Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with cardinal Elio Sgreccia, a retired Chair of the Papal Academy Pro Vita about the clause of conscience and the rule of the common welfare in the attitude to the statutory law

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – In the Polish law there is a kind of contradiction: a doctor who, referring to the clause of conscience, does not want to do abortion, must suggest another institution in which a woman will be able to kill her baby in her womb. How should a Catholic behave in such a situation?

CARDINAL ELIO SGRECCIA: – A Catholic should not do abortion or suggest another institution in which it is done, otherwise he would be an accomplice of this act. It belongs to the state – certainly the state which wants to bear responsibility for practicing abortion. It is necessary to remind about the words of John Paul II from the encyclical ‘Evangelium vitae’: ‘Particular responsibility lies on the health service staff: doctors, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, monks and nuns, administrative employees and volunteers. Their job tells them to guard the human life and serve to it. In today’s cultural and social context, in which science and medical study seem to be losing their inborn ethical dimension, they may often feel tempted to manipulate life, sometimes even cause death. Facing such temptation, their responsibility is increasing which finds deep inspiration and support just in the inborn and inalienable ethical dimension of the doctor’s job which is proven by the ancient but still current Hippocrates’ Vow, according to which every doctor is obliged to show the highest respect to the human life and its holiness’ (no 89).

– Politicians, discussing abortion, often speak about the need of compromise. In Poland, thanks to a kind of this compromise, abortion is permitted in three cases. Does this kind of compromise release us from a duty of a fight for its complete prohibition?

– This kind of exceptions do not release a doctor from the clause of conscience. The fact that there is legal abortion, does not release anyone of believers – a doctor or any other citizen – from a duty of a fight against resorting to abortion and in order to protect every life. Law cannot justify our lack of engagement in the fight for life culture which is a task for everybody.

– How, from the point of view of Catholic morality, should we treat the state which questions the clause of conscience? Isn’t such an attitude of the state a kind of an ‘invitation’ for not respecting law and for the opposition towards the government?

– The state loses its power when it imposes things which cannot be accepted by conscience, because it concerns original values towards the state. Law should always have a rational fundament – St. Thomas of Aquinas used to say. Law based on rational messages must consider the common welfare – and annihilation of the human life does not exist in the term of the common welfare – we cannot say about law here. If the state imposes this kind of ‘laws’, it behaves like a dictator.
The clause of conscience has been obliging since the times of Hippocrates. Since the times of Sophocles the natural law has been above state laws. When there is no clause of conscience, there is no freedom. The Episcopate of the United States recognizes the defence of the clause of conscience as an element of religious freedom defence. Forcing somebody to resign from the clause of conscience means forcing somebody to resign from his faith. We must defend the clause of conscience because it concerns the human and rational law.
I would like to emphasize that the Parliamentary Congregation of the Europe Council, which is not favourable for pro-life activists, on 7 October edited a resolution no 1763 acknowledging the right for the clause of conscience in the sphere of medical surgeries.


"Niedziela" 30/2014

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