AngeloBottone profile
AngeloBottone
AngeloBottone
I am a college lecturer, I teach philosophy. I am also research officer at the Iona Institute in Dublin, Ireland. I write mostly about bioethics, particularly abortion, marriage and religion. I am planning to post an article per week. Here below you can find some examples.
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Features

  • Philosophy, politics, bioethics, pro-life, marriage, religion.

Recent posts

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AngeloBottone

Marriage in Ireland continues its declineMarriage continues to change and decline in Ireland as t...

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AngeloBottone

Safety above all things is not a Christian virtue

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AngeloBottone

Getting the facts right about reversing effects of abortion pills

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AngeloBottone

New video: French and German judges rule against Covid-bans on public worship

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AngeloBottone

Should those in charge get priority treatment in a pandemic?In a previous blog I discussed an arti

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AngeloBottone

Ireland will be one of the last countries in Europe to restore public worshipWhile Ireland plans ...

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AngeloBottone

How religious sisters are the real founders of modern nursingOn Tuesday, we celebrated Internatio...

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AngeloBottone
Public post
On the balance of goods
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AngeloBottone

(ORIGINAL CONTENT)On the balance of goods Risk is the probability that damage happens. In these ...

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AngeloBottone
Public post
Ethical questions in a pandemic

The current epidemic raises a number of profound ethical questions.   We are facing unprecedented events under the pressure of time and of limited resources. In the name of urgency and necessity we are experiencing exceptional restrictions of fundamental liberties, and a significant alteration of our familiar ways of living.



After the initial shock, when energies are inevitably focused on emergency measures, it is now time to address more fundamental issues that this epidemic has highlighted.



Why do we need a debate about ethics now? In the current exceptional circumstances, it seems that many decisions are not free choices, but they are rather dictated by necessity. Nonetheless, practical deliberations are always inspired by values. Either consciously or unconsciously, we all operate within a moral framework. We decide to pursue a certain course of action, rather than another, because we deem certain principles more important than others. This is obvious when we face conflictual duties – for instance, saving lives and preserving freedom – and we ultimately follow a certain road because of our deep philosophical commitments.



Strategic decisions are now led more by the assessments of the experts than the democratic mandate which legitimizes our political representatives. National and international bureaucratic structures define our common tasks in terms of measurable effectiveness to the point that we feel we are living in a tyranny of the specialists, legitimated by their scientific expertise.



Nothing should be done against science, but the problem is that science is not about ends, it is about means. Medicine tell us how to save lives but doesn’t tell us which lives should or shouldn’t be saved, and why they should be saved at all. Experts disagree, not only on purely scientific grounds – for instance, which treatment works better – but also on what we ultimately want to achieve. Different policies are expression of different values and it would be foolish to move through an epoch-defining outbreak without having a debate about what we ultimately want and why.



We need a debate about ends. What are we here for? The good life in a community, says an old tradition that goes back to our Greek philosophical roots.



What clearly emerges in front of our eyes these days is that we can’t understand ourselves as individuals. We are members of a community. My life depends on what other people around me do. My best efforts will count nothing without everybody else’s best efforts. More than ever, this epidemic requires us to think and act in solidarity, which literally means being strong together. This solidarity is necessary not only in action but firstly in the way we frame and approach our problems.



We are operating in fear and isolation, under the pressure of unprecedented events. We hear that we are forced to trade different values against each other.   But to think according to an ethics of solidarity means that conflicts and tensions should be framed not in terms of opposition but as if they all together threaten to the same end, which is the common good.



It would be wrong to present our dilemmas in terms of exclusive interests: for instance, should we care for the sick or for the one who might lose his job? If we address this problem through the prism of solidarity, we will realise that it is the same person who is at risk of getting sick and losing their job, it is the same family, it is the same community.



Roles are now swiftly exchangeable – a health carer becomes a patient – and the same person often embodies many roles – someone who works from home may also be a carer or a patient. There is no family or group that is not potentially impacted. Traditional categories such as social class, gender, ethnicity, are now insignificant. We are all one and should think in solidarity.



In a competitive struggle for scarce resources, we give priority to those we consider more valuable, overlooking the rest. In a solidaristic approach, we give precedence to those who are most in need.



As every epidemic, this one is significantly impairing what constitutes a community, such as the acting physically together. Everything that is communal is currently affected, from mourning our deaths to celebrating sports, from worshipping to travelling. However, the present epidemic is different when compared with the big ones of the past, think of the Black Death, because contemporary means of communication allows us to be united in spirit with those who are distant. Even if only virtually, certain expressions of solidarity are easier to perform.



As part of a community, we have a duty to limit some of our legitimate desires and demands if they put others at risk. And risk should be understood not simply in the sense of physical health. There is a risk of cutting meaningful relationships, of compromising the education of the younger generations, of impairing mental wellbeing, of destroying business and charitable work, of neglecting those who suffer for other reasons, etc.



The wide scope of risk is what makes this epidemic difficult to manage and it is not the role of ethics to identify what is practically appropriate in each circumstance. Our task, instead, is to inquire what goods we want to achieve and what moral principles should guide us.



