Look, I know nobody reads this blog, and so there is little point in pointing to a blog that a great number of people already read, but Godsbody reader Charles (but didn’t you just say that nobody read your blog? Shut up!) pointed out this essay from Megan McArdle over at The Atlantic. McArdle, who is pro-choice, bravely states the radioactive argument:

“We accept that when the law is powerless, people are entitled to kill in order to prevent other murders–had Tiller whipped out a gun at an elementary school, we would now be applauding his murderer’s actions. In this case, the law was powerless because the law supported late-term abortions. Moreover, that law had been ruled outside the normal political process by the Supreme Court. If you think that someone is committing hundreds of gruesome murders a year, and that the law cannot touch him, what is the moral action? To shrug? Is that what you think of ordinary Germans who ignored Nazi crimes? Is it really much of an excuse to say that, well, most of your neighbors didn’t seem to mind, so you concluded it must be all right? We are not morally required to obey an unjust law. In fact, when the death of innocents is involved, we are required to defy it.”

Do read the whole thing.


  1. Anonymous says

    The comments are very interesting too. I wanted to comment, but it would get lost over there. A couple of weeks ago, a couple was brutally murdered in their home-stabbed to death. She was 4 months pregnant. It has been called a “TRIPLE” homicide. And, they will prosecute the killer for 3 MURDERS. It seems to me the uncomfortable reality is, that we are talking, not about viable and non-viable, we are talking about wanted and not-wanted. This baby, in this case, there has been no question whatsoever about whether it’s “VIABLE”at 4 months. For whatever reason, in this case it’s clear as daylight to people-TRIPLE homicide. Such a tragedy….this, to me, puts the debate where the debate should be. Don’t try to tell me you don’t think it’s murder, you just think it’s “JUSTIFIABLE” murder. Hence, how are you different than the whacko who shoots the doctor? (I don’t condone it-because Pro-Life means PRO-ALL-LIFE even, unfortunately, killers.) (side note-funny we have more sympathy for them than for the babies, no?)

  2. Johnny Vino says

    What's an outrage in an ethics roundtable is usually different in real life. Conversely, what can be justified in an ethics round table is often horrific when perpetrated by one living person on another. The same folks blaming Christianists for Tiller's murder may in fact have argued in front of judges that Tiller's own despicable actions were moral goods that deserved legal and ethical cover.

    I was thinking about all the angst over waterboarding lately and it occured to me that the ticking timebomb scenario is too calculated to illustrate the personal decision involved.
    There are just too many clinical and sentimentalist variables that the debate loses it's relevance. I think a more clear cut scenario for using "EIT" would be if you had access to a kidnapper who knew the whereabouts of your missing child. Knowing it's wrong, and knowing I would be surrendering grace, I still think the official CIA guide to waterbording would be among the tools I'd reach for. I'm pretty sure that would be the mildest. No appeal to principles of proportionality, or double effect, or any other teleologic bs. Sin is sin. But to save my daughter? Yep.

  3. Anonymous says


    Because “no one” reads your blog, I suppose I can safely ask the question here and not add fuel to the bonfires of the pro-choice crowd:

    Basically, is Megan on to something here? My gut reaction to Dr. Tiller’s murder was “that’s wrong.” But as we all know, our gut instincts aren’t always the best moral guides, and my intellect began asking, “Why is it wrong?” Defending life against an unjust aggressor is morally acceptable, right? If someone were murdering infants, our first reaction would be to stop it — not necessarily to kill the aggressor, but at least stop it. Call 911 and get the police. But abortion is legal, and we have no recourse to such things. As Megan states, no wonder people resort to violence when politics completely fails them.

    I’m sincerely asking this question because I’m actually *trying* to craft the moral argument against murdering abortionists — I don’t think it’s right at all, but I have a hard time following the reasoning when it’s murder we’re talking about. Somebody please help!

