Monday, February 9, 2015

Vaccination never mandatory?

Following up from a prior discussion on vaccination, Dr. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture makes a slightly cryptic claim:

...it is a serious error—to morally condemn those who elect not to cooperate remotely with evil in this case, based on the perceived consequences of their decision. It is important to remember that while remote material cooperation with evil is permissible, no cooperation with evil can ever be mandatory. Forgetting this causes people to slip into the faulty logic of consequentialism. Only the prudence of the decision is up for legitimate debate.

Is this right? No; or at best it is highly misleading. Since formal (i.e. intended) cooperation with evil is never permissible, the claim must be referring to cooperation that occurs as a side-effect of some other good and intended goal. For example, if my goal in using a vaccine is to prevent some serious illness, that is certainly a good goal, even though it may have the side-effect of passive, remote cooperation with an evil (e.g. it may falsely seem to others that you support using aborted fetuses to develop vaccines). This is then a classic case of double effect -- I intend a good act which has an unintended evil effect. Then if the amount of good achieved by the act exceeds the evil, it becomes a morally permissible act.

If we suppose some situation where the good act is easy to accomplish, and the good far outweighs the unintended harm, it may simply be the case that the only possible prudent decision would be to perform the act. In other words, it is entirely possible for circumstances to exist where a good act would indeed be mandatory, despite the unintended cooperation with evil.

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