Program #0179 for Tuesday, November 15, 2011: Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ

November 15, 2011

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WQOM has provided us with ten tickets to the WQOM Conference on Saturday, December 10th, 2011. Scot announced that all interested in winning a pair of tickets should send an email to before midnight on November 14th. We will give away a pair of tickets every day this week, so tune in for your chance to win!

Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, president of the Magis Institute and Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership

Today’s topics: Ten principles of logic and reason to address life issues

Summary of today’s show: Want to win an argument against legalized abortion or assisted suicide with someone who doesn’t buy your religious morality? Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, discusses his Ten Universal Principles with Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor and shows how the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade violated basic logic, ethics, and commonsense in its decisions. If you weren’t convinced before, you will be after this very quick, one-hour discussion.

1st segment: Scot said we ask how we deal life issues today are there reasonable principles that guide our actions? How should our society address them? That’s our topic today as we welcome Fr. Robert Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University and author of the book “Ten Universal Principles”. Scot said as a pro-lifer he learned a lot from this book to help him articulate why Roe v. Wade was terrible on even just the logical and ethical level.

Scot said today’s show might change the opinion of someone who says they are personally opposed to abortion, but publicly pro-choice. As we prepare for the battle against assisted suicide in Massachusetts, we will address how to approach that topic with these universal principles.

2nd segment: Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., is a philosopher, educator, author and former President of Gonzaga University. He is founder and President of the Magis Institute, an organization dedicated to public education on the relationship among the disciplines of physics, philosophy, reason, and faith. He is the head of the Ethics and Performance Institute, which delivers web-based ethics education to corporations and individuals. He also is President of the Spitzer Center of Ethical Leadership, which delivers similar curricula to non-profit organizations. Father Spitzer’s other books include Healing the Culture and Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life.

Scot welcomed Fr. Spitzer to the program. He asked Father why he wanted to write this book. Fr. Spitzer said there was a real need to get a comprehensive philosophy of the pro-life movement. They built it around ten principles so that when people accepted the principles they couldn’t have it both ways. They either accepted the principles and accepted the pro-life idea or they rejected the principles and accepted all kinds of awful things. It makes a case against abortion based on ethics and logic, not just religious morality.

The principles are in three categories. Three principles of reason, three principles of ethics, and three principles of justice and natural rights and a fundamental principle of identity and culture. Scot said he learned form the book that we don’t get all of our rights from the Constitution.

Fr. Spitzer said the whole idea of a natural right come from Francisco Suarez, SJ, in the 17th century, who showed that if justice is to be fulfilled, then everybody is owed a right to life, to freedom or liberty, and a right to property. The notion of the inalienable right is that they come to us from our Creator and the only criterion to fulfill to have these rights is to be a human being. No government gives these rights and so no government can take them away.

John Locke discovered Suarez’s works and incorporated that into his work. Thomas Jefferson incorporated Locke’s work into the Declaration of Independence, which says we hold these truths to be self-evident, that every person is endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The Constitutional rights are declared rights, but the right to life is undeclared and we have it by our very nature. This is the foundation for our government, but also for the United Nations’ Declaration of the Universal Rights of All Human Beings.

The minute the courts declared that the right to life of unborn human beings to be taken away, they undermined their own duty to uphold those inalienable rights.

Because Jefferson recognized that the rights were inalienable, the founding fathers didn’t include this in the Constitution. Fr. Spitzer said the Federalists were scared to include any rights in the Constitution because they were worried it would give the government the ability to take them away, even thought they were not from the government. All laws and even justice depends on these three inalienable rights to be protected. The rights form the foundation of justice. Justice is the foundation of the law. The law is the foundation of government. The right to pursuit of happiness or right to property depends on rights to life and liberty. Right to liberty depends on right to life.

Fr. Spitzer said the necessity criterion is an objective criterion. Any right which is necessary for the foundation of another right. If the right to life is necessary for the very possibility for the right to liberty, then the right to life must be fundamental and ranked higher than the right to liberty. If you’re dead, then the right to liberty is irrelevant. To say the woman’s right to liberty is more important than the child’s right to life is to ignore that right to life is a necessity for the right to liberty. The clarity criterion would say that the woman is more clearly a person than the unborn child, but it’s not a necessity criterion. Clarity is not objective. What is clear to one person can be unclear to another, so it’s subjective. The Dred Scott decision held that black people’s liberty rights were subordinate to white people’s property rights, but this was a clear violation of the necessity criterion.

Fr. Chris asked how you would teach these to friends. Fr. Spitzer said we should start with the principles of reasons and then the ethical rule that one should avoid unnecessary harm. Killing people who don’t need to be killed is really an unnecessary harm and if you’re in doubt at all as to the identity of the person, then you should not kill. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that you can do harm when in doubt. By the Court’s own admission, they were in doubt.

