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Ave Maria: Questions and Answers

06/14/2010 Comments (21)

A week ago I wrote a post calling on Tom Monaghan, founder of Ave Maria University and builder of the town of of Ave Maria, to answer some serious questions surrounding the sale of his land for the purpose of development for the bio-tech company Jackson labs.

The serious question arose because there is evidence that Jackson labs is involved in research into contraception and in vitro fertilization and there was some speculation that Jackson Labs might even have some links to human embryonic stem cell research.

On its face, the sale of the land for the expressed purpose of developing a facility for such a company would seem to run counter to the professed mission and Catholic values of Mr. Monaghan and the neighboring university.

In my piece, I noted that Mr. Monaghan had sought and received a finding of “no moral impediment” to the land transaction by the National Catholic Bio-ethics Center.  I suggested that citing such a finding was not, in my opinion, sufficient answer to these questions and that more information and explanation was needed.

After publishing my post, I was contacted by the University and subsequently I was sent a statement reiterating:

After examining the situation, the NCBC advised Mr. Monaghan that, in its opinion, there was no moral impediment to him proceeding with the proposed land transaction. As a result, in late summer of 2009, Mr. Monaghan entered into such an agreement with Baron Collier. This agreement was conditional on The Jackson Laboratory ultimately selecting the site under discussion, as well as on state and local funding approvals.

The NCBC’s staff consults regularly on life science issues and medical issues with the Vatican, the U.S. bishops and public policy-makers, hospitals and international organizations of all faiths. Vatican agencies including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers also consult with the Center. The Center is also consulted by the Pro-Life Committee and the Doctrine Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To this end, Mr. Monaghan was confident that the NCI3C was more than capable of rendering a sound judgment.

In addition to providing the statement, Mr. Monaghan authorized the NCBC to respond to media questions about its opinion.  I then spoke with Dr. John M. Haas, Ph.D., S.T.L.,President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

He said that the nature of Mr. Monaghan’s inquiry was limited to question of whether there was any moral impediment to the sale of land to the developer for use by Jackson Labs.  In other words the NCBC only opined on the question of whether by selling the land for this purpose, would Mr. Monaghan “be involved in doing something sinful?”  Their answer is no.

The NCBC issued a written statement on the issue of human embryonic stem cell in the land sale.  You can read the NCBC statement in its entirety, but the NCBC’s conclusion is that based upon all the evidence they have seen Jackson Labs is not involved in human embryonic stem cell research.

However, we could not find any indication that human embryonic stem cell research was taking place at Jackson Laboratory, nor any strong or certain indications that such research might take place at the Florida site in the future under their auspices.

Therefore, since human embryonic stem cell research is not being done by Jackson Laboratory, there is no immoral cooperation with evil taking place through the sale of Monaghan’s interest in the land to his partner, who in turn may sell it to Jackson Laboratory. The point has been made that Jackson Laboratory had said it will not rule out ever doing human embryonic stem cell research. However, here one lacks moral certainty regarding the commission of an evil act at all, and it is impossible to cooperate with an evil that is not taking place and which may never take place. If an evil does take place at all, it would be after the transfer of ownership by Mr. Monoghan. As such, Mr. Monoghan cannot cooperate in theoretical or hypothetical future evil acts about which he has no moral certitude that they will ever occur.

The statement makes several points about levels of cooperation with evil and should be read by anyone interested in the topic.

However, the NCBC statement did not address the equally troubling statements on Jackson Labs website regarding research into contraception and in vitro fertilization.

The Jackson website boasts of its discoveries saying...

In vitro fertilization, the freezing of embryos and other assisted reproductive technologies were invented and/or perfected by Jackson.

and

Research into egg and sperm production and associated problems provides new ways to address reproductive disorders such as infertility and the potential for better contraception methods.

I asked Dr. Haas of the NCBC why such research poses no moral impediment and he responded that as far as the NCBC could ascertain, all such research has been conducted only on mice and not on human beings.  And while he admitted that the fruits of this research could be used for immoral ends, the research itself is not immoral and might even provide positive results.

Dr. Haas went on to say that while Jackson Labs may not embrace the Catholic ethos in its research, that Mr. Monaghan’s sale of land is not a sinful act.

So, what is one to conclude from all this?  I think that it is to Mr. Monaghan’s credit that he was sufficiently concerned about the moral implications of the sale to seek an opinion for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.  I also thank the NCBC and Dr. Haas in helping to clarify some facts about the nature of the question and the reasons for their opinion.

But there are two different questions involved here.  Is the sale of land for Jackson Labs a sin? And is the sale a good idea?

The NCBC was asked and only answered the first narrow question.  Is the sale of land for this purpose a sin?  Their answer, for the reasons described above, is no.

Does that make it a good idea?  Not necessarily.  I think that a case can be made that inviting a bio-tech company such as Jackson labs into the Ave Maria neighborhood may run counter to the objective of Mr. Monaghan in founding the University and the town.  But this is a prudential decision.  Good people make poor decisions all the time, is this one?

Certainly having a large bio-tech company that does not appear to embrace the Catholic ethos so closely affiliated with the town and the university may present long term problems.  Even if research into contraception and in vitro fertilization is conducted only on mice, the end game is fairly clear.  Does it make sense to have such a company as a significant employer in a town dedicated to our Blessed Mother?

So once again we are left with questions and some answers.  Is the sale of land to Jackson Labs a sin? Probably not.  Is it a good idea and in line with Mr. Monaghan’s vision for the university and the town?  Once again, probably not.

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About Pat Archbold

Pat Archbold
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Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company. Patrick, his wife Terri, and their five children reside in Long Island, N.Y.