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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

NCBC Memo Approving Jackson Labs Land Sale

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has released a memo summarizing their position on Tom Monaghan's land sale to Barron Collier for a new Jackson Labs facility. I've been asking for this explanation for a while, so I thank the NCBC for publishing it.

An excerpt:
On behalf of Thomas S. Monaghan, the Ave Maria Foundation presented a moral question to The National Catholic Bioethics Center in July 2009. The issue was very narrowly framed and was related to land which Mr. Monaghan controlled 50% interest. The question dealt with whether Mr. Monaghan, who is a 50% partner in a land development company would be involved in immoral cooperation with evil if he sold his interest in a parcel of land to his land development partner. The partner might in turn sell (or give) it to a buyer who might in the future perform immoral research activities. Against this background, is it permissible for Mr. Monaghan to sell his 50% interest in this land back to his partner?

It is the opinion of The National Catholic Bioethics Center that there would be no moral obstacle to Mr. Monaghan selling his 50% interest in this land back to his partner.
The NCBC memo then makes these points in support of its decision:

1. Human embryonic stem cell research is not being done by JAX.

2. Even though JAX has said it might do HESC research in the future, "here one lacks moral certainty regarding the commission of an evil act at all, and it is impossible to cooperate with an evil that is not taking place and which may never take place. If an evil does take place at all, it would be after the transfer of ownership by Mr. Monoghan. As such, Mr. Monoghan cannot cooperate in theoretical of hypothetical future evil acts about which he has no moral certitude that they will ever occur."

3. The fact that board members of JAX are involved in and support HESC research is irrelevant to the issue presented to the NCBC.

4. Research at JAX involves mice embryos, not human embryos.

5. The fact that JAX hosts conferences where HESC research techniques are demonstrated is irrelevant because these conferences are National Institute of Health conferences.

6. JAX's history with eugenics programs is irrelevant.

What do I think of the memo? I'm not persuaded. I agree with points 1, 3, and 6, as I don't think they factor into the analysis for the land sale's licitness. I suppose point 2 is valid, though I'm not educated enough to know how the future possibility of evil factors into the analysis. So let's suppose the NCBC is right on these points.

Here is where I think the NCBC misses the mark.
-The NCBC misses the issue in point 4. The problem is not the fact that JAX works with mouse embryos, the problem is that JAX develops and markets the mouse embryos specifically for the purpose of furthering HESC research.
-Point 5 makes no sense to me. What does it matter that the conferences are NIH conferences? JAX is still holding HESC conferences on its property.
-The NCBC ignored JAX's involvement in contraception research.

In the second half of the memo, the NCBC discusses in general terms the ethical principles when analyzing cooperation with evil. The NCBC describes how formal and immediate material cooperation with evil are illict. It then says "if the cooperation does not contribute anything essential to the evil taking place it is called Mediate Material Cooperation and might be permitted if the good to be achieved is important enough."

What I find interesting is that the NCBC never engages in this analysis of mediate material cooperation with respect to JAX. For example, the NCBC never tells us what important good was to be achieved. In fact, the NCBC never tells us whether there is an evil with which there is cooperation. So, in light of the second half of the memo, it is almost as if NCBC's defense of the land sale in the first half of the memo boils down to the argument that JAX is not involved in the evil of HESC research, and therefore, cooperation with JAX is licit. But this doesn't address the 3 areas of illicit activity that I think JAX is engaged in: contraception research, products and services geared for HESC research, and HESC training conferences.

It's also interesting to note that the NCBC considered this issue in July 2009. At that time, I wonder whether the NCBC had as much knowledge about JAX's practices as we do now. I hope that this memo is not an attempt to bolster a year-old opinion issued without sufficient knowledge.

What do you think of the NCBC memo? Am I being too critical?

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