Fr. Spitzer is working on a four-year curriculum for high school students on these same principles. They are available at This would be a good choice for homeschoolers and schools alike. They apply the principles to two major issues, slavery and abortion.

Scot said he appreciated that Father took the words from the Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade decisions and showed how wrong the logic and the application of ethics and the Constitution were. He highlighted some of the flawed reasoning in Dred Scott:

The question is simply this: can a negro whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen, one of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution?

Fr. Spitzer said nothing was learned in Roe v. Wade from the flawed reasoning in Dred Scott. The Constitution can only declare extrinsic rights. Inalienable rights belong to people by their nature. But the Supreme Court simply forgot about inalienable rights. There’ also a very elemental logical error in both decisions: negating the antecedent: If there’s rain outside, then I know there’s water vapor out there. Water vapor is a cause of rain. If it’s not raining, does it mean there’s no water vapor outside? No, it could be humid. The only answer can be “I don’t know.”

If we know for sure the Constitution declares people have rights, then we know they have rights. But if the Constitution says nothing about the rights of black people, does it mean they don’t have rights? The only answer is “don’t know” when examining only the Constitution.

Roe v. Wade did this again.

3rd segment: Scot noted that the Supreme Court corrected Dred Scott, but in the early 1970s, they didn’t learn from their mistakes with Roe v. Wade.

If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument. [Footnote 51] On the other hand, the appellee conceded on reargument [Footnote 52] that no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. … All this, together with our observation, supra, that, throughout the major portion of the 19th century, prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. … Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

Scot said the logic here is very flawed. Fr. Spitzer said you can see right away the same negating the antecedent. They were looking in the 14th amendment if the unborn were included among persons, which of course they weren’t. You can’t characterize silence as agreement. Scot pointed out the Constitution doesn’t mention every possible description of categories of persons who might have rights. Just because it doesn’t mention immigrants, for example, it doesn’t mean it’s open season on them. Fr. Spitzer said it’s a common principle in the law that you can’t construe silence to mean agreement or disagreement.

Fr. Spitzer said the second real problem is that the Supreme Court decides in the absence of consensus, they’re going to allow them to kill people. They acknowledge that if the unborn is a person, the case for abortion collapses. Again, for example, if there was uncertainty to whether immigrants were persons. The Constitution doesn’t mention them. Some theologians say that while they’re human beings, they’re not persons. Same with some biologists. So at the end of the day, they say go out and kill immigrants. It is a huge violation of the principle of first doing no harm.

Fr. Spitzer going back in the 1600s, person was always defined in the law as a human being. There is no exception. The Supreme Court itself had precedent that give the fetus inheritance and other rights as a person under the law. The distinction between personhood and human being is specious. The zygote contains the entire human genome, is absolutely unique, and is a living organism. This living organism will into a grown adult. No one denies this human existence. Since when is there a distinction between human existence and personhood? Only when it comes to abortion.

Fr. Spitzer said the majority in the decision just plain got it wrong. The only thing they got right was that if the personhood could be established, then the 14th amendment applies to them. Scot said they then separate personhood into different trimesters, treating this human life differently using these arbitrary distinctions.

Fr. Spitzer said there is a principle that descended from the controversy over the enslavement and killing of Indians in the New World in the 16th century. People wanted to enslave or kill the Indians. A Dominican Spaniard, Las Casas, debated the principle in the Spanish courts against Sepulveda. The argument was that since they were “savages” and subhuman and not fully actualized, they could be enslaved or killed. Las Casas said it was ridiculous. He said they were catching up fast in culture and society and it was only a matter of time before they reached the same level of intellectual and societal potential. Their level of potential is an accident of history. One should look only at the full human potential.

The degree of development that the fetus has reached is being counted as determinative of their humanity. Are they less human because they haven’t gotten to the third trimester. Of course not. They had the full human genome and full human potential as a zygote. They are called subhuman for an historical accident, because of the level of development they reached at a particular point in time.

Las Casas asked what’s the consequence of this fallacy? It’s a violation of the principle of nonmaleficance on a grand scale. It will do an immense amount of unnecessary harm.

Fr. Chris said this is important as we begin a fight in the Commonwealth against the legalization of assisted suicide. Even though the unborn cannot speak for themselves, this is not a natural condition of their right to life. Roe v. Wade imposes an undue burden on one group in order to give a new freedom to another group.

Fr. Spitzer said people say about assisted suicide is that it’s no one’s business but the person who wants to die. But the courts have to see if there are effects of assisted suicide on other groups besides those who want to end their own life. What about the person in the hospital whose relatives pressure the person to commit suicide so as not to burden them? That pressure to die doesn’t exist until euthanasia is legalized.

Fr. Spitzer has identified six categories of people who would be affected by legalized assisted suicide and they are included in his book.

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