executive’s pay.

Gene Sperling, a top counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, conceded to a congressional committee that imposing compensation caps on companies could lead to a flight of talent.

"I can say with certainty that nobody in the Obama administration is proposing such a thing," he said.

Yet, at the same time, he and officials with the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission laid out a case for how payment structures rewarded short-term gains at the expense of long-term performance and contributed to the nation’s financial crisis.

The administration plans to seek legislation that would try to rein in compensation at publicly traded companies through nonbinding shareholder votes and by decreasing management influence on pay decisions.

No mention of how incentivizing the giving loans to people who couldn’t afford them contributed to the nation’s financial crisis, nor any talk of reining that in.

Abortion:  Warner Todd Hudson asks and answers, "Why is Killing Abortionists Wrong? Because it is Un-Christian, That’s Why!"  He uses logic and scripture to back up his position.  The key paragraphs:

The final word here is that a Christian ethic posits that men are subject to man’s laws and willfully violating them is not a Christian thing to do — but for extreme cases, and then in a more passive manner than not. Additionally man’s duly constituted law is the sword of punishment and punishment should not be carried out by the individual going off on his own hook. Christians do not take the law into their own hands.

So, in answer to Jacob Sullum’s tough question, killing abortionists IS wrong. It is also quite in keeping with Christian practice to suffer under pro-abortion laws without taking the law into one’s own hands to end the life of a doctor committing abortions. The law says that abortion is legal, only the law may impose the sentence of death, and the individual is bound by those facts under a Christian worldview.

Definitely worth a read.

Health Care:  So will all those saving we’re supposed to come from health care reform going to come after the trillion dollar cost is recouped?

Health-care overhaul legislation being drafted by House Democrats will include $600 billion in tax increases and $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel said.

Democrats will work on the bill’s details next week as they struggle through “what kind of heartburn” it will cause to agree on how to pay for revamping the health-care system, Rangel, a New York Democrat, said today. The measure’s cost is reaching well beyond the $634 billion President Barack Obama proposed in his budget request to Congress as a 10-year down payment for the policy changes.

Asked whether the cost of a health-care overhaul would be more than $1 trillion over a decade, Rangel said, “the answer is yes.” Some Senate Republicans, including Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, say the costs will likely exceed $1.5 trillion.

And, as we all know, government estimates of the cost of a government program are a low end guess.  Somehow, I think that net tax decrease that Obama promised was never going to materialize anyway.

I brought this thought up in a comment on Mark’s post on torture; it’s fine to be against torture, but what do you consider torture?  John McCain, having endured the Hanoi Hilton, might have one definition.  Abu Zubaydah’s definition is to be in a cell with a stinging insect.  What about tickle torture?

Danny Carlton presents some food for thought on this subject.  I’m open to your comments on this because this really made me stop and think.

Waterboarding does no permanent, physical damage. It makes one think they are drowning, which I would imagine is an incredibly unpleasant feeling. Another unpleasant feeling–the fear that your children will be taken away from you, and you’ll never see them again. This is done daily across the US by overzealous social workers attempting to force "confessions" from parents suspected of abuse or neglect. Given the choice I think I’d prefer waterboarding.

The logic behind the Fifth Amendment is that when faced with fear, a person may very well lie about their guilt or innocence choosing imprisonment over torture or death. The result is not the truth or justice. But when the goal isn’t a guilty verdict but information needed to save lives the equation changes.

The question then becomes, is it fair or just to put a person through a mentally unpleasant event in order to extract information which can save lives? Ironically those who scream loudest against waterboarding would be those most adamantly in favor of allowing social workers unfettered power in using just as merciless and cruel techniques against parents suspected of abuse or neglect, most often based solely on an anonymous tip.

Whether we as a "civilized society" can tolerate torture has been answered by how we allow social workers and police to use mental torture on those suspected of a crime. Since waterboarding results in no actual physical harm to the person the difference then is whether we will tolerate what we allow on US citizens barely suspected of a crime to be used on known terrorists who have information that could save lives. 

