Ethics: September 2003 Archives

Addictions and moral culpability


I'm moving this dispute out of the comment box because it's not germane to the original topic. In my post on the aggressively eccentric Martin Sheen, I said "the 'root cause' of most poverty is bad morals: infidelity leading to divorce, illegitimacy, drug and alcohol addictions, etc."

Gordon Zaft strongly disagreed with my characterization of addictions, calling me a "fool." (Join the club! "Gordon Zaft" might be a pseudonym for one of my former teachers, or perhaps an ex-girlfriend.) Gordon elaborates in a subsequent comment:

Drug and alcohol addictions are most certainly NOT merely "bad morals" and it is, pardon me for saying so, unChristian to suggest that it is. It also does not square with a great deal of real research which shows real causes for addictive personalities. To deny them is, in fact, foolish.

If by "real" you mean that certain people are genetically predisposed to addictions, then you're right. The idea that certain weaknesses can be passed along to children is an insight that predates modern medicine by more than 2,000 years. Further, it wouldn't surprise me if the same studies confirmed that the level of predisposition varies from individual to individual.

The Catechism leaves no room for doubt that abusing drugs or alcohol is intrinsically sinful:

2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine....

2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense....

[see quotation in context]

So there is a physical, genetic component to addictions, and a moral component. In some individuals, the physical component can be overwhelming, and the moral component minimal. In others, the opposite can be true. As addictions progress, the addict's will tends to become weaker and weaker, until the choice to take another drink or reach for the syringe is barely a choice at all.

I'm not a moral theologian. I don't even play one on the Web. But I can't really see how "bad morals" is an incorrect way to describe drug and alcohol abuse. I am not saying that addiction is exclusively a moral matter in every case, but unless someone is clinically insane and not responsible for his actions, then the addict must confront his own sinfulness and repent. It doesn't do him any good to explain away the addiction as merely genetic.

Gordon, maybe you could elaborate a little more about your objection. Perhaps I'm not understanding your point. Anyone else who wants to throw in their two cents (or if you're from Canada, two pesetas), please do so.

Can't touch this


Or this, or this, and certainly not this.

It's too bad, really. Gotta say no.

My driver's license renewal form came in the mail last week, so I looked it over and started to fill it out. One of the questions is:

Do you want to have the organ donor designation printed on your driver's license?
Now, that is basically nice. The thoughtful people in our state government decided to take the opportunity to recruit all the drivers in the Commonwealth to manifest their willingness to be organ donors.

And my choice the last time around was: Sure, why not. The Church approves of organ donation; it's a charitable way to help somebody, to do a pro-life act. Fine. Happy to help.

But this LifeSite item reminds me that not everybody has the ethical details quite right. (Read the story here if you don't have access to CWN.) It's about unscrupulous doctors in Russia collecting organs from people who weren't dead yet. (They are now.)

Dr. John Shea, medical advisor to Campaign Life Coalition, said that he is not surprised: "The less dead a person is, the better," for purposes of organ harvesting. The practice now is to have the attending physician in a trauma ward make a decision against continuing life-saving efforts, shut off the respirator, and remove organs as soon as possible after even a simple head trauma, he said.
But surely it's only over there?
"Let's not blame the Russians, this is going on in Canada and the United States under new protocols for 'non-heart-beating' organ donation. The patient does not even have to be brain dead. The term 'brain death' is useless anyway. No-one ever knew what it meant; now it is being ignored," he said.
And when I can't trust the medical system to respect my wishes and wait until I'm really dead (no heartbeat, no breathing, no brain activity) before sending me to a chop-shop, it seems best that I withdraw the permission that I previously gave.

If I'm going to give anybody the OK to collect second-hand body parts from me, it's going to be in some other document that spells out the ethical conditions a little more precisely. I'm not going to leave it to the legislature.

Until then, I'll break it down for ya in the words of the Rev. M.C. Hammer: ...can't touch this.

Thongs at church


Yesterday at 10 a.m. Mass, we were sitting together as a family, an uncommon occurence because my wife Paige is often the cantor. When we sat down for the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed that the woman in the pew in front of me was wearing a cropped shirt that exposed about three fingers' worth of belly, as well as a skimpy thong.

"You should have been concentrating on the liturgy or praying," you might say. I agree, but I had my squirmy 3-year-old daughter in my arms, so my concentration was not as acute as it might have been. I happened to glance past my daughter and saw more than I wanted to see: when the woman sat down, her low-cut pants didn't conceal the top part of her underwear.

Is it really too much to ask for someone to refrain from dressing provocatively at church? The guy next to me was wearing an untucked shirt and jeans; there were many overly casual people there. I've learned to filter that out. There could be a charitable explanation for dressing sloppy -- maybe she's sick and could only put on sweatclothes; maybe he's poor and that "Brew Thru" t-shirt is all he owns. There's no excuse for dressing like a tart, though.

If being disrespectful to God isn't enough to get people to reconsider their clothes, there are a couple of other good reasons. First, it's a terrible example to kids. We've already got our hands full -- quite literally -- when we take the kids to Mass, and we're trying to convince them that church is a special place where we're on our best behavior. When other people look like they're going to a picnic, that's hard.

Bad examples don't just influence the pre-school set. Last summer when we were in Maine, I noticed some girls who must have been 11 or 12 wearing low-riding jeans with thong straps sticking out. It made me mildly ill. Where did they get the idea that they should present themselves as sex objects? From older females like their favorite singers (thanks, Britney!) and other people they see around them.

The last, weakest, and perhaps the most convincing reason to dress up for church is that these clothes render you unattractive. Men, most women are turned off by slobs, and other men won't respect you much. Women, those super-keen fashions probably don't work on you. Spaghetti straps on a thin, tall woman can make a woman look more graceful and elegant, but on 97% of the female population it makes you appear thicker.

Low-cut tight pants make your butt look bulbous and your hips wider than they are (again, unless you're skinny and tall, but all clothes look better on skinny, tall people.) If you have the least bit of fat on your hips -- in other words, you're a normal woman -- your pants will show that fat to the world, making your abdomen look like sausage meat that's trying to escape its casing.

Like women priests and gay marriage, I find discussions about inappropriate attire to be tedious not because there aren't important issues involved, but because there aren't that many interesting aspects to the debate. I bring it up in the hope that someone, somewhere, will read this and think about wearing nice clothes to meet the King of the Universe.

Stem Cell Research: a Myth?

Comedian Jerry Lewis (a genius in France) is running his annual fund-raising telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The little spiels they present about research are mentioning possible treatments based on stem cells. Keep your expectations low.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

You write, we post
unless you state otherwise.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Ethics category from September 2003.

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