Author: John Berkman

Neil Gorsuch and Catholic Moral Theory

Is Gorsuch Catholic? In terms of his religious affiliation, “No.” However, in terms of his expertise with regard to moral argument that has affinities with Catholic moral theory, Gorsuch may well be one of the most learned US Appeals Court judges after John Noonan. Gorsuch wrote his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University under John Finnis. His dissertation became his 2006 book on assisted suicide and euthanasia. It appears in a series of books from Princeton University Press that includes Jeffrey Stout’s Democracy and Tradition, as well as books by moralists and theologians such as David Novak and Timothy Jackson. Gorsuch’s book is a work in legal philosophy, most of it is concerned with examining the moral and legal arguments to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. One brief example gives a sense of the rigor Gorsuch employs in discussing assisted suicide:  Gorsuch points out that the appropriate term for legal discussions would be ‘assisting suicide,’ since no jurisdiction is interested in prosecuting those who attempt or commit suicide, but only those who are assisting in it. The final two chapters of the book are Gorsuch’s arguments as to why euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be legalized in the United States. One sees the influence of Finnis & Boyle on Gorsuch’s argumentation with his appeal to “the basic good of human life” in relation to his argument for an absolute prohibition of...

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Fake News in the NY Times?  On the Catholic Church?

I love the New York Times.  I really, honestly do.   I read it pretty well every day.  I even pay for a digital subscription (which is significant if you know how cheap I am).  The Times is great on a lot of things.  But its religion coverage?  Especially its Catholicism coverage?   Since Peter Steinfels left, the coverage of the Catholic Church has been pretty much hit and miss.  More often miss. When I read the Jason Horowitz’s piece entitled “Vatican Traditionalists See Hero in Trump Aide” on the front page of the Times this past Tuesday (Feb 7, 2017), I knew that the Times had hit a low.  My b.s. detecting spidey sense went into overdrive.   Because here was an article claiming that there was a cabal of Vatican-insiders looking to Steve Bannon (and by association Donald Trump) to lead the Church out from under the oppression of Pope Francis and back to Catholic Orthodoxy.  I mean you’d expect that from the National Enquirer, right?   But the Times? And because it is the New York Times, a wide swath of readers are going to assume what it is saying is true,  the Times playing on widespread anti-Catholicism among the elites reading it.  It is pretty clear that the author has mastered the science of innuendo and turning one or two claims from unnamed mysterious sources into a full-blown rebellion being hatched under...

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“The So-Called Judge:” Will Donald Trump like Neil Gorsuch’s Legal Philosophy?

When Donald Trump and his advisors were looking for a judge, Trump apparently was consumed with finding “the absolute best person.” (Liptak, NYT, 2/6/17) Now Donald Trump, with the judiciary halting his travel ban, is attacking the “so-called judge” who has put at least a temporary halt to this legislative initiative. Some will foolishly assume that Gorsuch as a “conservative” will be sympathetic to Trump.  However, even if one knows very little about Gorsuch’s legal philosophy (and I confess to knowing precious little), nothing could be further from the truth. While the press focuses on Gorsuch– following Scalia – being an “originalist,” this term is rarely explained. On one level, the claim is that a judge should interpret the US constitution of the United States as its founders understood it. Some interpret this to be the reductio ad absurdum of trying to live in the 18th century. But that is neither Gorsuch’s concern nor, following Scalia, his point. In a recent address following Scalia’s death, Gorsuch seeks to instruct us on the importance of Scalia for understanding the role of judges under the US Constitution.  For Gorsuch, what makes Scalia important is his defense of the separation of powers between legislators and the judiciary. Legislators must only ‘look forward,’ judges may only ‘look backward.’ Legislators create laws, judges interpret them, both in their own right and in relation to what is compatible...

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The Coming of Physician-Assisted Dying (aka Euthanasia) to Canada

It is telling that the Supreme Court of Canada avoided the language of assisted-suicide or euthanasia, and instead chose the euphemism ‘physician-assisted dying.’   But dying is not killing.   All of us will die.   God willing, none of us will be killed.   I would suggest that one is wise to be suspicious when very smart people start to refer to ‘killing’ as ‘dying’.   In light of the coming practice of euthanasia in Canada and since most Catholics only get reporting on the issue from the mainstream news media, my priest at my parish asked me to speak to the issue at each of the masses this past weekend (April 2-3, 2016).   Dying Faithfully When I teach a course on bioethics or end of life issues, I often begin one of the classes by asking the students a question: “How Do you Want to Die?” My students almost always say that they wish to die without knowing it, in their sleep or when they are unaware.  If they cannot die in that way,  then they want to die quickly and painlessly, ideally when they very old and are least expecting it.  My students – and most of us I suspect – here reflect our culture. We do not want to think about death … In a way, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? But in fact, this is the opposite...

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