Rights, entitlements, and desserts – 2022 US midterm elections – news, legislation, and events
THE CATHOLIC COMMONS
Rights, entitlements, and desserts – 2022 US midterm elections – news, legislation, and events
June / July 2022
Last week the Church celebrated the feast of St. John the Baptist – one of the most familiar of Gospel personalities. St Luke explains that John was the miraculous child of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and reminds us with each bead of the Rosary of his mother’s exclamation: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”
John, himself being an as yet unborn child, acknowledges the already perfected humanity of his unborn cousin Jesus from his mother’s womb. Could there be any stronger affirmation of the urgency of protecting all human life once it has been conceived? Moreover, on St John’s feast day this year – which as a double blessing coincided with the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a much anticipated decision of the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision from the 70s, which has been interpreted as protecting a woman’s choice in favor of rights her unborn child may have to life.
There is food for thought in this decision. While we as Catholics steadfastly maintain that the right to life must be absolutely preserved from conception to natural death, it is also true that few societies are making adequate efforts to support families in distress. What should our governments, our societies, and we ourselves, as individuals, associations, and as a Church, be doing to help nurture both mother and child?
We will revisit this matter in a coming newsletter. In the meantime, as Quebec celebrated their fête Nationale on St Jean Baptiste Day, and as the rest of Canada celebrated Canada Day, let us pray to the patron saint of most French Canadians: St-Jean-Baptiste, priez pour nous / pray for us / ora pro nobis!
Of Common Interest
What is Canada prioritizing in COVID recovery measures?
In a June 16 address, deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland outlined Canada’s 5-point plan to combat inflation following the pandemic. The plan consists of (1) increased support for the Bank of Canada’ inflation-fighting role, (2) applying “supply-side economics” to address a labour shortage by fuelling growth through investments in immigration, skills, child care, and housing, (3) fiscal restraint (noting that the government spent more than $300 billion “to help Canadians make it through the pandemic”; (4) ensuring the availability of good middle class jobs (Minister Freeland stated that in coming out of the pandemic, “more Canadians have a better job than ever before,” though she did not define what she meant by that); and (5) helping Canadians directly with “the challenge of affordability” by increasing government benefits for workers, seniors, those needing homes, child care, dental care for most Canadians.
Points to Ponder
The stated purpose of the plan is to “make life more affordable for middle class families.” But is the plan true to that aim? A question, which first arose in the government’s election platform, is the extent to which the government has emphasized GDP over human well-being. Rather than focusing solely on bald growth of GDP, would our governments do better to show deeper concern for families by using some variety of “wellness factors,” as promoted by some political parties? For example, Minister Freeland explained that “On child care, the economic argument is clear; it is economic malpractice to force women to choose between their family and a career… Our economy greatly needs every mother who wants to go back to work as long as she has the comfort of knowing that her children are being well cared for and well taught.”
Which is a higher goal: to provide jobs that might allow a parent, whether mother or father, single or married, to stay with his or her family, or to allow a single working parent support his or her spouse and family with a dignified home; or to maximize national production in conditions which require both parents to work in order to afford a house while relegating the children to day care? How certain are we of the wisdom of relinquishing control over child care, in addition to education, health care, and the press, to the government? Historically, have governments faithfully respected parental wishes in providing education?
The plan also relies on growth in the work force by continuing to focus immigration on skilled, educated workers, without reference to the global plight of record numbers of displaced people. Which are more likely to be able to support themselves at home, skilled and educated workers, or those dispossessed of property and opportunities? It more important that Canada help those who have been forced to flee their homes, or to continue building a materially wealthy society?
Is it, perhaps, time to take a deeper look at our economic goals and the underlying purpose of our economy? Or at our own actions? What can we do, as individuals, organizations, and a Church?
Funding for expanded access to abortion announced by Canadian government
Reference: Legal Scan
The Canadian government announced allocation of $3.5 million in funding for two initiatives intended “to improve access to abortion services and reproductive health information in Canada,” including more than $2 million “to improve information and referral services” and “help cover travel and accommodation costs for people seeking abortions;” and $1.4 million “to help train health care providers to perform abortions and ensure facilities have the capacity to provide the service.” The funding is part of a spending commitment of $45 million announced in the recent federal budget. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos stated: the initiatives demonstrate the Canadian government’s “unequivocal commitment to ensure comprehensive and accessible reproductive health care for all in Canada.”
Points to Ponder
How much does the Canadian government spend each year on counselling or assistance for distressed women and families in finding alternatives for babies they don’t want, didn’t plan for, or can’t support? What options are available? What can or should Catholics offer, either as a church or as individuals and associations?
31-year-old woman, unable to secure an affordable apartment, nears final approval for Socially-Assisted Death
Reference: Legal Scan
A 31-year-old Toronto woman was reported to be near final approval for socially-assisted death, which she sought because she was “unable to secure an affordable apartment that doesn’t worsen her chronic illnesses.” The woman was reported to have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), which triggers “rashes, difficulty breathing, and blinding headaches called hemiplegic migraines that cause her temporary paralysis,” and to have explained that “I’ve applied for MAiD essentially…because of abject poverty.” She began working on MAiD applications in the summer of 2021 and found that applying for medically assisted death “has been surprisingly easier” than being relocated to an apartment that is wheelchair accessible and has cleaner air. One of the woman’s doctors is reported to have observed that “none of the doctors contacted her to learn about the efforts to help Denise find housing first…despite research showing that people with multiple chemical sensitivities often improve in chemically cleaner environments.”
