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Deadly Ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center

CC Justina Kochansky

Matthew Archbold - published on 07/05/13

They claim to uphold Catholic teaching, but their website demonstrates otherwise

The website of an ethics program at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, links to a pro-assisted suicide website as well as articles advocating positions contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

Under the banner “Bioethics,” the Jesuit institution’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics has a section called “End of Life Ethics,” in which it links to a pro-assisted suicide website called the Compassion in Dying Federation.

The Markkula Center describes the Federation site with clear awareness of its purpose: “Site provides information regarding end-of-life choices with advocacy for assisted death. Also includes a good list of site links.”

Elsewhere on the University’s website, Mike Meyer, then-chair of Santa Clara University’s philosophy department and a faculty member with the Markkula Center, is quoted saying:

Suicide at the end of life is so much more likely to be a reasonable choice for an individual than suicide at any other point in life, that we ought to think of it as voluntary euthanasia so that the fair-minded social stigma at other times of life might be diminished or in the best cases simply eliminated.

…Suicide at the end of life might well be connected to a person’s sense of her dignity,while suicide at other times is altogether less likely to be a genuine issue of dignity.

The site also includes an essay by current philosophy professor Lawrence Nelson, who argues against the California Supreme Court’s ruling protecting the life of Robert Wendland from his wife, who sought to remove his feeding tube after an auto accident:

This group of judges got it wrong. Close family members should presumptively be the ones who decide when it is right to forgo treatment of their incompetent relative. As the New Jersey Supreme Court stated when strangers opposed a family’s decision to stop the tube feeding of their permanently unconscious relative, "Our common human experience informs us that family members…provide for the patient’s comfort, care, and best interests…, and [it is] they who treat the patient as a person, rather than a symbol of a cause."

Both Nelson and Meyer were exposed in a 2011 Crisis Magazine article by Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick Reilly. The article reads in part:

An attorney who sought the “mercy killing” of a disabled but allegedly functioning California man is today a “faculty scholar” at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the Jesuits’ Santa Clara University.

Fighting a challenge from the mother of Robert Wendland — who was severely disabled in a car accident in 1993 —Lawrence Nelson failed to convince the California Supreme Court to permit the removal of Wendland’s feeding tube. Wendland’s mother, Florence, presented evidence that Robert was not in a “persistent vegetative state” but could occasionally make limited movements, like writing the letter R. Nelson has since argued that “this was no life for Robert, no life he would ever want. The only experiences he seemed to have were negative.”

Not surprisingly, Nelson has also advocated the legalization of assisted suicide. In 1996, he joined an 
amicus brief in 
Vacco v. Quill and 
Washington v. Glucksberg, arguing that “the right of competent, dying patients to physician-assisted suicide is a negative right to be free from state interference.”

At Santa Clara University, Nelson has continued to work on end-of-life issues. In a 
Hastings Center Report
article this year with significant application to the assisted-suicide debate, Nelson and co-author Brendan Ashby argue that doctors should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to participate in lethal injections for criminals who are condemned to death — a practice opposed by leading medical associations because it violates the mandate to heal and do no harm.

Nelson also delves into other issues in opposition to Catholic teaching. In a 
2005 article on embryonic stem cell research for 
The American Journal of Bioethics, Nelson and fellow Santa Clara professor Michael Meyer argue for “the intermediate moral status of embryos” between the “extreme views” of full moral status and none at all. In 2003, the Markkula Center provided Nelson a grant to develop “a theory of constitutional personhood.” Perhaps resulting from that work, Nelson’s 
2008 paper, “Of Persons and Prenatal Humans,” argues that the dubious personhood of “unborn humans”means that abortion must be protected by the U.S. Constitution:

The ascription of constitutional personhood to unborn humans results in women losing their fundamental rights to maintain bodily integrity and refuse medical treatment, to exercise autonomy over the conduct of their daily lives as all other persons, and to avoid subordination of their vital interests in order to preserve the interests of another. …This Article argues that the only way to avoid this anomaly is not to regard prenatal humans as constitutional persons.

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