Friday, October 18, 2002

Direct Killing, Abortionists, and Iraq

On Monday I posted on an apparent contradiction I thought I saw between opposing the killing of abortion doctors while they sit at their dinner table on one hand and a preemptive war against Saddam on the other. [Disclaimer: as I noted previously, my opposition to shooting abortionists is firm; I don't want anyone claiming I support it.] I updated the post, saying that a friend pointed out the relevance of of the moral/ethical concept of "direct killing" in this situation. I promised to explain that more, and so...

Basically, I hold that it is always wrong to directly kill the innocent. What directly kill means in this context is this: to kill as an end (the purpose) or as a means (to the purpose). To help explain this, let me quote from Germain Grisez, moral philosopher and theologian, in his work "The Way of the Lord Jesus: Living a Christian Life" (Quincy, Ill: Franciscan Press, 1993), where he explains how this sense of "direct killing" differs from that of "classical moralists" by looking at the killing of a rapist by his would-be victim:

[begin quote]
No doubt, understanding choosing to kill as they [classical moralists] did, they thought that a woman who puts a bullet through a would-be rapist's head when that is the only way to stop his attack must intend the rapist's death (directly kill him). However, according to the analysis of action used in this work, that woman could shoot the rapist in the head in carrying out a proposal to defend herself against rape, only accepting his foreseen death as a side effect rather than intending it (directly killing him).
Those who hold the classical moralists' view will object that it makes no sense to say someone coudl choose to shoot someone else in the head without intending to kill (directly killing) that person. The objection begs the question, because it presupposes the classical moralists' concept of intention (directness). The employed here has a different concept of intention (directness): people intend only what they choose as a means or seek as an end (people directly do only what carries out or is shaped by an intention). The rapist's death is not what is chosen as a means or sought as an end when the woman shoots him in the head to stop his attack (the shooting is not direct killing). Her end is to avoid being raped; her means is to prevent the would-be rapist from carrying out the behavior which would constitute rape. The nonhomicidal character of her intention (that this shooting was not a case of direct killing) would be manifested if the shot resulted in an incapacitating wound rather than death, and the woman, rather than shooting the wounded man again, promptly summoned an ambulance and, while awaiting it, did everything she could to save his life. (p. 473)
[end quote]

Having said that, the crucial question is this: is the killing of the abortionist wrong because it is direct killing? The answer: no (or rather, not necessarily). Analogous to the rapist example, one could shoot an abortionist without intending his death as the or as the means. In fact, I doubt that any of those who shoot abortionists do so intending death as an end; rather, their intention is to stop abortions, and they shoot the abortionist as a means to that end.

Now, is killing the means? Again, not necessarily; the shooter's intention is most likely to stop abortions, and this does not require the death per se of the abortionist. Therefore, killing an abortion doctor need not be a case of direct killing, and therefore is not wrong for that reason.

And there's the resolution to my apparent contradiction: it's neither the act nor the intention which makes the shooting of an abortionist wrong, but rather the circumstances particular to the situation. And the only way for there to be a contradiction in opposing the shooting of abortionsts and the war against Saddam is if the same circumstances apply to both cases. Since they don't, there is no contradiction in holding both positions.

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