  4. Anonymous says

    I think it goes back to the “all life is life and therefore sacred” argument. At least this is the argument that the church makes. The ends does not justify the means- listen, that’s the argument a person having an abortion uses….that’s why you have to be so very careful. It just isn’t right to perpetrate evil even if you think it achieves a “greater” good-women’s right to choose. In this case, LIFE trumps all. Argument over.
    A pro-choice person is simply saying that the greater good is the women’s right to choose….but that’s the very problem. Once the other life is conceived, her rights are trumped by the existence of that new life. Too bad. That’s just the reality. As sentimentally attached as I may be to what Johnny Vino says (I have a daughter too) evil begets evil…..I have a harder time making this argument regarding torture however. It seems reprehensible on the face of it. But, if you don’t kill someone…this one is tougher for me if used as an interrogation method….and to save my daughter?
    But isn’t that the rub? Just because I might very well do it to save my daughter, does not make it right. And the fact that it works…less so. We have to remember that when it comes to abortion, people are more or less arguing that it’s ‘INCONVENIENT’ at this time that I happened to conceive a child. Your (by this I am using-you know the “royal” your, not referring to anyone) good, “idea of good”, convenience, whatever you might call it, does not mean it’s okay to murder. And you know what? Not many people don’t think it’s not murder anymore. Science has pretty much shown otherwise. It’s hard these days to be in the dark about this fact. Do I think Tiller must have lived with some kind of intense form of “Doctor as Savior and Protector” type of denial? Absolutely. But again, he is just living in the “ends justify the means” world. Which really is moral relativism. We cannot stoop to the same level as he, in order to achieve anything, no matter how good we think it is in the short run. Because you know what, we kill ourselves and our own argument in the process-which has happened….this is the worse evil that comes out of such a killing-regardless of the “immediate” good of saving babies lives-we destroy the moral foundation upon which we argue that those lives are sacred. mcm

  5. Anonymous says

    Thank you, mcm.

    But as I understand it, the Church allows for the legitimate use of force to stop an aggressor, including deadly force if necessary. This isn’t an “end justifies the means” argument (correct me if I’m wrong), but a “double effect” argument.

    Maybe the crux of the argument is that deadly force was not necessary to stop Dr. Tiller? But that goes back to the fact that there is no legal recourse in the case of abortion (at least, not in any immediate sense). It seems like the difference between killing a killer (legitimately) and committing the evil of murder is complicated in this instance, unless we try to explain it away with how proximate the act is to the unjust acts before it…? That’s about all I can come up with.

    Because honestly, if the Church is saying I can’t even kill someone going through a NICU and hacking up infants, then I don’t believe anything it teaches. Full stop.

  6. Anon.

    Perhaps the larger question here is why this sort of abstract justification for Tiller’s killer’s actions doesn’t quite sit well in the American psyche. The ambiguity toward John Brown, as McArdle touched on, is a case in point. Neither Judas Maccabeus nor Judas Iscariot, he resides in some sort of no-man’s land in our imagination…

    On the question of law and the hazards we run at disregarding it, I also think a couple salient passages from “Man for All Seasons” are appropos:

    Margaret More: Father, that man’s bad.
    Sir Thomas More: There’s no law against that.
    William Roper: There is: God’s law.
    Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.


    William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
    Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

    There’s a reason he’s patron saint of lawyers….

    I hope and pray that the same grace which helped St. Thomas through to the other side was available to Dr. Tiller this past Sunday morning.


  7. Anonymous says

    I am not sure, Anon, why, because the church says-Thou Shall Not Kill, and means that to apply to both the good and the bad, you would then dismiss everything the church has to say? Really its a deeper point, I think this is what Job is saying too although I am not exactly sure-because it seems to me Job’s argument could really apply both ways-depending on whether you think God would allow the killing of even a mass murderer. ALL life is sacred. I was trying to get at this-it means that we cannot hold Tiller responsible for evil just because he chooses to kill babies, if we think it’s okay, then, to kill him. We don’t get to CHOOSE who is worth living and isn’t. If we say we do get to choose in any capacity, than we become Dr. Tiller and we have no right to kill him, we become like Hitler. Of COURSE I absolutely wish that in this country someone like Tiller was NOT protected by the law. Then he could be punished-not KILLED however, but punished. I guess my point is, we don’t get to choose who lives and who dies. I am deeply sorry that the laws in this country allow for the killing of babies-but this does not weaken the church’s arguments pro-life, rather, it says something about our country. The law is what is to be defeated and you can only do that if you profess a RESPECT for the sacredness of all life. Exactly what the church argues. mcm

  8. Anonymous says

    All life might be sacred, but the Church most certainly does not teach that all killing is murder and therefore evil. That’s the point I’m getting at. How do we make those distinctions if it becomes necessary to use force against unjust force? That’s the technical point I’m asking. I’m not arguing the larger issue of the sacredness of life, nor am I trying to *justify* the killing of Tiller — I think that it was murder and therefore wrong, but it’s more of an emotional feeling than something out of the intellect.

