Daily Archives: February 21, 2011

“You’ve got an aortic aneurysm–want some Vicodin?” (6/25/2008)

Good news is, I’m definitely getting my electric wheelchair (it’s just a matter of how soon).

Bad news is, I have the beginnings of an aneurysm in my descending thoracic aorta.

Of course, He comes like a thief in the night, just when you are saying “peace and security.” I just saw Dr. Stavrou, my cardiologist since 1989 (save 4 years in VA). Iroincally, I was going on and on about how, for the most part, I’ve felt better than ever (though, when I feel bad, it’s lousy).

Yesterday afternoon, I kind of overdid it. Started feeling really bad.
Finally, at 9 PM, I decided to go to the ER, mostly because our Medicaid ends on Saturday, and my last appointment for review for the electric wheelchair was this morning, so I figured that, if a valve was leaking (sometimes they leak; sometimes, they don’t), I could catch it in a test.

Ironically, for all the times I’ve gone to the ER *concerned* about my aorta, I *wasn’t* this time.

Of course, from an ER perspective, they just want to make sure you’re not dying, or bleeding, or whatever.
In terms of “bedside manner,” it was one the worst hospital visits I’ve ever had. At the triage review, I was trying to explain Marfan syndrome. They kept interrupting and asking questiosn about heart attack, which I answered “no” to. The one guy took my pulse and whispered, “his pulse is normal,” and they’re like laughing and casting looks at each other like I’m some hypochondriac.

Then I get back there, and everyone’s aloof at best, if not downright grumpy. The guy who took me to my CT Scan never said a word; no “hello”; didn’t even tell me where he was taking me. If they responded to my “standard hospital jokes” at all, they took them seriously.

So, I laid there alone till around 1:15 AM, when the doctor walked in and said, “Well, your CT was fine. You have a little dila. . . dilitation . .. dilation in your uh descending thoracic aorta.” He stumbled with the words and then tried to explain it to me. I said, “I know what it is. What size is it?” “3.5 cm” (last I’d heard, it was 2.9).

On his way out, he said, “Oh, would you like some Vicodin?” I said, “I have Tramadol at home. I don’t like the side effects of Vicodin.””OK.”

Then, from 1:15 to 4:15, when the cab finally came to pick me up, I got to contemplate my life and my situation. In one sense, grateful to God that, for all the pain I’m in, He’s given me something to show to Medicaid, etc. On the other hand, it’s the proverbial “shoe” I’ve been waiting to drop for the past 12 years, and, since the discoveries about Cozaar, I’d been seriously entertaining the thought that I might live to see my grandchildren, that I might able to do some of those wild and crazy things I’d always dreamt of doing, like teaching high school or moving to some third world country and being a missionary.

Life in this world never mattered much to me, except as an avenue to sainthood. It goes to figure that, once it started mattering, God would pull the rug out from under me.

In practice, it doesn’t mean much. The main thing is we’ll have to throw out any ideas of me working full-time, unless it’s online.
Thank God that He’d already provided a wonderful situation: great new FT job offer for Mary (with another possibly in the wings); I’ll be making $25000 a year online with Kaplan, and I already arranged with Midlands for the most stress-free schedule possible. We’ve been talking about hiring some kind of PT domestic help (my job at Midlands would pay for it), and now that’s a necessity.

I’m gonna need to get a car lift and an outside ramp for the wheelchair, but it looks like Providence and some good advanced planning have arranged that all is happening at the right time.

In related news, Allie had her first subluxed kneecap on Sunday, so we bought her a knee brace. I announced a massive living room cleaning earlier, and she said to Gigi and Joe, “You two will have to do most of the work, because Daddy and I can’t do as much with my knee and his aorta!”

My letter to the CDF

I just wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, asking for some clarification on the Lying versus Lila debate:

Your Excellencies,

There is currently a debate raging among Catholics here in the United States over the morality of the actions of a group known as “Live Action” and its founder “Lila Rose”. This group, as you might have heard, goes around to Planned Parenthood clinics. Their members pose as pregnant women, prostitutes, potential donors and others, asking Planned Parenthood questions and filming or recording what the Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers say. They have done a great deal to expose many things such as covering up of child prostitution.

Some have pointed out, however, that Catechism 2464-2499 is pretty clear on lying and the obligation to truth. They also argue that if the so-called “sting operations” are moral to begin with, some of the dialogue on the videos or recordings indicates entrapment, such as an early recording when Live Action person called a Planned Parenthood donation center and said, “I’d like to make a donation to pay for abortions for black babies because I hate black people,” or something to that effect, and a clearly confused worker said they’d accept the donation.

