The Catholic Church, Post-John Paul II
While we were waiting for an announcement about the pope's passing, I was thinking I'd pick up on your comments about the "culture of life" and the way that phrase has been adopted—or appropriated—by President Bush and by other American politicians, not just in the abortion and stem-cell debates but also during the Schiavo case. I'm also intrigued by your reference to the "seamless garment," because I find myself agreeing with conservative Catholics that "seamless garment" is often a fudge by liberals who for their own purposes give short shrift to the distinctions the church has drawn between capital punishment and abortion (though this might be changing, witness Sen. Rick Santorum's recent second thoughts about capital punishment).
Still, I cringe when Bush uses "culture of life" as a blurb or slogan in the style of "four more years" or "the war on terrorism." One of the things I respect about Catholic moral theology and the Catholic intellectual tradition generally is an acceptance of nuance and fine (not casuistic) distinctions. With all respect to John Paul, I thought he departed from that tradition last year when he said "the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act." This obviously has application to the Schiavo case, where some of the activists arguing for the reattachment of the feeding tube suggested that her situation was morally equivalent to that of a person who could eat and drink without assistance being denied food and water.
Ironically, some of the decisions the pope apparently made at the end of his life—remaining in his apartment rather than going to the hospital, emphasizing that he will be "going home"—strike me as the opposite of the notion, invoked in the Schiavo case, that life must be prolonged at all costs and in all circumstances.
Michael McGough is editor at large in the Washington bureau of thePittsburgh Post-Gazette.