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Monday, August 25, 2008

How the American Catholic Should Vote in 2008


By Orson Yonfa

This brief treatise will first identify the predominant life issues facing American legislators today and delineate the applicable ecclesiastic and canon law dealing with each. It will then examine in detail the legislative records of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, the current candidates for the presidency of the United States, weighing the approach, interpretation and stance adopted by each on life issues and weighing their conformity or juxtaposition to canon law. The ultimate purpose of this analysis on capital punishment, euthanasia, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research will be to determine which candidate, if any, is a viable option for Catholic voters. This delineation of life issues stances against that of the Church will allow for a clearer examination of each candidate from the Catholic perspective. While neither of the candidates being examined are members of the Catholic Church, it is imperative to scrutinize their alignment with Catholic doctrine for two reasons.[1] The office of the President of the United States offers a powerful platform from which to affect policy across the globe. In 1993, President Bill Clinton reversed the Mexico City Policy[2] which only permitted U.S. assistance to birth control programs overseas so long as the foreign organization did not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.”[3] This resulted in many third world countries being forced to accept abortion within their borders in order to receive desperately needed American aid, regardless of their cultural opposition to the procedure. Further, it is important to scrutinize the current, non-Catholic candidates’ alignment with Catholic teachings because of the significance of the Catholic electorate in the United States.

Catholics make up nearly a fourth of the population in the United States.[4] Christians as a whole make up nearly 75 percent of the United States. This attempt to present an objectified moralistic discussion of the religious principles to be found in Catholic canon law and the traditionalist teachings of the Church as applied to the American presidential candidates will hopefully elucidate misconceptions about the candidates.

Catholic canon law has served as the guiding principals for Catholics since their promulgation. They serve as the authoritative and guiding principals for the actions of the faithful. The laws are meant to foster a healthy spirituality and the wellbeing of followers of Christ. Canon law is itself comprised of several sources including Divine Law, natural law, the nature of things and the constitution given by Jesus Christ to His church as well as human or positive law.[5] The ultimate source of canon law, however, is God. With this in mind, the faithful must examine their actions and measure them against these rules in order to maintain the common welfare of the community. What is true for the faithful may be applied to those who govern the faithful as a measure of their solidarity with bedrock moral principles. The United States was founded on the right of people to worship freely that deity whom they venerate as divine. It is the duty of that state to fiercely protect this right to worship while at the same time removing itself from religion. However the inverse is not true, that religion should remove itself from the affairs of the state. A government of the people will inevitably have religion in its DNA so long as the people in government have religion within them.[6] Pope Leo XIII wrote that “we [can not] hope for happier results either for religion or for the civil government from the wishes of those who desire that the church be separated from the state, and the concord between the secular and ecclesiastical authority be dissolved. It is clear that these men, who years for a shameless liberty, live in dread of an agreement which has always been fraught with good, and advantageous alike to sacred and civil interests.”[7]

The community of Catholics is guided by Catholic Canon law, which requires the individual to act, or refrain from acting in conjunction with the laws. It is through this lens that this paper will examine the actions and non-actions of those seeking the office of the President of the United States of America and ultimately, which candidate, if any, should be the choice of American Catholics. "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being."[8]

Barack Obama, the leading nominee for the Democratic Party of the United States in the 2008 election, is the junior senator from Illinois, having served in that position for two years. Senator Obama’s prior experience also includes having served as an Illinois State Senator from 1997-2004.[9] John McCain, the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party of the United States in the 2008 election is the senior senator from Arizona, having served in the U.S. Senate for 21 years. Senator McCain also served as a member of the U.S. Congress from 1984-1987.[10] In defining the positions taken by the Senators on life issues, this paper will examine their voting records, support given to various relevant causes, excerpts from statements made, and pertinent actions taken.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Embryonic stem cells are derived from human embryos that develop from eggs which have undergone in vitro fertilization. These cells may repair the body by dividing and multiplying, with each new cell either remaining a stem cell, or become another type of cell such as a muscle cell, blood cell, or nerve cell.[11] The potential for new cures resulting from embryonic stem cell research could be extensive. However, the cost of this research is the destruction of fertilized eggs. The harvested stem cells cause the destruction of the embryo. The Catholic Church and other opponents view this is the destruction of a human life. Supporters point out that the embryos were going to be destroyed, and that research from their cells holds the potential to cure debilitating diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.[12] The rapid pace of advances in biomedical research has generated polarizing public discussion on the morality of embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Nearly every mainstream religious group that has officially taken a position on human cloning for reproductive purposes has condemned the practice as an aberrant affront to the natural order of life. The response of religious communities to stem cell research, however, has been mixed. The Catholic Church and many evangelical Protestant groups have called for a ban on all embryonic stem cell research, saying it is a direct assault on innocent human life. Most mainline Christian churches and Jewish groups, on the other hand, favor embryonic stem cell research, pointing to potential cures for medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The president of the Pontifical Council on the Family, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo stated that "destroying human embryos is equivalent to abortion." He claims that those directly involved in such deeds are liable to the canonical penalty established for abortion, namely, excommunication (1983 CIC 1398).[13]