Why is this even a debate?

Is torture wrong?  Seems pretty clear cut that Americans believe it is, which is good to hear.  But those on the Left berating the Bush administration then go beyond the poll results and say that Americans are against waterboarding specifically.  No, they said they were against torture, and again, it all depends on what you mean by that. 

Are you against putting a caterpillar into Zubaydah’s cell and telling him it’s a wasp?  Or are you against hanging someone by meat hooks for 3 days?  Is there a difference in those techniques?  I think there is.  Are they both torture?  Depends on your definition, I suppose.

What’s your definition, and what is it based on?

Obama Displays His Value System

President Obama, demonstrating another example of what my brother-in-law Jim called an "incomplete life ethic", rescinded Bush’s executive order, reversing the ban on most federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.  Bush’s restrictions were informed by his moral beliefs, but Obama will have none of that.

Aides to Obama told reporters in a phone conference Sunday that the new administration intends to be led by a “responsible practice of science and evidence instead of dogma.” Harold Varmus of the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said, “We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs.”

He once said that determining when a baby gets human rights was "above my pay grade".  Apparently, deciding when to destroy them isn’t. 

This, then, is apparently the "rightful place" that he promised to restore science to.  It doesn’t sound like morals and ethics are part of the equation anymore. 

Ryan Anderson, writing in the Weekly Standard, brings this point home (as well as noting a "big lie" that Obama continues to perpetuate).

During the ceremony this morning, Obama announced that by signing this executive order "we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research." Of course there never was a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. President Bush was, in fact, the first president in history to fund embryonic stem cell research. The compromise Bush reached, however, put restrictions in place that prevented the further destruction of human embryos. It is these restrictions protecting human life that Obama has lifted.

Anderson notes that, while Obama did appeal to "moral values", he set up a straw man that he could easily knock down and brush aside, supposedly taking the issue off the table.  Anderson’s article covers this and a number of other objections that Obama’s decision simply ignores.  Read the whole thing.

The Washington Post headlined their article, "Obama Aims to Shield Science From Politics".  It not only touches on the signing of the EO, but notes how this value system will affect us going forward.  A memorandum was issued along with this signing.

The memorandum will ensure that "people who are appointed to federal positions in science have strong credentials and that the vetting process for evaluating scientific information doesn’t lead to any undermining of the scientific opinion," he said.

That is to say, Obama wishes to shield science from similar ethical concerns, or indeed any debate, during his administration.  Heck, his spokesmen injected politics into the debate by trash-talking "the last administration as one  manifestation of failure to think carefully."  One wonders how the WaPo headline writer actually came up with that summary of the story.

And finally, Scott Ott satirizes this whole situation, such that it can be, with this:

As he signs an executive order Monday lifting limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, President Barack Obama said he intends to make the wealthiest Americans “bear their fair share of the burden.”

Following through on his inaugural promise “to restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost“, the president will order the National Institutes of Health to extract stem cells from embryos whose parents earn more than $250,000 per year, and to inject them into “the sick and crippled middle class.”

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Mr. Obama said, “if your family earns less than $250,000 per year, the federal government will not harvest one single stem cell from your embryos…not one single cell. In fact, for 95 percent of working families, my stem cell plan contains nothing but miraculous healing. That’s right, the cures are on the way.”

Again, read the whole thing, and get a good chuckle.

After President Obama’s inaugural speech, when he said, "We will restore science to its rightful place", I wondered aloud (as did others, see that post’s comments) if this had anything to do with his stance on embryonic stem cell research.  Well, it looks like we’ll find out soon enough.

A new way has been found to create stem cells like embryonic ones.

Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, boosting hopes that such cells could sidestep the moral and political quagmire that has hindered the development of a new generation of cures.

