I’m a geek for what’s called ‘humanitarian logistics’. I get fascinated by how to get stuff from A to B in the most effective way in times of disaster and conflict in order to relieve suffering and save lives. I also thought at one point that it was one area of humanitarian work that would be less ethically challenging – more straight forward…”they are hungry, here is truck, let’s drive there, give them this food…yay…” (well, not that crude, but you can get the idea). However, I’m learning that it is in fact one of the most ethically challenging areas.
In anticipation of the possibility arising in the future, I’ve been asking myself how to tackle the moral quandries that would inevitably arise in that sort of work.
If logistics is the area that touches every other, then when you’re talking about project concerning reproductive health or HIV/AIDs prevention, the logisticien is automatically implicated in the moral question – even at a great distance. Furthermore, the power relations that can exist in logistics (“I have big sack of rice, you need big sack of rice, I want sexual satisfaction, you are a young women…” you get the idea) render it an ideal breeding ground for exploitation.
With that in mind, I emailed a great priest and friend of mine whose a bit of a moral theological whiz, to put it lightly. I thought that my questions and his answers would be a) interesting and informative and b) could spark further debate, questions and posing of other scenarios. (I will happily pass on questions from this forum to him to be answered…that gives me next week’s post already!)
So without further ado…my email…(unedited…)
If I was in an administrative role that covered all the health projects going on in a certain region, including one reproductive health initiative that involved the distribution of contraception…would it be contrary to my faith to continue to do the admin for it all? Or to even work for that organisation to begin with? (in a way similar to working for Amnesty with their explicit pro-abortion stance?). Would it be a case of having to explicitly opt out of any activity related to the implementation of reproductive health projects? What if the implementation is combined with that of other life-saving initiatives (e.g. processings shipments of emergency cholera vaccinations alongside condoms…)? Is it something that I need to be explicit about before entering into any role and make sure that my superior would accommodate my opting out of certain activities for the sake of conscience?
And his response…
You ask one of those very prickly moral questions but I will do my best to answer you as clearly and succinctly as possible.
First of all, every situation is slightly different so I can only give you only general principles.You have to apply them as best you can then be prepared to stick with your well considered and prayed through decision.
Your question brings into play 3 clear principles: cooperation, scandal and lesser evil.
When you are thinking about cooperating with an action that is morally evil there are two bases on which that can happen: type of cooperation and its proximity. re the first, the cooperation can be formal or material. With formal your participation is willing and necessary e.g Judas kissing Jesus to identify him to his enemies; he did not kill Jesus but because his help was essential to lead this enemies and he willed it that it is a case of formal cooperation – this is never morally licit. Another example would be supplying a gun so that a paid man can kill your competitor; you do not pull the trigger but you are guilty of formal cooperation.
Re proximity of cooperation this can range from proximate to remote. An example may help. Say you work in a hospital where abortions are performed. If you prep the woman for the operation though you are not actully involved in it that is proximate cooperation. You may be less proximately involved eg you service and maintain all the vacuum pumps used in the operations though you do not take part in any of them. That is intermediate cooperation; finally you may just be an administrator in the hospital doing clerical work helping the place to function and may have nothing to do with the medical side. That is remote cooperation. The general principle is that the more proximate you are to the evil action the greater the reason for participation must be; some moralists would say than in an evil act like abortion you can never cooperate in a proximate way, others for only the gravest of reasons e.g someone is dying.
The second area is scandal ie something you do leads others to either sin or accept an evil act as OK. Here there can be legitimate or phariseic scandal. The first is where say just working for an agency where you are closely involved in condom distribution you would lead others to think there is no problem with Catholic consent with this. To avoid this you may have to make your own position or beliefs clear or set up limits or areas where you are not prepared to work. You might possibly have to try to change the agency’s stance. However you can encounter phariseic scandal where others criticise you because of the mere fact of your working for a particular agency though you have set up the situation so you are not involved in actions you cannot morally accept.
Finally lesser evil. This is an important consideration but not easy to apply. It generally says that if you are involved in doing something with good and evil consequences you are entitled to go ahead if the good you do will outweigh the evil consequences. However the problem here is that it does not entitle you to do something intrinsically immoral eg support abortions and the other problem is that weighing of onsequences is an immensely difficult task. Nevertheless this principle can but useful if we find ourselves in a situation that is just impossible to avoid.
Righto folks…fire away…