Senator Barack Obama has openly and consistently supported federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. While serving as a legislator in Illinois, Senator Obama introduced a measure that would make sure that only those embryos that would otherwise be discarded could be used for research and that donors would have to provide written consent for the use of the embryos.[14] Said Sen. Obama, “I call on leaders in Illinois and President Bush in Washington to stop playing politics on this critical issue and expand the current policy on embryonic stem cell research so that we can begin finding the cures of tomorrow today."[15] What does not agree with Sen. Obama is often labeled as “playing politics” in a way that is evocative of a child’s tantrum. The Catholic Church and pro-life advocates might respectfully categorize “playing politics” as holding an opposing position. Sen. Obama supported the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 which relaxes federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. [16] The measure was vetoed by President Bush[17], which would have allowed for federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from embryos. While Sen. Obama believes that it would benefit the American public to explore the science that could be gained from embryonic stem cells, the Catholic Church has taken its stance against this practice and defined it as tantamount to abortion. Also in 2005, Sen. Obama co-sponsored a bill that would have allowed the cloning of human embryos for research purposes but would prohibit their survival. For his position on embryonic stem cell research, as opposed to adult stem cell research, Sen. Obama is in direct conflict with Catholic canon law.

Sen. John McCain opposes the creation of human embryos for research purposes. However, he has also come forward supporting embryonic stem cell research on those embryos already in existence. Said Sen. McCain, “I believe that we need to fund this. This is a tough issue for those of us in the pro-life community. I would remind you that these stem cells are either going to be discarded or perpetually frozen. We need to do what we can to relieve human suffering. It's a tough issue. I support federal funding.”[18] Sen. McCain voted in favor of three Senate bills that would, among other things, offer federal support for researchers using embryos that were slated for destruction by fertility clinics.[19] The measures would have limited the embryonic stem cells used to those embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for fertility treatment, were slated to be discarded and were donated by individuals who gave written informed consent to their use with no inducement of any kind. Despite Sen. McCain’s position against creating new embryonic stem cells, and his opposition to cloning new cells for research, pro-life organizations have assailed him for his support of research bill (H.R. 810). It is of little comfort to those who hold true to canon law to hear Sen. McCain express how “tough” the issue is while for them, it is not. Ultimately, Senator McCain’s even limited support of embryonic stem cell research is squarely against canon law and the Church’s position of protecting life, even at its earliest stages.

Capital Punishment

There are varying historical perspectives on what stance the Catholic Church has taken on capital punishment. The Old Testament of the Bible claims an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” approach to crime and punishment.[20] Vatican II's Church in the Modern World, along with the pope's recent social teachings and the statements of the U.S. bishops not only exemplify the methodology needed for using Scripture in the death-penalty debate but also provide essential content.[21] The Bible also professes that “Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death”.[22] The Catechism of the Catholic Church has stated that the execution of criminals can only be allowed in cases of extreme gravity. Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.[23] During a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. in January of 1999, Pope John Paul II said, “I renew the appeal for a consensus to end the death penalty.” Then Cardinal Ratzinger said in September of 1997, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church invokes principles which do not exclude absolutely capital punishment but give very severe criteria for its moral use. It seems to me it would be very difficult to meet the conditions today.”[24] Catechism 2302 of the Catholic Church states that “Anger is a desire for revenge. ‘To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,’ but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution ‘to correct vices and maintain justice.’”[25]

Sen. Obama has said that the death penalty “does little to deter crime.” However, he believes that it is justifiable to use capital punishment when the crime is, “so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.”[26] While we cannot fully know what constitutes a heinous crime in Sen. Obama’s mind, or what is “beyond the pale,” we can discern from the statement a desire to maintain the option of capital punishment. His statement mirrors closely those of now Pope Benedict XVI who made it clear that the threshold for using capital punishment is a high one which is difficult to meet. However Sen. Obama stated that the justification for executions was to vent, or express, the outrage of the community. Such vengeance does not fall in line with the concept of punishment for restitution, and to correct vices and maintain justice. The goal of revenge is not in keeping with the traditions of the Catholic Church. Such venting would be an unjustifiable use of capital punishment.

