Monday, December 20, 2010

American Cancer Society Supports Planned Parenthood. Should I Not Support Them?

Q - I recently discovered that an organization I volunteer with, the American Cancer Society, has provided various grants to Planned Parenthood for smoking cessation and cancer prevention information. While I have no proof that there is any cooperation between ACS and PP locally, I am torn on what to do about my involvement. Should I resign from my position or use it to get the real facts about cancer out for the world to hear?


The local Relay For Life honestly has the best intentions at heart for fundraising for a cure. Almost all of the money raised stays in the area for programs and research here. With my own family so impacted by cancer, helping to find a cure is one of my top goals, but not at the cost of my Catholic values. If I can find a way to make it work without sacrificing my morals, I will do so.


A - Thanks for the question. This is a difficult subject for many people that can raise the tempers of many. I, like most of us, have been changed by cancer. My sister died last month after battling cancer for five years. It has taken the lives of my grandfather, uncle, and many others as well. Dying from cancer can mean horrible pain, disability, and more. I want to see a cure as well. But, like you, I don't want to have a cure if it means we do it immorally.

There is definitely a problem with the connection between the ACS and Planned Parenthood. So, what are you morally obligated to do? I hope I can offer a few thoughts to guide you.

We can never directly support intrinsically evil actions. Abortion, same-sex marriage, cloning, fetal stem cell research, euthanasia are some of the actions a Catholic cannot support morally. Yet, there are times it seems we get "tangled up" in these issues despite our best efforts, and end up supporting them indirectly. This is where the principle of material vs. formal cooperation with evil comes in handy. No matter how hard you might try, there are situations were good an evil are mixed up and sometimes we get caught being complicit in an evil act.

When we "cooperate" in an evil act our cooperation can be either be:
  • material - without the intention of supporting an evil act - wrong by the circumstance, not intent
    • may be permitted, with a gravely proportional reason as judged by the principle of double-effect (see below).
  • formal - with the intention to support or commit an evil act - wrong by intent and circumstance
    • never permitted.
So, if you went shopping at a store because they had the best prices in town on books and while you were checking out you noticed that they also sell pornography, you could still licitly still shop at the store, if you don't intend to support the selling of porn. But, you are still in material support of the evil. A good rule to follow is that while material cooperation may be licit (morally permissible in some circumstances), we want to be as far-removed from formal cooperation as possible. So, if there is another option of shopping somewhere with similar prices and selection, which doesn't sell porn, we ought to shop there instead. Remote cooperation (meaning far from the evil act) is licit because we don't intend to cooperate in the evil act and if we did intend to cooperate with evil it is no longer a licit act.

If the evil act is not intended by someone and the person is sufficiently remote from the act, then they are not complicit with it. This is called remote material cooperation. Things that might cause an act to be remote instead of material include (not in order and an incomplete list):
  • Time between the complicit act(s) - in some cases, time between events can cause distance. But, time is not a cure-all. For instance, using research gained from the Nazi death camps is still immoral.
  • Steps separating the complicit act(s) - For instance. If you buy a piece of clothing that was originally made in a child-labor sweatshop from another part of the world, then you are many steps from the original evil (sweatshops using child labor). If we intended to buy it because we support sweatshops, then we would be complicit.
  • On-going or one-time (or completed) complicit act(s) - The US supporting slavery is an example. We no longer allow it, but how are we now responsible as a people for once doing so? On the other hand, the sex-trade is still an on-going problem. We cannot participate in such evil.
  • Severity of the complicit act(s) - For instance, abortion. The act is an indescribably evil in and of itself. We cannot cooperate in acts that formally support such evil. On the other hand, there are lesser evils where it is not quite as clear.
  • Nature and Immediacy of the Goods - The most common example is a custodian at a hospital that performs abortions. As long as the person does not formally cooperate in them and disapproves of them, he is not complicit in them - if he is dependent on the job for his livelihood. If he is able to get a job elsewhere, then his cooperation could be formal and not material.
There are times when we are not remote from the evil at all. So, the less remote the cooperation, the more we should seek to do something different. Once it is no longer remote from an evil, and therefore material cooperation, we ought not participate.

With the case for Relay for Life, it would certainly be better to fight against cancer by supporting organizations that do not have such problems. Unfortunately, there are other organizations who give much more to Planned Parenthood, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation. So, how do you settle the issue? You sort through it all using the Principle of Double Effect (PDE). It is a moral framework that gives us a Catholic understanding of which acts are moral and which are not, when things aren't very clear. Through the PDE, the act must pass four criteria:

  1. The moral object must be good or neutral, not intrinsically evil.
  2. The evil result is tolerated, not intended; the good effect is what the agent intends. Then, the evil effect comes indirectly from the act, while the good effect comes directly from it.
  3. The good effect doesn't occur as a result of the evil effect, in other words, you can't do evil to get good. Therefore, the evil effect is not intended directly as a means toward the good effect.
  4. There must be a proportionate reason for doing the act. This implies that there can also not be any other alternatives.

In your particular case, it is left up to your prudential judgment as to your course of action. So, you should follow your conscience after prayerfully discerning what God wants you to do. But, if I were applying this to my own life, here is what I would find:

  1. The good is trying to find an end to cancer - pass.
  2. I don't intend to support PP - pass.
  3. I would not be doing evil to get to the good act - pass.
  4. There are other option - fail.

I hope this helps.

6 comments:

PhiOne said...

Nice work, for an Aggie.
Geoff FitzGerald (UT JD)

TruthSeeker said...

Marcel - you have been chosen as one of God's well-spoken and written vessels...I am praying for His guidance and protection to continue to encapsulate your work for Him in this lifetime so you will better enjoy the next!

Thank you especially for the PDE outline and paralleling the ACS and SGK's ties with PP so very well... Great article to forward to many!

God bless you and your family!

S. Beth Baker
IPT - Ave Maria University
Ave Maria, Florida

Pete said...

Are you sure you're not a Jesuit?
(Just kidding)

Unknown said...

Great discussion of our Catholic options. Now, some additional information regarding ACR... they fund human embryonic stem cell research! Please follow this link to the NIH site.
http://​www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/​articles/PMC3254148/pdf/​nihms-345772.pdf

This study directly ties Dr. Inder Verma to the American Cancer Society and human embryonic stem cell research, check the acknowledgement section.

Sarah said...

"Severity of the complicit act(s) - For instance, abortion. The act is an indescribably evil in and of itself. We cannot cooperate in acts that formally support such evil. On the other hand, there are lesser evils where it is not quite as clear."

I'm not sure I understand this comment... Are you implying that there are some sins that are "worse" than others? I was following you until that point. If you could shed some light on what was meant by that, I would appreciate it.

Marcel said...

Sarah - yes, some acts are always evil (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, cloning, etc.). Some acts are not always evil, but can be.