I will address in a separate article the moral dilemma of prioritizing access to scarce medical resources but the general principle I am proposing, inspired by an ethics of solidarity, is that everyone should be cared according to their needs, rather than ability or, more often, inability to contribute to society.



An ethics of solidarity involves sacrifice. However, the question should not be formulated in terms of who we are willing to sacrifice for the common good. It is rather, what should be sacrificed? No one should be discriminated because is less abled, has less prospect of life, or can’t pay.



Different approaches and strategies employed to tackle this pandemic reflect who we care most. In any assessment of a balance of goods we should remember the dignity of the most vulnerable. Solidarity means that it is precisely those who are weaker that we hold stronger.



Measures have to be proportionate but what is a fair proportion cannot be determined in advance. By definition, this depends on the circumstances. What, instead, can and should be discussed is what society we wish for when promoting public health.



We won’t be able to do all the good we would like to accomplish but have we established what this good is? Let’s have this conversation.
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AngeloBottone

Remembering the heroic priests and nuns who have died in this crisisAlmost one hundred priests in...

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AngeloBottone

Quantifying the enormous good the Church does worldwideNo voluntary organisation in the world doe...

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AngeloBottone

Time for Irish pharmacists to be given proper conscience rightsA landmark rule has recognised the...

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The Catholic Church is rightly excoriated for its past failure to properly protect children from ...

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UN report warns against all forms of surrogacyBoth commercial and so-called ‘altruistic’ surrogac...

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AngeloBottone
Public post
(original content)

Euthanasia is promoted under the disguise of neutrality




Last week, a spokeperson for Fianna Fáil told the Medical Independent that they would not oppose the referral of assisted suicide to a Citizens’ Assembly for further discussion. Delegating the debate to an unelected body means that neither Fianna Fáil, nor any other major party, is not actively opposing the introduction of legislation that could legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide. (1)

In 2017 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality considered possible recommendations on legislating in favour of euthanasia andassisted suicide. They heard from a number of experts, and the strongest opposition to the introduction of new liberalising laws came from the representatives of the medical profession and of disability advocacy groups. (2)

Des O’Neill, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, said “We have to send out a message to people of disability of whatever age that our impulse is to care, to cure sometimes, to relieve often and comfort always.” (3)

Dr Regina McQuillan of the Irish Association of Palliative Care said: “Suicide is rightly considered a blight on society and there are many efforts made to reduce it. That there are some people for whom suicide is considered appropriate may suggest that there are people whose lives are not deserving of the same level of protection.” (4)

At the end of the hearings, the Committee did not achieve a clear consensus. Accordingly, they did not recommend legislative change.  Instead, they urged the Houses of the Oireachtas “to consider referring the issue to the Citizens’ Assembly for deliberation”. (5) 

But why should a non-representative body, with no specific expertise, discuss and recommend vicariously, when there was no majority in the Oireachtas Committee in support of the change?

Political parties cannot stay neutral and delegate to others such a critical debate. Even small changes must be opposed or they will have catastrophic effects.

We can learn from the experience of other countries that the legislation on these issues is usually introduced on some limited ground (for terminally ill patients, for instance) but, with time, it becomes more and more liberal. Once the general principle that doctors should not participate in procuring death is eroded, it is difficult to change the trend and go back.

Psychiatrist Mark Komrad has said, “Several governments, in the last two decades, have invited and permitted physicians to transgress the prohibition against killing their patients.  … Originally, the class who can be voluntarily killed or helped to suicide was limited to those at the very end of life. However, principles of justice have made it very difficult to limit such procedures to that category of people. The more experience a country has with such practices, the more the horizon of eligibility has expanded far beyond extreme end-stage cases. … The so-called “choice“ that is offered to the suffering to end their lives is a pseudo-choice, filtered through a physician’s own values, and commonly forced, by having very limited choices in other domains — economics, social support, healthcare, etc. It is unjust, and therefore impossible, in a democratic society, to limit these procedures to some — like the terminally ill — but refuse it to others — like those with chronic physical and psychiatric disabilities. Yet, it signals that chronic disability and its sufferings might constitute a “life not worth living.” (6)

The pressure on doctors to support and participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide is growing everywhere.

In October 2018, at the General Assembly of the World Medical Association (WMA), representatives from Canada and the Netherlands attempted to change the WMA code of ethics, which has always condemned the participation of physicians in procuring death through direct euthanasia or providing drugs for suicide. (7)

During the debate, all sort of euthanasic practices were rejected and eventually the proposal has been withdrawn, reiterating the WMA’s long-standing opposition to procuring death.

This debate, though, continues on national level.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), in the UK, has recently dropped its opposition to assisted dying in a surreptitious manner that has attracted strong criticism. They are now neutral on the issue and will not officially engage in public discussions but how they have arrived at this position appears to be despicable. (8)

In 2014, 57.6% of the RCP membership opposed a change in the law that would legalise assisted suicide. In January this year, after announcing the third poll on this topic among its members since 2006, it was decreed that a 60% majority was needed to stop changing the RCP position to non-opposition. This means that even if 59,9% were against the change, it would have occurred nonetheless. Such a majority was even more difficult to achieve as three options were given (yes, no or neutral), while the previous vote was binary (yes or no).