Sen. McCain has a more mixed record on the death penalty, but is clearly for its use and has even sought to expand its application to crimes not previously covered. Sen. McCain has voted to ban the use of the death penalty against minors. However, he has sought to impose capital punishment for convicted international drug traffickers.[27] In 1989, the senator voted to pass Bill (S. 1798) to provide for the imposition of the death penalty for the terrorist murder of United States nationals abroad.[28] Using the standard stated by then Cardinal Ratzinger in introducing the new edition of the Catechism, it may be a stretch to classify international drug trafficking as a type of crime that was not imaginable by then Cardinal Ratzinger. Should we follow the example set by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in their interpretation of the Catechism of the Catholic church, then we could clearly classify Sen. McCain’s support of capital punishment as not in line with Catholic teaching. The views of Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain on capital punishment do keep in line with Catholic voters, however. According to a 2004 survey of likely Catholic voters, 7 out of 10 supported the death penalty for convicted murderers.[29]


Abortion is the paramount life issue in American society. It is the most polarizing and divisive political and social matter today. An induced abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus by medical, surgical, or other means at any point during human pregnancy for therapeutic or elective reasons.[30] Prior to the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, abortions were illegal.[31] That landmark Supreme Court case ruled a Texas law unconstitutional for it’s prohibition on allowing a woman to have an abortion unless her life was in danger. The sole contraindicated exception meant that a woman wanting an abortion had to do so illegally. The court ruled that the Texas law was unconstitutionally vague and that it abridged her right to personal privacy. “Thus, the [Judiciary] Committee observes that no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.”[32] Many factors shape American attitudes about abortion. Moral norms may weigh in as much as biological reasoning. In 2005, there were 756,120 reported abortions in the United States. Actual estimated abortions push that number to 1,206,200. During the 2004 presidential election a CNN/USA today/Gallup poll showed that 30% of pro-life American voters would only vote for a pro-life candidate.[33] Only 11% of pro-choice voters would only back a pro-choice candidate. This resulted in 13% of the total population assured of voting for the pro-life candidate, irrespective of their views on other issues.

The most succinct statement on the death of a fetus comes directly for the word of God. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) The Catholic Church has long been opposed to abortions, believing it to be the taking of life, and therefore against the will of God. The church has come to regard abortion, along with euthanasia, as the two most unjustifiable evils. Catholic canon law states, “One who commits homicide or who fraudulently or forcibly kidnaps, detains, mutilates or seriously wounds a person is to be punished with the deprivations and prohibitions mentioned in can. 1336 in accord with the seriousness of the offense; however, homicide against the persons mentioned in can. 1370 is punished by the penalties specified there.”[34] The canons go on to further specify the crime of obtaining an abortion. “A person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic excommunication.”[35] The Canons of 1917 contained similar language on abortion “Persons who procure abortion, mothers not excepted, automatically incur excommunication reserved to the Ordinary at the moment the crime takes effect: if they are clerics, they shall also be deposed.”[36] In 1588, Pope Sixus V imposed the penalty of excommunication for any abortion. The Catechism extensively bolsters the Catholic position on abortion. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existences, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”[37] Catechism 2271 states, “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.[38] God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.[39] Catechism 2272 states in part that, “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"[40] "by the very commission of the offense,"[41] and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.[42] Defense of the unborn is also expressly set forth in Catechism 2274. “Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.” Catholics, bound by Baptism to the duty of the church in all its apostolic deeds, are earnestly encouraged to oppose those that would do harm to life sparked at conception.

Sen. Barack Obama is an ardent supporter of the decision in Roe v. Wade and of virtually all pro-abortion legislation. NARAL Pro-Choice America (the national abortion rights action league) and the National Organization for Women have given Sen. Obama a rating of 100% after only two years in the United States Senate. He has maintained this 100% rating since 2005. Sen. Obama’s record predates his time in Washington to his days in the Illinois state senate. In 1997, he voted against SB 230, which would have turned doctors into felons by banning partial birth abortions, a procedure which sees the child’s body removed from the womb up to the neck where forceps and a vacuum are used to suction the brains out of the skull.[43] The then lifeless body is fully removed from the womb. Obama also voted against a 2000 bill that banned using taxpayer money to fund abortions. In 2002, he voted against a bill that would have provided health care to babies that managed to survive abortions.