A GoFundMe page, organized by David Fancy, professor of drama arts at Brock University and a disability rights advocate, in aimed toward raising funds to help the woman find better accommodations.” A senior policy analyst with the Income Security Advocacy Centre in Toronto, is reported to have said “With the right support, I have no doubt people with disabilities can live well in society. We all want people with disabilities to know that their lives have value.” David Lepofsky, disability advocate and Visiting Professor of Disability Rights at Osgoode Hall Law School, said, “We’ve now gone on to basically solving the deficiencies in our social safety net through this horrific backdoor.”
Others are helping. What can we do, as individuals, organizations, and a Church?
House of Commons
- C-18 – Online News Act – 1st reading Gov’t bill, to regulate online news and news providers
- C-230 – To Protect Conscience Rights – 1st reading Conservative Private member’s bill
- C-257 – Protect Against Discrimination Based on Political Belief – 1st reading Conservative Private member’s bill
- C-243 – Elimination of the use of forced labour and child labour in supply chains – 1st reading Liberal Private member’s bill
- C-255 – Financial assistance for Canadians with disabilities to improve access to post-secondary education – 1st reading, NDP Private member’s bill
- C-273 – Repeal a provision that authorizes the correction of a child by force- 1st reading NDP Private member’s bill
- S-210 – To Restrict Young Persons’ Online Access to Explicit Material – referred to committee Senate Public bill
- S-223 – New Offences Related to Trafficking in Human Organs – 2nd reading Senate Public Bill
- S-232 – Decriminalization of Illegal Substances 1st reading
- S-233 – Framework for a guaranteed livable basic income – Debate at 2nd reading
- S-243 – To enact climate commitments – 1st reading Liberal Private member’s bill
Of Common Concern
Rights, entitlements, and “desserts”: what do they mean?
A common theme in current social discourse is the rapidly-expanding list of postulated civic rights, focused on the expectations of individuals in their dealings with other members of society. Expectations concerning entitlements to life, death, speech, income, respect, and physical and emotional self-expression are constant topics in the news, social media, and mass entertainment, as well as political campaign materials. Although these expectations are most often referred to as “rights,” other commonly-used terms include “entitlements” and things we “deserve.” The terms frequently appear to be used interchangeably.
What does it mean when we say that individuals have “rights” to things, or are “entitled” to them, or “deserve” them? For example, what does it mean to say that one has a “right” to dignity or respect, or that he or she “deserves” it? Does that mean that we as a society have a duty to establish a social framework that frees individuals from unjust obstructions in their efforts to accomplish or acquire such things, or are we personally expected to provide demonstrable material, monetary, or emotional support to all those in the class of rights holders, in accordance with their individual concepts of dignity? Does it mean that others around us are subject to our own enforceable demands for approval and material support, at their expense and no matter what we ask? In other words, if I want something I am “entitled” to, can I be required to work for it, or must it be given to me on request, either by individuals or society?
Does the scope of a right depend on its nature? For example, if I am entitled to a sense of personal dignity, and decide that ownership of a large car is critical to that sense, does my right mean that I am free to find a job and work for the car, or must the government – or even my neighbor – provide one for me? If I decide that my sense of personal dignity requires me to change my gender, or modify my facial appearance or other aspects of body, is it fair for me to pay for those modifications myself, or should others be required to pay for them?
If, on the other hand, I have a right to clean, breathable air, and the air around me is polluted and unhealthy, do I have a reasonable expectation that the government, industry, or others will take steps to ensure that breathable air is available to me, or am I on my own to find breathable air?
At least one Catholic dictionary defines a “right” as a subjective moral power, residing in one or more persons, “to do, hold, or extract something,” which functions through appeal to the free and voluntary will of others as a product of their intellects. “Right” in this sense is to be distinguished from “might”, i.e. a physical force or power to take something away from another.
The Church also teaches that every legitimate human right and freedom is associated with one or more corresponding duties on the part of the rights holders and sometimes others as well. At a minimum, for example, with respect to each legitimate right there exists a corresponding Christian duty on the parts of both the rights holders and others to examine their consciences and discern what, if anything, each of them should do about it.
Catholic social teaching identifies the following human rights:
- the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother’s womb from the moment of conception;
- the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child’s personality;
- the right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth;
- the right to share in the work which makes wise use of the earth’s material resources, and to derive from that work the means to support oneself and one’s dependents; and
- the right freely to establish a family, to have and to rear children through the responsible exercise of one’s sexuality.
The source and synthesis of these rights is “the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person.”