The researchers produced the cells by using strands of genetic material, instead of potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses, to coax skin cells into a state that appears biologically identical to embryonic stem cells.

"It’s a leap forward in the safe application of these cells," said Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who helped lead the international team of researchers that described the work in two papers being published online today by the journal Nature. "We expect this to have a massive impact on this field."

Click here to see all my posts on this issue, and how many alternatives to embryonic stem cells there are (include the hundreds of successful uses for adult stem cells).  All of these methods sidestep completely the ethical question surrounding the use of embryos.  You’d get no hollering from religious conservatives over the possible use of embryonic stem cells as an incentive for, or at least a slight guilt relief from, having an abortion.  That question goes right out the window.

But the scientific and the religious communities hold their breath.

In addition to the scientific implications, the work comes at a politically sensitive moment. Scientists are anxiously waiting for President Obama to follow through on his promise to lift restrictions on federal funding for research on human embryonic stem cells. Critics of such a move immediately pointed to the work as the latest evidence that the alternative cells make such research unnecessary.

"Stem cell research that requires destroying embryos is going the way of the Model T," Richard M. Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said. "No administration that values science and medical progress over politics will want to divert funds now toward that increasingly obsolete and needlessly divisive approach."

We will see soon enough where Obama thinks that science’s rightful place is.

Last December, the Bush administration granted protection to health care workers who refused to perform certain procedures on moral grounds.  If a hospital, health plan or clinic didn’t accommodate the consciences of their employees, they’d lose federal funding.  Abortion rights activists proceeded to take the low road.

But women’s health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation, saying it will be a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care, as well as possibly a wide range of scientific research.

Never mind moral issues, and never mind that plenty of people who have no problem with performing these procedures exist, there must not even be the slightest impediment to these procedures.  Guess we know where their priorities lie.

As well as the priorities of some Democrats in Congress.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill last month to repeal the rule, said: "We will not allow this rule to stand. It threatens the health and well-being of women and the rights of patients across the country." Similar legislation is pending in the House.

No, it does not threaten anyone’s health or well-being.  Allowing an employee to follow their conscience simply means finding someone who’s ethics aren’t similarly bothered.

In spite of these overwrought pronouncements, the rule was put in place.

That was then, this is now.

Taking another step into the abortion debate, the Obama administration Friday will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs, according to administration officials.

The rollback of the "conscience rule" comes just two months after the Bush administration announced it last year in one of its final policy initiatives.

This rule is important, mostly to protect health care workers from losing their jobs over their personal beliefs.  They weren’t supposed to be able to lose it, but that didn’t stop the health care industry.

For more than 30 years, federal law has allowed doctors and nurses to decline to provide abortion services as a matter of conscience, a protection that is not subject to rulemaking.

In promulgating the new rule last year, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said it was necessary to address discrimination in the medical field.

He criticized "an environment in the health-care field that is intolerant of individual conscience, certain religious beliefs, ethnic and cultural traditions and moral convictions."

Doctors have been successfully sued for not performing procedures they objected to, so the rule is necessary to give this same protection to other, non-abortion-related procedures. 

The Obama administration claims:

Officials said the administration will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health-care workers can reasonably refuse for patients.

How about we find out what the administration considers "reasonable" before doing away with this valuable protection?  Or is conscience not that big a deal to Barack Obama?  It doesn’t sound like it.

The Moral Lessons of the Economic Stimulus

Kevin Schmiesing of the Acton Institute considers the bill from another angle.

The ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] makes clear that we have not learned one great moral lesson: You can’t have something for nothing. Or, among economists, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I’m not even sure that anybody is seriously arguing that most of the items contained in this bill constitute “stimulus.” Congress can genuinely stimulate the economy in two ways: decreasing taxes and decreasing regulation. In other words, by putting fewer hindrances in the way of those who wish to produce and consume. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Government puts money into one person’s hands only by taking it out of someone else’s; or by creating it ex nihilo, which amounts to the same thing (moralists have been condemning the debasement of currency at least since the Late Scholastics).