In 2006, Sen. Obama voted no to Bill S.403, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act. The bill prohibits the taking of minors across state lines in order to circumvent laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions. The bill would impose a fine and/or incarceration for up to one year on a physician who performed an abortion on an out-of-state minor who sought to avoid parental notification in their home state.[44] According to his campaign, Sen. Obama will make safeguarding women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn that decision.[45] During the South Carolina primary debate on April 26, 2007, Sen. Obama was asked by moderator Tim Russert: “What is your view on the decision on partial-birth abortion and your reaction to most of the public agreeing with the court’s holding? Sen. Obama responded:
“I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don't make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy. And I think that's where most Americans are. Now, when you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1% of the abortions that take place, then naturally, people get concerned, and I think legitimately so. But the broader issue here is: Do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it. There is a broader issue: Can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in these circumstances.”[46]
While the Senator did not specifically address his position on partial birth abortion, only referring to it as a “procedure” that makes up less than 1% of abortions, his rhetoric unequivocally demonstrate solid opposition to any legislation that curbs, limits access to, or otherwise impedes any abortion procedure. Sen. Obama was given a 0% rating by the National Right to Life Committee. Curiously, when Sen. Obama was asked if he believes life begins at conception, and if not, when does it begin, he responded, “This is something that I have not come to a firm resolution on…I don’t presume to know the answer to that question.”

In a 2008 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Sen. McCain said, “I am pro-life and an advocate for the Rights of Man everywhere in the world, because to be denied liberty is an offense to nature and nature's Creator.”[47] During the 2007 Iowa primary debate, McCain stated that, “I think the respect and commitment to the rights of the unborn is something I've fought for, and it has a lot to do with national security. Because it says very much what kind of a country we are and our respect for human life, whether it be here in the U.S. or anyplace else in the world. So I think it is connected.”[48] Sen. McCain has a voting record spanning over twenty years that shows him to be staunchly opposed to abortion. In 1999 he voted yes to banning partial birth abortions.[49] He sponsored an effort to overturn then President Bill Clinton’s veto of the bill that sought to ban partial birth abortions. In 2000, he voted to maintain a ban on privately funded abortions at overseas military facilities.[50]

According to Project Vote Smart, Senator McCain supported the following statements:
  1. Abortions should be legal only when the pregnancy resulted from incest, rape, or when the life of the woman is endangered.
  2. Prohibit the late-term abortion procedure known as “partial-birth” abortion.
  3. Prohibit public funding of abortions and public funding of organizations that advocate or perform abortions.[51]
Sen. McCain does maintain the exception that abortions should be allowed for those who were impregnated by rape or incest. The church makes no such distinction as it considers any destruction of life after conception as murder. Sen. McCain elaborated on this stance and how it would be enforced when asked by reporters. He was first asked whether he would reinstate the Reagan era rule that prevents international family planning clinics that receive federal funds from discussing abortion. “I don’t believe they should advocate abortion with my tax dollars,” McCain said, adding that he opposed abortion except in cases of rape and incest. He was then asked how he would determine whether someone had in fact been raped. Sen. McCain responded, “I think that I would give the benefit of the doubt to the person who alleges that.”[52]

The following is a synopsis of recent votes cast by Sen. McCain dealing with abortion.
  • In 2007, voted yes on barring The United States Department of Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions.
  • In 2007, voted yes on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines. (Apr 2007)
  • In 2006, voted yes on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. (Jul 2006)
  • In 2005, voted no on granting 100 million dollars to reduce teen pregnancy by education & issuing contraceptives.
  • In 2004, voted yes on assigning a criminal penalty for harming an unborn fetus during the commition of another crime.
  • In 2003, voted yes on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life.
  • In 2000, voted yes on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions.
  • In 1999, voted yes on banning partial birth abortions.
  • In 1998, voted yes on banning human cloning. [53]
Senator McCain has a 0% rating by NARAL Pro-choice America.[54] The National Right to Life Committee has most recently given him a rating of 75%, dropped from 100% when he chose to support stem cell research on surplus embryos.[55] The National Right to Life Committee recently applauded Senator McCain for sponsoring the Vitter Amendment which permanently prohibits providing abortions in federal health programs for American Indians.[56]


Often referred to as “mercy killing,” euthanasia is the intentional ending of a life by a deliberate act or deliberate non action most commonly for the purpose of ending suffering. When the individual suffering takes the action themselves, it is called suicide. When an individual aids them in the act, it is known as assisted suicide. The Catholic church has maintained a strong stance against these practices.