Lila Rose has become quite the celebrity, and her videos have gotten a lot of attention. So recently, people have been raising the question of how her actions can be “squared” with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teachings of the Saints, and the Gospels. Most of the arguments raised in her defense seem rather weak or consequentialist. One of the common things people say is “Undercover cops,” but part of the point of those raising the question is that the Church has never made a clear statement on whether the work of undercover police or spies is morally acceptable. Another common response is to compare the situation to people trying to save Jews in Nazi Germany, and “lying” to the Nazi soldiers. This discussion is really generating a lot of anger and confusion, and I thought I might as well just go ahead and ask at the top.

I see no way in which Lila Rose’s actions can be considered virtuous, and certainly not heroically virtuous, and the only case that can be made that they are not intrinsically evil is that there is some method of justification at work.

My own reflections on the matter, after paragraphs 2464-2499, is to reduce the debate to the following questions:
a) Is there a form of falsehood that is not, technically, a lie? Not every killing is murder, and not every act of taking something from someone else is stealing.
b) Is it a lie to assume a different identity and then act in accordance with that identity? In other words, ontologically, if Lila Rose walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic and says, “I’m a prostitute,” and acts and speaks in accordance with being a prostitute, could it not be argued that she is, within that context, a prostitute, and that she’d only be lying if someone asked her, “Hey, aren’t you Lila Rose?” and she denied it.

Of course, ultimately, the discussion really boils down to the following, and I think that is why so many people are mad, because they’re concerned about family and friends (and selves) who are police or soldiers or intelligence agents:

c) Is “undercover” work or espionage work morally licit at all?

I appreciate your time and consideration.

Pax et bonum,

John C. Hathaway, OCDS, MA

Is there a Falsehood that isn’t a lie?

A few posts ago, I laid out the recent debate over Lila Rose’s “Live Action” sting operations and the question of their ethicality. Reactions range from “I’m pretty sure they’re wrong because lying is always wrong” to “they seem OK but I’m trying to reconcile them to Church teaching and I can’t figure out how” (where I stand and where Mark Shea stands), to “Of course they’re OK; why are you wasting time talking about this?” to “Anyone who thinks their wrong has an ill formed conscience and can’t understand the nuances of Catholic moral teaching.”


OK, so here’s what I’ve come up with, and I wanted to hash this out for an idea. The Catechism says “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” (2485). That’s hard to get around. People can only get around it with examples, but examples are not Magisterial declarations. That, as Mark Shea says, is what we have the Magisterium and the Catechism for.

At *best*, what Lila Rose is doing is justifiable evil, like self defense, as opposed to a virtuous or heroically virtuous act. Now, to be justifiable, the question is one of compulsion. As Mark Shea also points out, Lila Rose apparently has no authorization or credentials to be in this situation. People compare her to an undercover cop, but she’s not a cop.

At worst, it may be sinful, but I don’t think anyone thinks she intends sin by it, and if she does, that’s her business, but it is an important question because it concerns our potential material cooperation for profiting from her videos.

Now, here’s what I hit on: lying is intrinsically evil. Lying is an act of telling someone a falsehood in order to make them believe something that is not true (“lying to deceive”). There is both an act “telling a falsehood” and an intent (“to deceive”). For an act to be fully moral, according to Catholic teaching, the end, intention and means must all be moral or neutral.

Now. Let’s look at the act of stabbing someone with a knife. A surgeon may stab a person with a knife to perform surgery. A murderer may stab a person with a knife to kill him. A victim may stab an assailant with a knife in order to stop him. If the patient or the assailant dies, the surgeon or victim is not guilty of murder because no murderous intent was involved.

If a police officer undercover commits a crime, and the crime is authorized as part of the undercover operation, the officer is neither legally nor morally guilty (setting aside the issue of undercover work itself).

So, what about the act of telling falsehoods? Is every falsehood a lie? *THAT* is the salient question at stake in this debate, and the one which hardly anyone is addressing, and certainly not in the way I’m phrasing it.

Let’s consider some falsehoods, particularly the ones that have been used frequently in this discussion.

For example, what does a husband say to a question like, “Does this dress make me . . . ?” Hopefully, a husband and wife have an honest enough relationship that they can talk about such matters. Funny that wives can stereotypically criticize their husbands, but a husband can never say anything about his wife. That debate, however, really gets to the question of constructive criticism. “I like the other dress better” or something is a far more effective approach and does not involve lying.

Then there is the whole “Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny” thing. Now, I for one am very much looking foward to finding out that the Easter Bunny does exist. However, there really is no point in these falsehoods that parents tell children. They have more to do with Madison Avenue advertisers than anything else. More importantly, a lot of people grow up and abandon religion because they discard God with “Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny” as “lies my parents told me.” The whole reason the Catechism condemns lying so strongly, besides that God is truth and we should live the truth and speak the truth always, is that lying destroys relationships.

But Santa Claus is based upon the real Saint Nicholas. Now, here’s a key point. Stripping away the reindeer, North Pole, etc., is it a lie to tell children “Saint Nicholas gave you this present”?

