Lesser of Two Evils

The "lesser of two evils" is an important concept from the Catholic moral tradition that is being applied in a new way in the diocese of Albany, as RNS's Daniel Burke reports in this story of its needle-exchange program.  (In the past few decades a few theologians have argued that that traditional moral stance could be applied to the use of condoms in countries where AIDS is rampant.)  In any event, here is the story from Albany.

In launching its needle-exchange program earlier this week, the Catholic Diocese of Albany, N.Y., said the decision came down to choosing the lesser evil. Illegal drug use is bad, but the spread of deadly diseases is worse.  The medical evidence is clear, the diocese argued on Monday (Feb. 1) when it began “Project Safe Point” in two Upstate New York locations through its local branch of Catholic Charities. Public health studies document that exchanging used syringes for new ones can effectively stanch the spread of blood-borne diseases such as AIDS, and even lead drug abusers to treatment and recovery.  “To guide us, the church provides us with the principles of licit cooperation in evil and the counseling of the lesser evil,” the Albany diocese said in a statement.  “The sponsorship of Catholic Charities in Safe Point, then, is based upon the church’s standard moral principles.”


Read the rest here.

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Andrew Jones
8 years 3 months ago
Is there such a thing as the lesser of two evils. Interesting thoughts mate.

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8 years 3 months ago
Is the "lesser of two evils" really Catholic moral tradition? Sounds like it comes more from the utilitarian tradition.
8 years 3 months ago
Father Jim- 
While I agree sometimes we are left determining the '' eviler of two lessers'' ( a common occurrence on the first Tuesday of each November)  perhaps in a future blog you can expand on the concept as how it falls within the Catholic moral tradition and the risks of following it too closely or not. What better place then a Jesuit blog to talk '' means'' and ''ends''.
The linked article highlighted the valid concern of seeming to support an evil while trying to do a good. It's a slippery slope and I am not sure it is as straightforward as you infer that it is within our moral tradition to justify such actions.
enjoy the snow.... Joe
8 years 3 months ago
"I'm not a moral theologian...thank God." LOL. Thank you. I liked what Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D had to say. He acknoweledges that there is a narrow window of freedom for addicts; however, he likens the distribution of needles to establishing "safe bars" for alcoholics with an endless upply of alcohol , policemen to shield its patrons from the violence they can inflict upon themselves and others when drunk.

Needle distribution seems like giving up on the hope of salvation. It seems like saying: we just cannot fight this battle anymore-we give up. I don't know. My Aunt, who was a Sister of Charity, was the Director of Catholic Charities in Albany for many years. I can only imagine what her thoughts my be. She is home in heaven. Hmm. There is no weeping in heaven, is there?
MaryMargaret Flynn
8 years 3 months ago
Dear Maria Byrd-All but the needle exchange has no drugs in it unlike the safe bar.  And analogy would be giving the person suffering with alcholicism an empty glass possibly.Plus the point is not to provide a drug but to prevent the spread of HIV infection.
My aunt was a Good Shepard Nun -may all our beloved RIP.
8 years 3 months ago
Without the safe bar, there is no means to drink with impunity. The drug. Access to the drug. The alcohol. Access to alcohol. It provides the means for "safe use" in either scenario. Is there a distinction? The soul is destroyed in either case. I am, by the way, a psychiatric social worker of many decades, and HAVE seen it all. Helping to save the souls of addicts takes time, energy, self-scarifice, faith/hope/love. Much harder than passing out needles. Well, like General Allenby in "Lawrence of Arabia, "I'm not a moral theologian...thank God". Anyway. Thanks for your thoughts. Our Aunts merited their titles, huh?
8 years 3 months ago
Mary Margaret: Do you work in DC with a Dr. Fleury?
8 years 3 months ago
''I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.''  Mother Teresa
MaryMargaret Flynn
8 years 3 months ago
As a physician for 44 yers and psychiatrist for 30, rejoicing with my gift of faith and vocation and  working to ease the suffering of mental illness, include drug and alcohol addiction, we call providing needle exchanges, harm reduction-Jesus came to help us carry our burdens and sends us out to help others carry theirs.  I don't see needle exchange having any ''lesser of two evils'' choice.  But rather compassion and easing suffering. A win-win situation and the scientic literature also supports better outcomes.
8 years 3 months ago
Good reminder, Joe...
8 years 3 months ago
Joe: The light just went on. Thank you.
8 years 3 months ago
The link was interesting Father Jim ..the classic example is to discourage a person intent on murder by encouraging the person to instead steal an object to mollify their rage.
While I also am not a moral theologian ( thanks be to god, too - the letters after my name are CPA, not PhD ) my initial reaction to this case is to question if distributing safe needles is really an evil. It has to be an evil to be a lesser evil.


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