Canon 1397states: “A person who commits a homicide or who kidnaps, detains, mutilates, or gravely wounds a person by force or fraud is to be punished with the privations and prohibitions mentioned in can. 1336 according to the gravity of the delict. Homicide against the persons mentioned in can. 1370, however, is to be punished by the penalties established there.”[57] The Catechism delves more specifically and fully into the transgression of euthanasia. “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.” [58]

The most public debate over euthanasia in recent American history came about with the death of Terri Schindler Schaivo. Her case brought the issue of euthanasia to the forefront of American politics, involving the Florida courts, the Governor of Florida and the United States Senate. Theresa Schindler Schaivo suffered a cardiac arrest on the morning of February 25, 1990. She was diagnosed with being in a persistent vegetative state. In 1998, Terri’s husband, Michael Schaivo, filed a petition to remove her feeding tube, believing that there was no hope of improvement for her, and that she would not have wanted to be kept alive by artificial means. Terri’s family file myriad petitions with the Florida courts seeking to have Terri remain on the feeding tube that sustained her, in the belief that she was still at least partially cognizant of her surroundings and showing the potential for some recovery. Ultimately, the United States Senate became involved when it hastily passed the Palm Sunday Compromise. This bill transferred jurisdiction of the Terri Schaivo case to the federal courts in a desperate 11th hour effort to keep her alive. Despite these efforts, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, thereby exhausting all legal options the Schindler family had to keep their daughter on the feeding tube. Terri Schindler Schaivo died of dehydration on March 31, 2005, five days after her feeding tube was removed.

Directive 10 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services states that, “The directly intended termination of any patient's life, even at his own request, is always morally wrong. Directive 28 states: “Euthanasia ("mercy killing") in all its forms is forbidden. The failure to supply the ordinary means of preserving life is equivalent to euthanasia. However, neither the physician nor the patient is obliged to the use of extraordinary means.”[59] Pope John Paul II addressed the issue of depriving an individual of life sustaining sustenance in his address to the participants in the International Congress in 2004 stating: “I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.”[60] Continuing this position on the end of life issue, Pope Benedict XVI said in his sermon outlining the vision of his papacy that "Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia." The Pope went on to specify abortion and euthanasia as the two principal issues which Catholics may not disagree on. "While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."[61] The church has a singular hostility to euthanasia and abortion above all other crimes against life and holds steadfastly to the belief that the well-being of any society depends on the protection of the sick and innocent. The immediate gratification and disposable sentiments of societies today, oozing from the televisions, computers, businesses and schools, threaten to seep into the mortar of moral conscience. A collapse inevitably occurs if the value of all human life is not constantly reinforced and guarded, guarded against the false catharticism that comes from being free of another’s burdensome disability or existence.

The Catechisms speak clearly about the responsibility owed the sick and dying. “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”[62] The responsibility to respect life, allowing it to take its natural course, also extends to the individual seeking to end their existence by their own hands. “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.”[63] Catechism 2283 speaks to the involvement of another in aiding a person commit suicide. “If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.”[64]

In an interview with Mail Tribune on March 23, 2008, Sen. Obama was asked his perspective on an Oregonian law that legalized physician-assisted suicide. “I am in favor of palliative medicine in circumstances where someone is terminally ill. ... I'm mindful of the legitimate interests of states to prevent a slide from palliative treatments into euthanasia. On the other hand, I think that the people of Oregon did a service for the country in recognizing that as the population gets older we've got to think about issues of end-of-life care.”[65] Although the Oregon law’s purpose was to legalize assisted suicide and not to recognize that the country needs to “think about issues of end-of-life care,” as Sen. Obama suggests; his genteel statement must be taken as an endorsement of it. There is no clear repudiation of the assisted-suicide law, only a “mindful” awareness of states’ interests in preventing a move toward euthanasia. To be sure, such a mindful awareness must be applauded, however followers of Christ are called to act, and the outcries of the sick and suffering must be met with compassion and service.