If the bill has any positive impact, it will be psychological, making people believe that the economy will improve and therefore generating positive economic activity. This possibility seems doubtful at this point. It appears instead that the measure’s most significant effect will be to increase the cynicism with which the American people view their government. I’m undecided yet as to whether that is a favorable development.

Keep an eye on the Acton Institute PowerBlog.  This is a great group and their take on religion and economics are invaluable.  (More PowerBlog entries on this specific topic are found linked from this post.)

The Unintended Consequences of Single Parenthood

There is no way that we could possibly eliminate single parenthood.  It’s not an ideal environment to raise a child, but sometimes it simply can’t be helped. 

However, single parenthood by choice — mostly single motherhood — is certainly something we ought to discourage.  Dan Quayle got castigated by Hollywood when he pointed to the TV character Murphy Brown, who chose single motherhood, as a bad example.  He was right.  Obviously so to those of us who understand how important it is to be raised by a mother and a father, but not so much for those that think everything’s cool.

It took a long time to see some of the effects, but in Britain, it’s revealing itself.

A deputy head who sat on a Government taskforce aimed at improving behaviour in schools yesterday condemned a generation of modern parents as ‘uber-chavs’.

Ralph Surman said the parents of today’s pupils were themselves the children of the ‘first big generation of single mothers’ from the 1980s.

He claimed they – and in turn their children – have been left with no social skills or work ethic and may be impossible to educate.

Mr Surman spoke out in response to figures unearthed by the Conservative Party, which show that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training – known as NEETs – is rising across Britain.

‘We must talk about a class of uber-chavs,’ he said.

‘They are not doing anything productive and are costing taxpayers a fortune.

When everything is provided to you at other’s cost, you have no appreciation for it.  Government wanted to show it cared by providing care for these children and their mothers.  It took much of the worry out of being a single mother by choice, and it took much of the guilt away from men who abandoned their children ("Hey, they’ll be taken care of by the nanny state."). 

Yes, the Bible tells us to take care of the widows and orphans, but personally.  When we abrogate that function to the impersonal government, don’t be surprise when people start to take it for granted and expect it.  And the results, it seems, are worse for those who give and those who receive.

The Accountability Factor

A growing list of "honest mistakes" by Democrats is leading this op-ed author to ask, "What does it take to disqualify Democrats from public service?"  If tax evasion, suborning forgery and using campaign funds for personal expenses ain’t enough, what is?  As commenter "socrates" writes:

Failure to pay $150K in taxes normally gets one in front of a Tax Court judge with the IRS burning your house down.

If you’re a Democrat it gets you a Cabinet position.

Both sides have corruption in their ranks, make no mistake about it.  But as I’ve said multiple times in the past, it’s not about corruption; it’s about accountability.  On the whole, Republicans tend to remove those involved with corruption, while Democrats, when they do anything, pass a motion and continue with the business of the day.  Read those links for a number of examples.

Nominating them for cabinet positions, right "socrates"?

Man is sinful; that’s just the way it is.  But if he’s not held accountable for his actions when he breaks the law, do we expect that we’ll have less law-breaking?

"Restoring Science"

President Obama took a jab at former President Bush with this phrase from his inaugural speech; "We will restore science to its rightful place….".  This implies that science has been taken down off of some pillar that it should reside on.

Science is important in the betterment of humankind, but science must be tempered by morality (as must all things).  Dubya, for example, kept federal funding for embryonic stem cell research for those cell lines already existing at the time, but his moral concerns over the issue prevented his allowing it unhindered.  (Private funding is still available and, indeed, the research is continuing.)  Is Obama suggesting he’ll place science above morality?  Is submitting science to the scrutiny of morality robbing the former of it’s "rightful place"?  Is this his worldview?

Political Cartoon: Words Mean Things

From Mike Lester:


Is PETA still being taken seriously by anybody?

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