A few months ago, a White House staffer made headlines after speaking about John McCain in a private meeting and saying that his opinion doesn’t matter because “he’s going to die anyway.” The staffer has now left her job, and although the reason reportedly has nothing to do with the comment, it does not mean this should be swept under the rug. The complaints that started to come immediately from conservative news outlets like Fox News were centered around the fact that private meetings should be private and that the crackdown on leakers needs to begin in earnest. While private meetings do have a right to stay private, certain things said in those meetings have no right to be said and focusing on how the words got out will not do anything to fix the root problem: a lack of respect and regard for the dignity of our fellow man and how this contributes to the culture of death.
Pope John Paul II once said that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do as we ought.” The reason for our creation as God’s children is to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. We ought to, therefore, do what will lead us closer to Him and it is there that we shall find our freedom. When we do what we want to, it gives us the illusion of freedom, but we soon become trapped in our sins and find that we are not truly free. The objection and outrage that arose from the staffer’s comments is that they shouldn’t have been leaked and that she should have the freedom to say what she wants without worrying about her words being leaked. But this is not what she ought to have done. Her right and freedom to say what she wants in that context ends with matters of national security and business that actually pertains to the meeting. When you get to matters of morality and the respect owed to other people, our rights come from natural law. As such, these rights are given to us by God by virtue of our human nature (hence the term “natural law”). Being created by an all-good God means that we all have a nature that comes with intrinsic value and rights, such as the right to be treated with respect and the right and responsibility to treat others with respect as well. When we abandon this responsibility, we are violating the natural law and refusing to give others the rights that are theirs because of their very nature. Would these remarks have been any better if they were kept private? Of course not. Just because something is private doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t hide the effect on society.
Authority over nations requires a concern for the common good and the common good, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “presupposes respect for the person as such” (CCC 1907). It goes on to say that this requires a respect for the fundamental and inalienable rights of the person. What does this have to do with one little comment? Think of it this way: if this is the opinion of someone in government about one person, how do we know that they will not have this attitude about a group of people when it comes to making decisions that affect the country? What would have happened if this staffer had stayed on in the White House and been asked to weigh in on a major decision affecting the life of the unborn or terminally ill in society? We should especially keep this in mind following the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans in England, where the government decided that the infants’ quality of life wasn’t good enough to keep trying to save them. Also keep in mind that respect for the fundamental and inalienable rights of each person is imperative for the common good. John McCain is a member of society and as such contributes to the consideration of the common good. Besides, he is one of this staffer’s fellow public officials. If she can’t respect him, how can we trust her to respect other members of society, particularly when they get older and become ill?
The Declaration of Independence states that one inalienable right that we all have is the right to life. In addition, God gave us life and is the only One who can take it from us. Saying that someone’s opinion does not matter because they are dying is comparable to saying that they are as good as dead and so they can no longer give valuable contribution to society. This is what happens when an objection by a dying patient to being taken off life support is ignored by doctors because they think they know better and are doing good by eliminating someone who seemingly has no value. Besides, they reason, they’re going to die anyway. What they don’t realize is that ALL life is valuable and the suffering that the sick and dying experience can be redemptive and help the person get closer to Christ. It can also show the people around them how to have strength in adversity and lead them closer to Christ. John McCain might be dying, but he is still a valuable contributor to society and may be to government proceedings as well.
As insignificant as one comment may seem, what people say usually gives a pretty good clue as to their personality and worldview. How people react also says a lot about the group and society as a whole. Yes, worrying about leakers certainly has its place as they can threaten national security and confidentiality. However, when this is the initial reaction following a comment that degrades another person and his dignity, it shows the symptoms of a society with misplaced concerns that could lead to more trouble in a country where abortion and euthanasia are already widespread. So, where is the outrage about the actual words that were said? Who will stand up and say that it is unacceptable? If we don’t, then whether we mean to or not, we are contributing to the culture of death.