Reply to Tonio Fenech: we need mature reflection in the face of ethical dilemmas

On abortion, assuming that everyone will simply choose whatever suits him or her without considering the full picture, betrays the lack of moral standards we believe we have

By Dr Christian Colombo,
Chairperson Malta Humanist Association and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science, University of Malta  

Of course I cannot but agree with Tonio Fenech that we need values to accompany science. Science by itself provides facts; it is philosophy which reasons about ethics. 

And by this same reasoning, I cannot but strongly disagree that science is able to tell us when cells become “a person”. It might be that this is the “Catholic biology” which Tonio Borg mentioned earlier this week, but it’s definitely not something which falls within the scientific realm. 

As the Malta Humanist Association (MHA), we are by definition defenders of ethical principles but reaching ethical conclusions is not easy; “We are condemned to be free” as Sartre puts it, and as such we have the grave responsibility of deciding for ourselves. 

Unfortunately, most of us don’t take this duty seriously and end up loosely following the morality of our herd. It is weird, for example, how many Maltese people are against abortion but not against endangering people’s lives at sea. Of course, they might even have logical reasons for this, but I can’t help but notice the apparent contradiction. 

The free exercise of conscience – a crucial element of a fully human life – means that as Humanists we don’t necessarily reach individually-identical conclusions. If anything, this highlights our positive regard of the human nature. 

On the other hand, assuming that everyone will simply choose whatever suits him or her without considering the full picture, betrays the lack of moral standards we believe we have. Without doubt, this freedom of conscience requires education and for this reason we believe that the introduction of optional ethics in schools is one small step in the right direction. 

Alas, centuries of dominance by the Church has not borne the fruits one would have expected. The fact that we take our resistance to abortion and euthanasia as sure signs of our moral high-ground, speaks volumes of the ethical principles guiding our nation. 

Concluding, as MHA we reiterate our wholehearted support to science and logic, which together with philosophy and the deepest human sentiments (such as fairness and compassion), can continue guiding us towards a more just and humane society. 

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