By Ann Carey
NOTRE DAME — The 13th annual Ethics and Culture Conference at the University of Notre examined the virtue of justice in light of the Catholic moral tradition. Contributing their varied viewpoints were nearly 50 international experts in the fields of philosophy, theology, political theory, law, history, economics, the biosciences, literature and the arts.
After an opening Mass on Nov. 8 celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the first conference keynote address was presented by Mark Filip, a former federal prosecutor and federal judge, as well as a former deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. John Finnis, professor of law and legal philosophy at both Notre Dame and Oxford University, gave the closing keynote Nov. 10 on the priority of persons.
Other notable speakers during the three-day conference included Robert George, law professor at Princeton University and Michael Sandel, government professor at Harvard University. Both men served on the President’s Council on Bioethics with O. Carter Snead, Notre Dame law professor and the new director of the university’s Center for Ethics and Culture, which convened the conference.
George and Sandel discussed Sandel’s 2012 book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” George praised Sandel’s book for recognizing that the market is a good way to produce and distribute many important items that make life better for people, and he agreed with Sandel that “there are some things money can’t buy or at least should not buy.”
Sandel lamented that market reasoning has replaced moral reasoning in the past 30 years, and the debate in public life is “largely emptied of moral and spiritual resonance.” He and George discussed some of the injustices that have resulted from this attitude, such as coercing poor women into being surrogate mothers in order to provide for their families.
The injustice of surrogacy also was discussed in a separate session on the dignity of human life. Jennifer Lahl, president of the board of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and producer of the film “Eggsploitation,” spoke about the risks and injustices of “third party reproduction.” This term includes sperm and egg donation as well as surrogacy.
In addition to numerous other moral problems with third party reproduction, she said that gender and class exploitation are also involved. As the economy worsens, it is more tempting for poor women to donate eggs or be surrogates, thus creating a “breeder class of women.”
Additionally, a child is considered a “commodity” whose life can be sold or taken away, Lahl said. “The baby business is booming, and profit motives describe the bottom line.”
In the same session, Nikolas Nikas, president of the Bioethics Defense Fund, discussed some of the legal cases involving human life issues. In speaking about abortion law that he called “raw judicial power,” he said there are 50 million people who should be alive today in this country, but were destroyed by abortion since the Roe v Wade decision of 1973. And, for every one baby conceived by in vitro fertilization, nine other lives were either frozen or destroyed.
Nikas encouraged the students in attendance to study philosophy, theology and history to help them apply faith and reason in order to recognize what is just, and then work to enshrine justice as an integral part of the law.
William Saunders, senior vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, spoke about protecting the human rights of the unborn in Latin America. The United States is one of the “four most liberal abortion regimes in the world,” he said, and the Obama administration considers abortion to be included in “reproductive health.”
Thus, Latin American countries are under pressure to allow abortion because “reproductive health” is used in many international agreements and treaties. He added that there is an ongoing effort to make abortion an international human right, even though there is no basis for this in international law.
“If human rights don’t belong to all humans, who is excluded? And who gets to decide who is excluded?” Saunders asked.
He pointed out that the powerful will never decide to exclude themselves, so it is the weak who always will be excluded. And when others get to decide that some people are “outside the circle of protection,” he said. “That means everyone is vulnerable.”
Other sessions at the conference included “Justice and the American Project,” “The Least Among Us: Children, the Disabled and the Poor,” “Religious Liberty and Justice” and “Justice and the Christian Tradition.”
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