Protecting Life at Work

Guest column by Andrew Abela of The Catholic University of America on protecting life at work: making sure company policies and practices don’t violate moral teaching etc.

May we sell any product or service to an organization whose purpose is hostile to innocent life, e.g. sell cleaning services to an abortion clinic?

The Church draws a distinction between formal and material cooperation with evil.

Formal cooperation is where your intention, or your own action, is evil. Material cooperation with evil is where you do not share the evil intention of those you are cooperating with, and where your own action is not evil, but somehow contributes to the evil action of another.

In this example, offering cleaning services to an abortion clinic because you support what they are doing is formal cooperation. Offering cleaning services to an abortion clinic because you need to keep your workers employed in a recession, while you despise what is going on in the clinic, is material cooperation.

Formal cooperation is always forbidden. Material cooperation should also be avoided, except where avoiding it would cause a greater evil. In cases of attacks on innocent life, though — which our question addresses — even material cooperation is forbidden, because there can be no greater evil than the taking of an innocent life.

Therefore, it is not permissible to sell cleaning services to an abortion clinic, even in order to save the jobs of your employees.

Is it morally acceptable to offer health-care benefits that cover abortion or birth control for employees?

The answer to this question is similar to the preceding one: Offering health-care benefits that cover abortion or birth control to employees is at best material cooperation in evil, and since in the case of abortion and (often) birth control this involves an offense against life, then it is not permissible.

Should health-care workers refuse to participate in actions that are harmful to innocent life?

Health-care workers should exercise their right to conscientious objection when asked to participate in any attack on innocent human life, e.g. abortion or euthanasia.

Where this right is not recognized, health-care workers must still refuse to participate in such attacks, even at the cost of their own career because — as noted above — even material cooperation in attacks on innocent life is forbidden.

What obligations do we have to ensure the health and safety of our emplyees, beyond the legal requirements?

Respect for human life requires empoloyers to take every precaution for the lives and health of their employees.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Legatus Magazine. © Legatus. Reprinted with permission.

Read the full article at under“Register Exclusives.”

Andrew Abela is the chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America.

He can be reached at [email protected]