During a democrat primary debate in February of 2008, Sen. Obama was asked if there were any words he had said, or votes he wished he could take back during his time in public office. Senator Obama pointed to his having sided with other law makers in a unanimous vote on behalf of Terri Schaivo in an effort to stay the removal of her feeding tube. He lamented his involvement "that allowed Congress to interject itself (in the Schiavo case) into the decision-making process of the families." Obama added: 'I think that was a mistake and I think the American people understood that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better."[66] Much like his stance on abortion, Sen. Obama does not perceive the issue as one of a moral right or wrong, but instead as an issue of choice. Sen. Obama, in using the phrase, “the decision-making process of the family,” seems to either absolve himself of taking a stance on euthanasia by passing the decision to the family, or more likely, reveals his lack of opposition to the removal of the feeding tube. It is not without import to note Sen. Obama’s mention of his former position as a constitutional law professor. By framing his opposition to the action taken by the legislature on legal principals, he further skirts defining his position based on moral grounds. The issue in this case, however, is profoundly moral in nature. The reason being that actual affirmative action is required in order to keep an individual in such condition alive. Feeding must be done. As the church holds in the words of Pope John Paul II, the providing of food and water is not a medical act but a natural means and is “morally obligatory.” Therefore it is not enough to say we must step back, or leave it to another to decided one way or the other. Canon law requires the moral person to protect life. This moral imperative necessitates affirmative action be taken to protect life. It is important to note as well, that Terri Schaivo was not terminally ill. So far as the Catholic Church decrees, an individual in a persistent vegetative state must be accorded the same basic life sustaining necessities as any other person.

While answering questions on faith during a CNN-hosted Compassion Forum, Sen. Obama was asked about the morality of taking active steps to end one’s own life. Sen. Obama responded: “I think we have to be very careful in making end of life decisions…. I think that it is important for us to be able to allow people who are terminally ill and in excruciating pain to get the medicine they need to relieve that pain. He was then asked, “And by ‘relieve’ that pain you mean hasten the end of life if they choose too,” to which he responded, “Well, yeah, and I think there are, there have to be very strict guidelines to insure that somebody who’s making a decision to relieve their pain that might take a week away from their life just because they are slipping into a coma quicker for example, that that is distinguished from, or there is a possibility they slip into a coma, that that’s distinguished from euthanasia in which someone else is making a decision for them.” Senator Obama responded in the affirmative to the intentional hastening of death, more concisely called suicide, followed by an aside on the need to distinguish between suicide and euthanasia, both of which he supports.

Sen. John McCain was questioned about Congressional involvement in the Terri Schaivo case. Tim Russert asked the Senator if it was proper for Sen. Bill Frist, a former physician, to have argued that Florida doctors had erred in finding that Terri Schaivo was in a persistent vegetative state and whether it was fair to say in hindsight that Congress should not have interceded in the case. Said Sen. McCain, “I think it's easy in hindsight to make a judgment. But I do know at the time that many of us, or the overwhelming majority of us as well as the American people saw a young woman whose life was going to end, whose parents and brothers and sisters wanted to care for her. That's what I think made it so compelling. So in hindsight, perhaps we shouldn't have. At the time, I understand the emotion, all of us. Who was not moved by seeing the films of this woman, young woman?[67] Sen. McCain takes a humanistic view of the events surrounding Schaivo by not retreating from the initial desire to help maintain her on the feeding tube. He reiterates the facts as they were; a woman “whose life was going to end,” needed action taken on her behalf. Sen. McCain stated that “perhaps we shouldn’t have (stepped in).” Despite the autopsy results that later contradicted the claims made by Sen. Frist regarding Terri Schaivo’s physical condition, a person in a vegetative state, according to canon law, must be given the respect and care due all human beings. Sen. McCain gives no basis for his qualifier, “perhaps.” It may have meant that federal intervention may have been inappropriate in a Florida state issue, or it may have meant that government intervention in such a case may not ever be appropriate. Contextually, it seems likely that Sen. McCain feels that “perhaps” federal involvement was inappropriate in hindsight in light of the resulting autopsy showing Terri Schaivo to have truly been in a persistent vegetative state. Sen. McCain does not claim to support giving the family the option of exercising euthanasia, nor does he directly repudiate the life-saving actions he and the other Senators attempted as Sen. Obama does. And while Sen. McCain does justify the sentiments that drove those actions on Terri Schaivo’s behalf, and reiterates them after the fact, he does not take a perfect position on the need to have kept the young woman on the feeding tube at all costs.