    And that’s precisely why I would stop believing the Church if it suddenly shifted gears and went to strict pacifism — turn the other cheek at all costs, no legitimate self-defense, war is never justified, etc. I couldn’t possibly believe it because it would go against reason. It would be a massive violation of justice. Justice is important, too — not just mercy. That’s the dilemma I think Megan McArdle is getting at, and it’s one that’s always bothered me about the abortion debate: if it’s truly murder innocent persons, then why wouldn’t it be justified to use force (perhaps non-lethal) to stay the hand of the abortion doctor?

    One could argue against it for obvious reasons of practicality, but the moral reasons are somewhat harder to define. Maybe it’s because the act of stopping an abortion doctor with force is more of a political act than intended to save a life? What if you stopped him in the act of an abortion procedure? How can this be wrong? Unless, of course, it’s always wrong to stop anyone in the act of murder… But that’s not Church teaching.

    You see the circle…

  9. Anonymous says

    Actually, I don’t know if I would argue that we could not try to stop an abortionist in the act of an abortion-not using deadly force however. In the case of Dr. Tiller, he was shot, and killed, in his church. Again, your semantics are irrelevant to the church’s fundamental view on the sacredness of life. Furthermore, what’s right and what’s practical don’t always line up either-this is another huge reasoning error: to conclude that you would stop believing the church if it spoke out against practicality? Contraception is practical-the church is deeply and fundamentally opposed to it. That is not an argument either. Are you asking the broader question-is there ever justified killing? Here are the requirements as laid out in the CCC 2302-2317

    1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain. (it could be argued that this one is met)
    2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown impractical or ineffective. (this has not been met. Here it could be argued that we pro-lifers bear greater responsibility in trying to fight abortion peacefully)
    3. there must be serious prospects for success. This seems obviously not the case. Killing doctors while abortion remains legal, will only bring out other doctors willing to perform them.
    4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. (this is a big problem it seems to me as I argued above-you cannot kill to stop killing in this case especially because you are relying on the principle that all human life is sacred-even unborn human life and in doing so you negate this very principle.
    Finally, the responsibility for determining whether these conditions have been met belongs to “the prudential judgement of those who have responsibility for the common good.” which implies that the church can only condone any kind of “war” as justifiable if decided upon by those who have rule of law.

    The church’s teaching on this is very clear I think. You can read it in more detail if you are interested.(or maybe you have-I am not assuming otherwise, just pointing out the stark contrast between the church’s viewpoint on “just war” and what happened to Dr. Tiller.) I only point this out, because I would hate to see you disagree with the church simply because it does not support what you consider to be “the practical” viewpoint. It doesn’t in many other moral questions…. I guess my overall point is, that the church remains completely consistent on the question of the sacredness of life above all. The just war argument seems to have limited application because it refers specifically and only to political powers. mcm

  10. Anonymous says

    One more very quick thought because then I have to go make dinner-I believe that this “war” is slowly being won by science actually. As science advances, it gets harder and harder to justify abortion under any circumstances-threat to a mother’s life/fetus not being a “baby” etc. It is just getting harder for people do deny that it’s murder and you can see various polls are trending toward people being more pro-life. So, hopefully we can actually win this battle peacefully.

  11. Anonymous says


    Let me reboot my question, because I think I was being misunderstood. My basic question has more to do with CCC 2263-2265 and the reasons why legitimate defense does not apply in this particular circumstance. I was trying to complete this sentence: "The murder of Dr. Tiller is not equivalent to, say, the killing of a homicidal maniac on a killing spree inside a NICU because…"

    As I was driving around LA tonight — which always brings murder to mind :p — I think I came up with a more satisfactory answer. It's similar to some of the points you raised in the just war argument above. It's not simply how proximate the act is — i.e., it's no more legitimate to kill him in his clinic performing an abortion than to kill him in church. But if a double effect is necessary to claim legitimate defense, I don't think that standard is met in the Tiller case. It would be one thing if he was not intentionally targeted and killed, but for example was accidentally killed by a father trying to stop the doctor from killing his unborn child. The death of the doctor might not be directly willed in that case. But in this case, it seems that the act of violence was more a form of political expression much like terrorism. The act was not to save lives — anyone can see how such a thing won't help save a single life! — but was rather meant to lash out, to kill, to terrorize… whatever the case may be. I don't know if the suspect was so deluded as to believe that this would somehow be a lifesaving act, but it clearly is not. It's a murder, and it's completely different from someone acting in defense of innocent lives.

    Or so I told myself tonight. I think it's important to be able to make this distinction clearly, because even Time magazine has an online article that implies this is the logical conclusion of calling abortion murder. I don't agree at all, but the pro-abortion side will say so unless we can demonstrate the difference.

