The Corner

Georgetown and John Haas, One Last Time

From a reader, critical distinctions, stated well. I’m persuaded.

Whether John Haas should toughen his position depends, it seems to me, on distinguishing the intrinsically immoral from the imprudent.

If the researchers at Georgetown did not participate in the abortions that yielded the cells and the abortions were not performed in order that the cells could be obtained, then I don’t believe we can maintain that the use of the cells is intrinsically immoral, unless we’re going to argue that it is always immoral to profit from the evil actions of others. (I don’t think such an argument can be sustained.) I presume that Dr. Haas was asked whether the use of the cells is intrinsically immoral, so his answer, strictly speaking, is correct.

Nevertheless, an action that is not in itself immoral can become immoral if it is performed under certain circumstances. Drinking alcohol is not intrisically immoral, but it is immoral for an alcoholic, because for him it is a gross violation of prudence to expose himself to the temptation to


On the grounds of prudence, I would argue that for Georgetown, a Catholic university, to permit such research is bad, because many will take it to mean that there is really no problem with it. And this impression will be reinforced when, for instance, the diocesan spokesman speaks in consequentialist terms of the expected benefit to society. One would like to see such research restrained in general, to avoid the temptation to harvest fetal tissue specifically for research. One could make analgous arguments regarding the use of Nazi research, both as to the immorality and the imprudence of doing so.

It is unfortunate that the researchers and administrators in question did not (it appears) look into the source of the cells to begin with….The possibility [that]the cells [had] undesirable source must have occurred to someone. One suspects they didn’t want to know.

I think part of the problem is that we’re suspicious (and why wouldn’t we be?) of the ratiocinations of Catholic bishops and university presidents.


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