Neither Senator Barack Obama nor John McCain could claim to have a record that is fully in line with Catholic doctrine on life issues. “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.”[68] Voters seeking to remain true to Catholic virtues, while still exercising the freedom to vote in 2008, will find themselves in the unenviable position of a forced compromise.

In a letter to Cardinal McCarrick, then Cardinal Ratzinger weighed in on the question of Catholics supporting politicians who may be in line with canon law on some issues while not on others. “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage way, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”[69]

We find that while Sen. Obama agrees with the Church on the extreme standard, however undefined, required for the use of the death penalty, he does so with the questionable intention of vengeance. Sen. McCain clearly has designs on a more expansive use of the death penalty. One can not find either candidate in accordance with Catholic canon law on the life-issue of Capital punishment. The embryonic stem cell issue illustrates two different, and both immoral positions taken by Senators Obama and McCain. What we find with Sen. McCain’s position is a policy leaning towards life in that he opposed cloning and creating new embryonic stem cells for research. However his desired use of existing stem cells, despite whatever personal torment he felt in coming to the decision, leaves Sen. McCain against canon law. Sen. Obama is unmistakably against Catholic canon law in his support for the use of embryonic stem cells. While both candidates voted to intervene in the Terri Schaivo case, Sen. Obama now regrets and categorically renounces that action while showing an eloquently cryptic support for physician-assisted suicide. On the life-issue of euthanasia, we find Sen. McCain offering a tacit, if not unwavering, stand on the side of life. As for abortion, Sen. Obama is clearly for it, Sen. McCain clearly against. As an augury of the fickle convictions of some elected officials, Sen. Barack Obama was endorsed by Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. and former congressman Timothy J. Roemer.[70] Casey and Roemer, members of the Democrat party, are both of the pro-life persuasion and ostensibly undeterred by Sen. Obama’s epic pro-abortion record. Sen. Obama himself called protecting abortion rights a priority of his would-be administration.[71] While Sen. McCain is not fully congruent with the Catholic Church on all life issues, none of those inconsistencies would prohibit a Catholic from supporting Sen. McCain for the presidency of the United States. Quite the contrary, Sen. McCain’s extensive record in opposition to abortion shows him to be a champion of the cause. The goal is not simply to reduce the amount of abortions, but to recognize and protect the gift of life that begins at conception. Sen. Barack Obama’s cause and that of the Catholic church are fatally incompatible. The damnable practices of abortion and euthanasia leave a faithful Catholic incapable of voting for his candidacy based on those issues alone. A voter conforming to Catholic law and keeping with the spirit of God’s will towards life would be morally prohibited from voting for a candidate specifically because they were pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia. The letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick reads: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia.”[72] This does not, however, preclude an individual from voting for a pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia candidate. “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.[73]

