This article appears in the August 2004 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

The New Political Morality - Editorial

Cleverly disguised among the responsibilities assumed by the state of our health, education and social relationships there is a new morality based on `political correctness'. Indeed, it is probably wrong to describe it as new for it has been with us for many decades. `Correctness' may be defined as the result of whatever is regarded as informed debate in the media and `political' as the most likely vote-winning gloss put upon it by the political parties. A theological view of conduct based on the tradition of the Church is ignored as pre-modern. It is probably not surprising that even some of the Churches in their eagerness not to be left out of the current race for popularity tend to narrow their proclamations to economic issues or new translations of the biblical texts.

Formerly, it was assumed there were many communities with many moralities. In those days teenagers varied greatly in what they knew about sex; but in these days the parental state weighs up what is in the ‘best interest' of the child and pursues it with great determination. A definition of ‘best interests', strangely enough, seems to have appeared at both ends of life, either for the terminally ill or those embarking on the highway of life. The former diversity is now regarded as an infringement on unity: it would be better to teach one morality for all. It is probable that, if the morality was based on the natural law, we would find it acceptable, but a creed based on sexual freedom is now official and is communicated to children in school regardless of their parents' belief. While deploring the well publicised medical dangers associated with promiscuity, the state provides what it regards as the best current techniques for avoiding these dangers. But our readers know - and current statistics confirm it - that these techniques have resulted in a huge increase of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies.

We are fortunate that the Church in its recent document Cherishing Life discusses the plurality of approaches to moral questions in British society. It underlines the fundamental human need and responsibility to pursue what is good and to live according to what is true. There are good or valuable aspects to life acknowledged by virtually everyone: friendship, peace, rewarding labour, knowledge and understanding, health in mind and body, integrity of character. These features of human life bear witness to our common humanity. There are an equality and an inherent dignity shared by all human beings, the basis of an objective moral order and of universal human rights. It stresses the utilitarian idea that something is right if it results in the best consequences, as measured by the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. But the prospects of good consequences cannot justify acts which are morally wrong in themselves. It is always wrong intentionally to torture or kill an innocent person, even if pragmatic considerations might sometimes make such action seem attractive.

The document goes on to criticise the claim that morality is based solely on feelings: `I feel this is right but it cannot be right for you' or `I feel this is wrong but I cannot impose my moral views on others'. People engage in serious moral arguments precisely because they think that something objective and important is at stake.

Conscientious Christians will sometimes find themselves at odds with the currently accepted moral standards or even with the law of the land. In a special reference to doctors there is a note regarding the recognition of the right to life in the womb. People should not be forced to act against their consciences, and the law ought to recognise a right for medical staff to refuse to perform actions that they consider to be morally wrong. But the staff may suffer as a result of holding fast to moral beliefs and may be denied promotion or advancement in a profession. Here they bear witness to the dignity of human life, to the inviolability of the moral order, and to the holiness of God's law.

In this issue:

With a view to the introduction of the Mental Capacity Bill in the next session of Parliament we have included a review by Doctor Gillian Craig of both its background and contents. It is widely recognised that the Bill if passed will greatly influence the future of medicine.

As a further emphasis a letter, on the same subject, signed by many members was published in the Catholic Herald. It is also included.

We are also grateful to Doctor Christos Papaloucas for a most interesting paper entitled Anatomical, Physiological and Historical aspects of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Dr. Papaloucas is a physician at the General State Hospital, "Georgios Papanikolaous", Kimi, 34003, Greece.