Well, the whole tradition of St. Nicholas actually started as an equivalent of the modern day St. Vincent de Paul Society. In the middle ages, people would sneak past the homes of poor people and put money or gifts in their windows on the night of December 5 and say the gifts came from St. Nicholas. Is that a lie? No. It’s not entirely a falsehood, either, since St. Nicholas inspired them to give the gifts. That would be a kind of inversion of C. S. Lewis’s “sixpence none the richer” principle. If you ask someone to buy someone else a present for you, the present still comes from you. So it isn’t a lie to say “the present came from St. Nicholas,” if you’re doing it in honor of St. Nicholas.

Now, what about undercover police work? That gets into a second question, an ontological one, which I will raise in another post: is assuming a false identity a lie? For the time being, I”ll let the police go with the point that they are authorized by the government.

Another one is surprise parties and surprise gifts. I don’t understand what there is to lie about, and I definitely know why it’s wrong. Think about every TV show about a surprise party, where the character goes around totally depressed because everyone seems to have forgotten his or her birthday, just to find out at the end of the day they’re planning a surprise party. It’s just stupid. Why ruin a person’s birthday and make him or her depressed just for an hour or two of partying? A man tells his wife “I have to work late.” We can see why that’s wrong if he’s lying about going to the bar or going out with his mistress. But if he’s buying her an anniversary present, why lie about it? Why not say, “I have to run some errands after work pertaining to a surprise for you” or “pertaining to our anniversary”? Why does it have to be a lie??

Most of these are examples of telling a falsehood in order to deceive. The deception seems innocent enough, and it’s probably not mortally sinful, but it’s still a lie. However, the Church also teaches in the Catechism that a seemingly venial “white lie” can become mortal if its unintended consequences are severe: if the wife, for example, suspects her husband of lying and thinks he’s cheating on her, or if the person with the surpriese party gets horribly depressed about the birthday.

So, what about telling a falsehood for a good?

Let’s get to the big bugaboo that everyone raises. The Nazis are at your door, asking if you’re hiding Jews, and you’re hiding Jews. Oh, no!
Now, what I’ve always heard is you’re supposed to say something like, “There are no Jews here (for you to kill)” or “I am not hiding any Jews” because they’re not hidden; they’re sitting in the upstairs bedroom.
I heard a great homily on EWTN once where an African bishop said to always tell the truth, because if you always tell the Truth, Jesus will protect you, and he talked about some fugitives who were fleeing soldiers. He claimed it was a true story. They hid under a bushel of hay. The soldiers asked the farmer where they were. The farmer said “under the hay.” The soldiers beat the farmer and said, “How dare you lie to us, Old Man!” Then they left. The fugitives got out and said, “Why did you tell them the truth?”
“I knew they wouldn’t believe me. . . . ‘The Truth will set you free!'”

That’s heroic virtue. I realize why some may not have the faith to be so blatantly honest, but I think that plan works. In any case, silence or obfuscation is always better than a lie. However, I don’t think a person who lies in that situation is necessarily sinning, either. The person *is* putting himself at risk of less protection of God by not doing the most virtuous thing.

“What about when X hid from Y by disguising himself as a Z?”
Well, it depends upon what he did. Often, in fiction, when people disguise themselves (as Henry V in Shakespeare’s play disguises himself as a common soldier in a hood), they never explicitly lie. Henry identifies himself as a fellow soldier (which is true), and he talks to the soldiers as one of them. He refers to the king in the third person, but he never says he *isn’t* the King.

In theory, there could be an example of a falsehood that is told with good intent, with the intent of the recipient’s betterment, which bears no chance of causing long term pain. Sometimes, parents tell children falsehoods to protect them from greater traumas or to get them to do something good. If the consequences are not bad, and the intention is not to deceive or lie, then is that even a lie?

Then there’s Obi Wan Kenobi’s “in a manner of speaking.” On the day Darth Vader comes to exist, Anakin Skywalker ceases to exist. Therefore, Darth Vader “betrays and murders” Anakin Skywalker. Again, if the gift is given in the name of St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas gives the gift, just as if a charity check is written by a millionaire in my name, it comes “from me.” Or what about when the Church says, “Fr. X has been sent away on a sabbatical for health reasons” and the “health reasons” are that he’s been shipped off for some transgression? Technically, his “health” is involved, though it may be his spiritual or psychological health.

So, a lie is always to be condemned, but I don’t know if every falsehood is necessarily a lie: the intention to deceive must be there for it to constitute a lie, and if the intention is to bring out a bigger truth or to bring a good, then is it really a lie? That is not the same as consequentialism any more than self defense, since I’m emphasizing that the falsehood must be one that will not cause negative consequences, either. It should ideally involve representing the truth “in a manner of speaking” or leaving out some key fact or speaking the truth with the expectation that the other person will *think* you’re lying. In some ways, it can be more manipulative than a real lie, but it’s technically a truthful statement in some way, while also false, or the falsehood is extremely minor.

That ought to pave the way for the ontological question about assumed identities.