Elected officials owe a duty to those they represent or rule over to serve justly. They must not harm those who are in their care and whom hold them in their trust. The power granted to them is transient and, to believers, is secondary to that of God. “There is no power but from God.”[74] (Romans 8:1). The gravity and deeply rooted convictions toward life issues from the Catholic Church are such that to even support an individual that champions a position against life, even if that support is in the form of a vote, would find one guilty of conspiring in a grave evil. It may be debated why a civil society should have elected leaders in line with natural law. In America, the tendency towards protecting the economic health of the nation at the price of its moral vitality is approaching a decisive conclusion. The legitimacy of any leadership position in a free democracy depends on the people granting that legitimacy. When power is based on consent, power by way of tradition or rule of law is not sufficient. Something more is needed and that something is a commonality with the community’s baser moral foundation. A nation may exist despite fractured views on foreign diplomacy, economics, spending, war, and other administrative policies. However, when a nation’s ruler turns away from the moral foundations and institutions of the nation, their legitimacy is severely crippled. Such a severance with the community creates the situation where a leader lacks the jurisdiction and the legitimacy to speak for and lead a unified nation. History has shown that the elected official who abandons the moralistic principles of its people will find a fractured nation that turns against itself and its leadership. This leader’s earthly punishment may be impeachment, or worse, revolution. But as the gospel tells us, a far worse fate awaits. The just due that faces a leader who undermines the gift of life will be far graver in the hereafter where “The mighty shall be mightily tormented.”[75]
You may quote a portion of this article or use the article as a whole for any use in another publication or within the body of another article, provided that such quotations used are contained within quotation marks, and are attributed to the article's author, Orson Yonfa.
[1] Sen. John McCain was raised Episcopalian by his family and has attended the North Phoenix Baptist church for several years. Sen. Barack Obama was raised in a secular home and has been a member of the United Church of Christ in Chicago for 20 years.
[2] The Mexico City Policy was established by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Bill Clinton said that the policy “had severely limited international family planning and population control.” The Mexico City Policy has since been reinstated by President George W. Bush.
[6] The official position of the United States Government is that of the separation of church and state. This was promulgated by the founding fathers of the nation who generally believed that there should be no official sponsorship of any one religion. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof…”
[7] Immortale Dei, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Christian Constitution of States (Nov. 1, 1885) (on file with the Libreria Enditrice Vaticana)
[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2258 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[11] Stem Cell Basics. In Stem Cell Information [World Wide Web site]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006 [cited Monday, April 7, 2008] Available at
[12] Eleni Berger, Research avenue adds fuel to stem cell research controversy, CNN, (July 18, 2001)
[13] 1983 Code c.1398.
[14] Resource Flyers,, (Last visited April 3, 2008)
[15] Stem Cell Research Bill, HB 3589, 108th Cong. (2004).
[16] Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, H.R. 810, 109th Cong. (2005).
[17] The vetoing of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 was the first veto of the Bush presidency. Congress was not able to secure sufficient votes to override the veto, thereby killing the bill.
[18] 2007 GOP primary debate, at The Ronald Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC (May 3, 2007).
[20] Leviticus 24:20.
[22] Leviticus 24:17.
[23] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2267 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[24] Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Vatican press conference introducing the new edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Sept. 9, 1997).
[25] St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 158, 1 ad 3.
[26] Peter Slevin, Obama Forged Political Mettle in Illinois Capitol, Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2007, at A01.
[29] Belden Russonello & Stewartt, Catholics for a Free Choice 2004 Survey of Catholic Likely Voters, (2004), ttp://
[31] After the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, and subsequent concurring opinions, abortion has been legal in the United States but may be regulated by the states to varying degrees.
[32] S. Rep. No. 98-149 at 6 (1983).
[33] Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 14-16, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
[34] 1983 Code c.1397.
[35] 1983 Code c.1398.
[36] 1917 Code c.2350, §1
[37] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2270 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[38] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2271 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[39] Genesis 51 § 3.
[40] 1983 Code c.1398.
[41] 1983 Code c.1314.
[42] 1983 Code c.1323-1324.
[43] John K. Wilson, Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, 147-148 (Paradigm Publishers) (2007).
[44] Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act; S.403 ; vote number 2006-216 on Jul 25, 2006.
[45] Campaign booklet, "Blueprint for Change", p. 35-36 Feb 2, 2008
[46] 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC (Apr 26, 2007).
[47] Speeches to 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference Feb 7, 2008.
[48] 2007 GOP Iowa Straw Poll debate Aug 5, 2007.
[49] Partial Birth Abortion Ban, S. 1692, vote number 1999-340 on Oct 21, 1999.
[50] S. 2549, vote number 2000-134 on Jun 20, 2000.
[58] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2277 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[62] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2277 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[63] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2280 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[64] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2283 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).
[66] Nat Hentoff, Playing Games With Innocent Life, The Washington Times, March 31 2008.
[67] NBC News’ Meet the Press. (NBC television broadcast June 19, 2005).
[68] Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 2280 (United States Catholic Conference Inc. 1994).

[69] “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” memo from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (July, 2004).
[70] Shailagh Murray, For Obama, Unexpected Support, Washington Post, April 14, 2008.
[71] Campaign booklet, "Blueprint for Change", p. 35-36 Feb 2, 2008.
[72] The memorandum was sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick and was made public in the first week of July 2004. The memorandum was a response to the controversy over Senator John Kerry, an ardent pro-abortion politician and Catholic, being denied Holy Communion.
[74] Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
[75] Wisdom 6:7-11, 7 For to him that is little, mercy is granted: but the mighty shall be mightily tormented. 8 For God will not except any man's person, neither will he stand in awe of any man's greatness: for he made the little and the great, and he hath equally care of all. 9 But a greater punishment is ready for the more mighty. 10 To you, therefore, O kings, are these my words, that you may learn wisdom, and not fall from it. 11 For they that have kept just things justly, shall be justified: and they that have learned these things, shall find what to answer.