The Church acknowledges that some rights are fundamental, and arise by virtue of our human nature, in that each unique human person is created in the image and likeness of God. These “inalienable” rights flowing from God can be recognized by positive law, such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but not are conferred by them, or subject to regulation by the state. This means they cannot be taken by the state, for they do not belong to the state. In the view of the Church, any law which fails to recognize such freedoms or purports to override them is unjust. Thus, for example, a series of historical court precedents exist which deprived legal personhood status from various groups, including black slaves in the USA, women in Canada, and currently the unborn. In the Church’s view, each of these decisions exceeds the power of the state.
Also at play currently is an increasingly popular model whereby the right of one purports to generate a duty requiring the active participation of another in the exercise of their right. For example, a person may be forced to attend a social event or ceremony, contrary to their conscience, on pain of losing their employment or other form of public condemnation. A doctor, for example, may be compelled to provide euthanasia.
Points to Ponder
Consider discussing the following questions with your local candidates, elected officials, and the parties, and with your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow parishioners. On prayerful reflection, consider sharing your conclusions with your elected representatives by writing respectful and informative letters. Or perhaps consider engaging on the issue more intensively, by participating in advocacy organized by civil society organizations or by joining and participating in a political party or other movement.
- Is the Catholic definition of “right” consistent with secular definitions? Consider, for example, whether consistent legal definitions are provided in accepted law dictionaries, judicial decisions, and documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- What, if anything, is the difference between a right, an entitlement, and something one deserves, particularly when used in political party platforms, campaign speeches, or civic debate?
- How does one decide that new rights or entitlements should be declared, and what the contours of those rights are? Are they binding on the governments that declare them? Do they impose obligations on other social institutions, such as the Church, schools, businesses, or individual families? On individuals not related to the holders of the newly-declared rights? Do I have a right to declare my own further rights and thereby impose burdens on others?
- Where there exist gaps between a right-holder’s needs and support that is legitimately available through ultimately coercive governmental programs, is it possible that other social institutions might step in? For example, is it possible that charities and other voluntary associations could step in to fill gaps? Might that allow individuals an opportunity for meaningful public service?
- Some observers, including Pope Francis, have questioned the motivations of those who promote what seem to be frivolous, radically-individualist rights as part of an aggressive process of “deconstructionism,” in which all traditional notions of right and wrong are not only challenged, but presumptively dismissed as primitive and archaic. The Holy Father suggests that such persons may be intentionally driving people apart in order to manipulate them:
A kind of “deconstructionism”, whereby human freedom claims to create everything starting from zero, is making headway in today’s culture[, leaving] in its wake the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism. [They who seek power] need the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful…
Is it possible that, deliberately or otherwise, large segments of our population – including not only our young people but everyone who can be described as “consumers” – are being manipulated for purposes other than those consistent with their authentic growth as human beings who in fact are entitled to and deserve a social framework that enables and encourages them to seek truth? If so, what can or should be done about it?
- What, if anything, is the relation between the exercise of civic rights and exercise of the Christian virtue of humility, or the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and the common good? In Veritatis splendor, Pope St. John Paul II observed that:
[Man’s] history of sin begins when he no longer acknowledges the Lord as his Creator and himself wishes to be the one who determines, with complete independence, what is good and what is evil. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5): this was the first temptation, and it is echoed in all the other temptations to which man is more easily inclined to yield as a result of the original Fall.
- As Pope Benedict XVI put it, “as history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” Should we be concerned by mounting claims that the duty of state neutrality requires certain viewpoints to be adopted and others suppressed?
- Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
- Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr John Hardon
- Pope Francis: Fratelli tutti (2020)
- Saint John Paul II: Veritatis splendor (1993)
New Catholic Conscience Video: The Way of Mercy – Catholics on the Journey of Reconciliation
Catholic Conscience Guide to the 2022 US Midterm Elections
Our first-cut voter’s guide for November’s US midterm elections has been posted at https://catholicconscience.org/usa/2022midterm/. We will update it as conditions allow, as the elections approach. We welcome suggestions for improvement.
Video: Identity in Catholic Social Teaching
Farther Kevin Belgrave and Dr. Josephine Lombardi of St Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto explore Catholic notions of the nature and importance of human identity. Hosted by Catholic Conscience’s Peter Copeland and Brendan Steven.
Pope Francis recently called all Catholics to prayer for a Christian response to contemporary bioethical challenges. Pope Francis writes:
“Let us pray that we may give a Christian response to bioethical challenges. It is evident that science has progressed, and today the field of bioethics presents us with a series of problems to which we must respond, not hiding our head like an ostrich. Applications of biotechnological must always be used based on respect for human dignity. For example, human embryos cannot be treated as disposable material, to be discarded. This throw-away culture is also applied to them; no, that can’t be done. Extending that culture this way does so much harm. Or allowing financial gain to condition biomedical research.
“We need to understand the profound changes that are taking place with an even more profound and subtle discernment. It’s not a matter of curbing technological advances. No, we must accompany them. It’s about protecting both human dignity and progress. That is to say, we cannot pay the price of human dignity for progress, no. Both go together, in harmony. We pray for Christians facing new bioethical challenges; may they continue to defend the dignity of all human life with prayer and action.”
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