Doing evil that “good” may come of it
By Alan Fimister | 12 July 2023
It is not, in fact, difficult to demonstrate the immorality of abortion. If there is any doubt about the humanity of the “fetus” then taking the life of the “fetus” is morally indistinguishable from murder, just as firing into a bush indifferent to whether it is the gamekeeper or a deer which made it rustle would be. This is why the most extreme proponents of abortion demand a right to infanticide. They realise that the logic of their position demands it. Often when one asserts the absolute and exceptionless immorality of procured abortion, one is immediately confronted by one’s interlocutor with the case of the “life of the mother”. This calls for a distinction between double effect and the doing of evil that good may come of it. The most famous illustration is that afforded by the cases of the runaway train and the unconscious hiker.
In the case of the runaway train, a well-meaning member of the public breaks into a signal box to discover the signalman has died of a heart attack and a high-speed train has already passed the signals. It is too late to halt the train but he can still switch the points. If the train carries on its present track, it will plough into five workers on the line ahead who have their backs turned and ear mufflers on. If he switches the points, it will hit just one worker. He switches the points in order to save the five workers, foreseeing but not intending the death of the one worker on the other line. Switching the points is not evil in itself. The death of the one worker does not itself save the lives of the five. The death of the five is clearly a worse outcome. This is a genuine case of “double effect”.
The contrasting case is the unconscious hiker. A desperate physician is trying to save five patients each in need of a different organ transplant. As luck would have it, an otherwise quite healthy hiker who has been knocked unconscious is brought into the infirmary. If the physician kills the hiker and harvests his organs, he can save the lives of the five other men (bracketing for a moment the moral minefield of “post mortem” organ transplantation). The desperate physician would in this case directly intend the death of the hiker; it is the death of the hiker which provides the organs; the act itself is intrinsically immoral. This would be a clear case of doing evil so that good may come of it.
Any reasonable person can see the difference between these two cases and knows that the first would be moral and the second immoral. Which intervention to save the life of a mother would correspond to the first case and which to the second is a subtle question but the principle is clear.
In my experience, this explanation both convinces and angers the defender of procured abortion. This is because there is a deeper question at play. Nobody really thinks that abortion is morally permissible. They simply think it is highly convenient and, for the sake of that convenience, they have accepted the principle that one may do evil so that good may come of it. They are not ready, however, to come out openly and confess that this is what they have done. Indeed, many people support abortion not because they have themselves committed this sin or anticipate doing so but because they have, at one or more crucial moment in their lives, performed an intrinsically immoral act and justified it to themselves based on its consequences. It is not that they do not perceive that this wicked principle is implied by support for abortion; this is precisely why they support abortion in the first place.
The pro-abortionist will not state this, he does not usually explicitly admit the point to himself, but at some point he culpably took this wrong turning and now it dominates his moral reasoning. The arguments he propounds to justify his support for abortion are window dressing for his deeper motivations. As St John Henry Newman most profoundly observed:
“[I]n spite of the inaccuracy in expression, or (if we will) in thought, which prevails in the world, men on the whole do not reason incorrectly. If their reason itself were in fault, they would reason each in his own way: whereas they form into schools, and that not merely from imitation and sympathy, but certainly from internal compulsion, from the constraining influence of their several principles. They may argue badly, but they reason well; that is, their professed grounds are no sufficient measures of their real ones.”
It is no coincidence that abortion was first legalised in the Soviet Union. Marxism is a professedly amoral creed which is entirely focused on doing evil that “good” may come of it. As Leon Trotsky observed with “refreshing” honesty, “We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.” Nor is it any coincidence that, when abortion was legalised in Britain, Mao was reaching the climax of his career as the greatest mass-murderer in human history. Beneath the supposed enmity between fascists, liberals and communists there is a much more profound commonality. The essential ideology of the twentieth century is a creed which all three of them share and of which they are but denominations or sects: “that we may, indeed must, do evil that good may come of it”. The “good” that the Marxist pursues is the triumph of a class, the fascist is that of a race and the liberal that of the hedonistic indulgence of the individual but the distinguishing error is the same in each case and the devotees of each sect have each been willing to kill millions of innocents to achieve their goal.
Of course, the error itself is the consequence of deeper error still — materialism. In his heart of hearts, the modern believes that only matter exists. As a result, the good itself must be material for there is nothing else for it to be. Consequently, the more of it I have, the less of it another may have. The pursuit of happiness is a competitive sport in which there are no prizes for fair play. That we should, if necessary or even just convenient, use our neighbour for our own benefit, and his detriment hardly needs stating. As Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange puts it:
“[T]he same spiritual treasure can belong in its entirety to all men, and at the same time to each, without any disturbance of peace between them. Indeed, the more there are to enjoy them in common, the more completely do we possess them. The same truth, the same virtue, the same God, can belong to us all in like manner, and yet none of us embarrasses his fellow-possessors. Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desire of each. Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we truly love God when we desire to make him loved by all. Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours. But give God to others, and you possess him more fully for yourself. We may go even further and say that if we desired only one soul to be deprived of Him, if we excluded only one soul — even the soul of one who persecutes and calumniates us — from our own love, then God Himself would be lost to us.
“This truth, so simple and yet so sublime, gives rise to an illuminating principle: it is that whereas material goods, the more they are sought for their own sake, tend to cause disunion among men, spiritual goods tend to unite men more closely in proportion as they are more greatly loved. This principle helps us to appreciate how necessary is the interior life; and, incidentally, it virtually contains the solution of the social question and of the economic crisis which afflicts the world today. The Gospel puts it very simply: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ If the world today is on its deathbed it is because it has lost sight of a fundamental truth which for every Christian is elementary.
“The profoundest truths of all, and the most vital, are in fact those elementary verities which, through long mediation and deep thought, have become the norm of our lives; those truths, in other words, which are the object of our habitual contemplation.
“God is now showing men what a great mistake they make when they try to do without Him, when they regard earthly enjoyment as their highest good, and thus reverse the whole scale of values, or, as the ancient philosophers put it, the subordination of ends… The present state of the world is called a crisis. But in fact, it is more than a crisis; it is a condition of affairs which, if men only had eyes to see, ought to be revealing; it ought to show men that they have sought their last end where it is not to be found, in earthly enjoyment — instead of in God. They are seeking happiness in an abundance of material possessions which are incapable of giving it; possession which sow discord among those that seek them, and a greater discord according as they are sought with greater avidity.”
It looked at the time as if the fall of Communism meant the end of the errors of Russia. Unfortunately, it did not. The removal from the scene of the most crude realisation of amoral materialism freed this iniquitous spirit to inhabit to the fullest the swinish herd who have never heard of another way or tasted a different hope than this. We were naïve enough to think the Soviets and their admirers the lowest sort of men. These their children are a purer breed… and this world is theirs.