Compassion, I have heard it said, is the core of Christian ethics.
But it is a devilishly dangerous foundation on which to build an ethical approach to law, precisely because it is allowing a feeling to sway a thought. It is giving the heart control of the head. It is allowing reason to be swayed by the passions.
Now all that might be good in its proper place (eg. a romantic novel), but even in real life relationships, we know too well what trouble lays around the corner for those who follow the “tug” of the the passions and are “swayed” against the objections of their reason.
In the halls of our legislative assemblies and councils, there is even more to be concerned when, as The Age reports this morning in the article “Isabella’s story sways a conservative”, the application of and aquiescence to emotional pressure succeeds in narrowly passing a piece of legislation which will impact on the whole of our society.
Here are snippets. It is not the clearest account of the matter, and is itself obviously written to produce an emotional result, but you will get the picture. The emphasis is added by me:
IT WAS an emotional tug that traditionally conservative Labor MP Bob Smith couldn’t ignore.
As the Catholic MP wrestled over whether to back a bill giving single women and lesbians greater access to fertility treatment and change surrogacy arrangements, close friend Stephen Conroy intervened.
A Victorian senator and Rudd Government minister, Mr Conroy was forced to travel to Sydney with his wife to have their daughter, Isabella, through IVF and surrogacy.
Isabella’s story, Mr Smith told Parliament, had an extraordinary and powerful influence.
“The good senator did everything in his power to pressure me, even to the extent of suggesting I would be voting against Isabella,” he said.
Senator Conroy and his wife, Paula Benson, turned to surrogacy after Ms Benson had ovarian cancer and a hysterectomy and could not conceive.
Yesterday, Mr Smith’s vote was crucial in the Victorian upper house’s backing of the proposed legislation.
After days of furious lobbying by supporters of the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, a second reading vote passed 20 to 18.
You get the picture. It is a little sad. One cannot be too hard on Mr Smith. He is, after all, a product of our times–and probably the Catholic moral education of the seventies which emphasised such “core principles” as “compassion”. And he was under such great pressure from his good friend.
But it is sad. It is clear that without this “pressure”, he would have voted against the legislation, and the legislation would have been scuttled. It raises all sorts of questions about conscience and acting in accordance with it, as well as the way in which our laws are made.
I would also like to ask the more theoretical question: What happened to Mr Smith’s conscience at this point? Was it “awakened” by the emotional pressure of his friend’s lobbying? Or did he act contrary to the way in which his formed conscience directed him to act?
For the moment, the bill has not yet become law. It has to come back to the house inthe first days of December after a spell with a legislative committee. But if Mr Smith votes again as he did yesterday, then we can expect that by next Christmas we could well be welcoming more than one child into the world without a natural father…