  12. Anonymous says

    Right absolutely, now I understand what you are getting at. What complicated your question for me is that I think he actually believes that he is saving lives by killing Dr. Tiller. And I thought you were asking, is his belief that he is doing this, enough to justify what he did…..because I actually think he does in fact think that. I guess what I was trying to explain was the backwardness of HIS logic. That he can no more justify his actions than Dr. Tiller can. Yes, the important distinction is, willing the death of another, this would be wrong even to save innocent life.
    It's just that I actually think he is using the "casualty of war" argument in his own mind. I was trying to show how his action does not fall under those justifications…my understanding of your question was prejudiced by my assumptions of what was going through the killers mind. Which is precisely the problem right? In his case, he wills the death of Dr. Tiller, that's his first and immediate end, saving babies is the secondary end.
    That's why at first I did not see what you were asking, clearly-I never saw Tiller's death as anything but primarily willed….now I get what you are saying. Also the "casualty of war" argument is a more common defense of such actions…but your are right in your last comment. There would be no primarily willed act of killing with the intent to kill being first and foremost, justifiable by the church even if said act had the secondary end of saving babies… that what we are trying to say? (because clearly in this case, saving babies was not the primary end if we are speaking simply of the act of murdering Dr. Tiller done in a church, away from the hospital etc etc :-)) mcm

  13. Anonymous says


    Just to wrap up: I think we're on the same page now. Whew! Legitimate defense is morally licit, of course, but this case doesn't meet the criteria for legitimate defense for the reasons you and I discussed.

    I feel better. Sometimes I need to "think aloud" in a place like this where I trust my fellow Catholics to guide me the right way… Thank you!

  14. CrimsonCatholic says

    It's not simply how proximate the act is — i.e., it's no more legitimate to kill him in his clinic performing an abortion than to kill him in church. But if a double effect is necessary to claim legitimate defense, I don't think that standard is met in the Tiller case. It would be one thing if he was not intentionally targeted and killed, but for example was accidentally killed by a father trying to stop the doctor from killing his unborn child. The death of the doctor might not be directly willed in that case.

    I hate to upset what was probably a hard-fought effort to reach a satisfactory resolution to a difficult problem, but I don't think your explanation works. What separate the cases literally is the proximity, or more correctly, the immediacy of the circumstances.

    The bedrock principle is that it is unjust for anyone outside of the sovereign to take a life; that's where capital punishment, just war, etc., etc., comes in. The single double effect exception for individuals is when one is disabling an immediate aggressor from harming an innocent by disabling him from inflicting such harm. To be consistent with the double effect reasoning, you have to use the means most reasonably proportionate to that end. If you were actually in the operating room, then you could legitimately exercise the right to defend others against an aggressor, but given that we are talking about a surgeon who is highly unlikely to attempt to proceed against any threat of physical violence at all, you could probably disable him with far less powerful means that deadly force.

    So why isn't that routinely done? You also have the consider that you'd be getting yourself jailed for assault, battery, or other serious crimes, because the statutory law fails to recognize your right under the natural law to defend the innocent. And you also likely wouldn't even save the unborn child in the end. Weighing the cost, an act which is moral in principle might nonetheless be imprudent. Simply put, you can't save everybody; there's too much evil in the world for that, and you have to pick your spots where you can do the most good (which begins with your own family, then to people closest to you, and so on).

    But what Dr. Tiller's murderer did had no hint of immediate danger, so this reasoning is completely inapposite. The difference in kind results from the difference in immediacy. To say that it wasn't lifesaving is just wrong; the man who killed Tiller almost certainly saved some innocent lives. There might be tens or hundreds of people who won't have that surgery because Tiller is unavailable to perform it, but it is unjust for an individual to take upon himself the power to judge those remote risks and, in so doing, to judge Tiller himself (e.g., he might have repented and turned from his previous ways). And saving those other lives at the cost of unjustly taking even one life is unacceptable, just as it is in embryonic stem cell research.

    The ESCR case is the one that I point to when accused of hypocrisy on the pro-life side. I say that we would be unwilling to kill a single embryo even if there were no other way to save millions or billions of future lives, so it should come as no surprise that we are similarly unwilling to take even a murderer's life unjustly to prevent whatever deaths he might cause.

  15. CrimsonCatholic says

    Just came across a nice article by John Zmirak that does a thorough job of explaining what I tried to cram into a few paragraphs:

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