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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: June 9, 2016
By Father Jason Tyler
On May 13, the New York Times reported that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer would no longer sell certain drugs to state correction departments. Pfizer identified seven products that either have been used or are being considered for use in state execution protocols.
Pfizer said it “makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”
We can never will that the wrong action take place. If your friend asks you to drive the getaway car when he robs a bank and you agree because you want him to rob it or simply because you want to maintain that friendship, you have engaged in formal cooperation.
I do not know whether Pfizer has previously made business decisions based on such moral convictions, but those who oppose the death penalty should certainly applaud this decision. Many states, including Arkansas, have found it increasingly difficult to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injections. Court challenges based on concerns over unnecessary pain and suffering (and thus, cruel and unusual punishment) has prevented those states from carrying out the death penalty.
We can applaud Pfizer’s decision as it makes the death penalty more difficult to execute, but we should also applaud it because it shows us a great example of an organization exercising its corporate conscience and refusing to have its good work used for morally illicit purposes.
Pfizer’s decision is actually analogous to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s decision to resist providing contraception coverage as part of its employee health insurance. The mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services included a provision in which some religious employers could declare themselves unable to provide contraceptive coverage.
In such a case, the government arranges for the insurance company to offer the contraceptive coverage. Because signing the form to indicate their objection triggers the process of providing the very coverage they object to, the Little Sisters decided that in conscience they could not even sign that form.
Both cases are examples of an organization making a conscientious objection based on the idea of cooperation with evil.
Most of us cooperate with evil every day in ways that are small (contributing very little to the evil act) and remote (taking place far away, in space and/or time, from the evil action). Take, for example, the clothing you wear, the food you eat or the gasoline you put in your car. Who profited from those purchases? How will they use the money? Will it be completely for good purposes? Almost certainly not. Some good things and some wrong things will be done with that money as it moves.
At other times, though, we must avoid cooperating with evil. First of all, we can never will that the wrong action take place. If your friend asks you to drive the getaway car when he robs a bank and you agree because you want him to rob it or simply because you want to maintain that friendship, you have engaged in formal cooperation. Formal cooperation occurs whenever you share the evil intention of the wrongdoer. This type of cooperation is never morally right.
If you do not share the intention of the wrongdoer — in other words, you don’t want the evil act to happen — your cooperation is called material cooperation. Material cooperation can sometimes be acceptable depending on a few factors including how essential or non-essential your cooperation is to the evil act being able to happen.
While this column cannot explore all of the complexities of material cooperation, it is interesting to note that both Pfizer and the Little Sisters based their respective objections on a chain of events that would follow from their actions.
The Little Sisters refused to sign a form which would connect a chain from their employer-provided health insurance to contraceptive coverage; Pfizer now restricts its drugs’ distributors from selling those drugs for use in executions. Thank God for conscientious objection!