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Brief Summary of the Position of The National Catholic Bioethics Center of the Sale of Land by Thomas S. Monaghan to Barron Collier Co. Who Might Sell It to Jackson Laboratory June 9, 2010 On behalf of Thomas S. Monaghan, the Ave Maria Foundation presented a moral question to The National Catholic Bioethics Center in July 2009. The issue was very narrowly framed and was related to land which Mr. Monaghan controlled 50% interest. The question dealt with whether Mr. Monaghan, who is a 50% partner in a land development company would be involved in immoral cooperation with evil if he sold his interest in a parcel of land to his land development partner. The partner might in turn sell (or give) it to a buyer who might in the future perform immoral research activities. Against this background, is it permissible for Mr. Monaghan to sell his 50% interest in this land back to his partner? It is the opinion of The National Catholic Bioethics Center that there would be no moral obstacle to Mr. Monaghan selling his 50% interest in this land back to his partner. Accusations have been made that Jackson Laboratory performs human embryonic stem cell research. If this were true, and one had moral certainty that the land sold was going to be used to build a facility at which such research would take place, then an argument might be made that there could be immoral cooperation with an evildoer because there would be a facilitating of gravely evil actions through providing the land for the building of a facility in which immoral activities would take place. However, we could not find any indication that human embryonic stem cell research was taking place at Jackson Laboratory, nor any strong or certain indications that such research might take place at the Florida site in the future under their auspices. Therefore, since human embryonic stem cell research is not being done by Jackson Laboratory, there is no immoral cooperation with evil taking place through the sale of Monaghan’s interest in the land to his partner, who in turn may sell it to Jackson Laboratory. The point has been made that Jackson Laboratory had said it will not rule out ever doing human embryonic stem cell research. However, here one lacks moral certainty regarding the commission of an evil act at all, and it is impossible to cooperate with an evil that is not taking place and which may never take place. If an evil does take place at all, it would be after the transfer of ownership by Mr. Monoghan. As such, Mr. Monoghan cannot cooperate in theoretical or hypothetical future evil acts about which he has no moral certitude that they will ever occur. It has been pointed out that there are board members of Jackson Laboratory who are involved in human embryonic stem cell research or who advocate it. That may be true, but it does not mean that Jackson Laboratory performs such research. The issue presented to The National Catholic Bioethics Center was not whether Jackson Laboratory opposed human embryonic stem cell research but whether it performed it and whether the land could licitly be sold. On the basis of our research we could not find that Jackson Laboratory performed human embryonic stem cell research. What often occurred was that individuals read of embryonic stem cell research taking place at Jackson Laboratory but the research involved mice embryos not human ones. We also found that Jackson Laboratory hosted NIH conferences in which techniques involved with human Defending the dignity of the human person in health care and the life sciences since 1972
embryonic stem cell research were demonstrated. But these were NIH conferences. It was learned by some that Jackson Laboratory had been involved in eugenics programs in the 1930’s. That is true but it is no longer the case. In fact, the United States government was also involved in eugenics programs at that time. The Catholic Church has developed a moral principle to provide guidance in situations such as these. It acknowledges that we live in a fallen, sinful world. It is known as the Principle of Cooperation in Evil and it applies to cases where someone (referred to as the cooperator) cooperates in the evil act of another person (referred to as the principal actor). Indeed, as Scripture tells us, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, Catholics are obliged to do everything in their power to avoid sin. They are also obliged to do good deeds in the world. Sometimes as they work to achieve some good work, they must cooperate with others who are doing evil. The question then is: May a Catholic cooperate with an evil-doer in achieving some good deed? The answer from the Church is Yes, if certain safeguards are observed. If a person agrees with the evil that the principal actor is involved in and cooperates with him in the evil, it is called Formal Cooperation in Evil. It is quite clear that a Catholic may never be involved in Formal Cooperation in Evil because this means that he or she wants the evil to happen and is going to help it occur. If a person disagrees with the evil someone else is doing, but is willing to cooperate with the other person in order to achieve some great good that they both believe in, then this is called Material Cooperation in Evil. Because the Church considers the avoidance of evil to be so critical, even some kinds of Material Cooperation are not allowed. If the cooperator disagrees with the evil taking place and does not want it to take place, but believes that cooperation is still necessary to achieve a great good, he still may not cooperate if his or her cooperation contributes to some essential aspect of the evil. Such cooperation is called Immediate Material Cooperation and is not permitted by the Church. However, if the cooperation does not contribute anything essential to the evil taking place it is called Mediate Material Cooperation and might be permitted if the good to be achieved is important enough. In this case, the cooperator foresees but does not intend the evil act performed by the principal actor. The only alternative to making use occasionally of the Principle of Material Cooperation is to withdraw altogether from the world, as some sects attempt to do. But that has never been the Catholic approach. Besides, even those within the sects commit sin and the use of the Principle would still be necessary. That is a lot of background to the opinion that The National Catholic Bioethics Center gave to the Ave Maria Foundation on behalf of Mr. Monaghan about the morality of the proposal that Mr. Monaghan sell his interest in a parcel of land to a business partner who might sell or give it to Jackson Laboratory, a bio-research institute. It is the Principle of Material Cooperation in Evil that The National Catholic Bioethics Center attempted to apply faithfully to the question of the transfer of Mr. Monaghan’s land. That Mr. Monaghan would have sought outside counsel on the matter would also seem to indicate a sincere desire to avoid cooperating with evil.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center is a research and consultative institute. It offers ethical analyses in fidelity to the Catholic moral tradition, to the best of its ability, to those who are in decision-making positions and who request those analyses. The Center does not “approve” real estate deals, hospital protocols, collaborative arrangements between Catholic and non-Catholic institutions. The Center gives its opinion on whether or not a given proposal would violate the moral law as understood by the Catholic tradition.
NCBC – Thomas S. Monaghan and Barron Collier, page 2 of 2
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