A group of members of the RCP have challenged them in court, arguing that “the use of a ‘super-majority’ vote on such issues is without precedent in professional organisations in the UK. They have said that it appears to be a tactical move to give a strong boost to the campaign to change the law on assisted suicide. The largest euthanasia lobby group in the UK has previously identified the opposition of medical bodies as a key obstacle to changing to law. Two well-known patrons of this organisation, and active campaigners for legalising euthanasia, are on the RCP Council – the internal body driving the RCP poll.” (9)

In spite of the robust protestation, the poll was carried out in February and found that 43.4 pc were opposed adopting a pro-assisted suicide policy, 31.6 pc were in favour and 25 pc were neutral. This means that even though the majority of the voters were against, the Royal College of Physicians will now be neutral on the matter.

In this case, as with the Joint Committee referral to the Citizens’ Assembly, we see that even when there is no clear majority in support for a significant change, certain issues are considered so important by a minority that they have to be promoted, under the disguise of neutrality, until they are accepted.



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AngeloBottone
Public post


What are the beliefs of those who do not believe in God? A new survey presents some counterintuitive and contradictory findings, such as the belief in supernatural phenomena.

An ongoing research project called “Understanding Unbelief” aims at mapping the nature and diversity of non-believers (both atheists and agnostics) across different national settings. It involves participants from six countries and three continents (Brazil, United States, Denmark, United Kingdom, China and Japan). 

The survey comprises about 1,100 representatives per country and its interim findings were presented in Rome recently.
Those who do not believe in God, both because they think he does not exist or because it is not possible to know anything about it, were asked if they considered themselves to belong to a particular religion. Many of them answered positively. For instance, 28% of unbelievers from Denmark labelled themselves as Christians. What they probably mean here is that they come from a Christian background and this heritage is still somehow significant for them. 


A majority of atheists and agnostics from Western countries were brought up in a Christian tradition while nonreligious upbringing prevails among Chinese (82%) and Japanese (70%) unbelievers, according to the study.
Belonging without believing may appear a contradiction if we consider religion only in terms of convictions but being part of a tradition persists even when those convictions are lost.


Participants were asked then how they would identify themselves. ‘Non-religious’ was the most popular designation in every country except China, where instead ‘atheist’ is preferred.
With regard to supernatural phenomena such as reincarnation, astrology, karma, it would be expected that atheists and agnostics do not agree with their existence. Instead, the opposite is the case. Even if to a lower degree, when compared with the rest of the population, a substantial percentage of unbelievers accept supernatural phenomena. More than half of Chinese agnostics believe in astrology, for instance. They are strikingly more like to accept supernatural phenomena than those from other countries and this is a peculiarity shared with the rest of the population.
Moreover, “the belief that there are ‘underlying forces’ of good and evil, that ‘there exist a universal spirit or life force,’ and that ‘most significant life events are meant to be and happen for a reason’ are the most endorsed among unbelievers globally”. (p. 14)


Among atheists, Brazilian and Chinese are the most ‘supernaturally inclined’ while the Japanese are the least. Absolute naturalists, who would deny any existence of supernatural beings or phenomena, are a minority among non-believers in every country surveyed.
These findings prove that a sense for the supernatural, which is part of being human, remains in non-believers and it is channeled into different directions, according to their background culture. For instance, where a certain credence is accepted by the general population, such as the existence of forces of good and evil which prevails among Brazilians, it appears to be similarly prevalent among the atheists or the agnostics of that country.


Does the universe possess any meaning or purpose for those who do not believe in God? Yes, according to the study. “With the exception of Brazil, where 47% endorse such a view, only around a third of unbelievers in each country regard the universe to be ultimately meaningless. While unbelievers are admittedly more likely to take this view than the population at large, curiously this is not so in Japan.” (p. 16)

This Japanese exception is something worth exploring. The interim results offer no explanation yet as they are based simply on statistical surveys while the second part of the research will focus on in-depth, face-to face interviews and might help with the interpretation of data.

Participants were asked to find the most important items, from a list of 43 words, to them for finding meaning in the world and in their own life. There was no substantial difference between unbelievers and general populations concerning the answer, ‘family’ and then ‘freedom’ ranking highly for all, according to the study.

The research also found no consistent difference between unbelievers and the general population with regard to the objectivity of moral norms or of human rights.  While unbelievers are more likely to endorse the claim that ‘what is right and wrong is up to each person to decide’ in China and the United States, members of the general population are more likely to endorse it in Brazil, Denmark, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

It appears that cultural differences rather than religious faith, or lack of it, explain cross-national variations better. The study shows that being an unbeliever is complex and does not exclude many counterintuitive and often contradictory beliefs.
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AngeloBottone

The risk factors leading to marital breakdownDo marriages that end in separation or divorce share...

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AngeloBottone

Children suffer when parents in low-conflict marriages divorceWe are in the middle of a referendu...

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AngeloBottone

Persecution of Christians in some countries ‘approaching genocide’, but we remain indifferentTwo ...

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We hear a lot in the papers about ‘rogue’ pro-life counselling agencies. But what of rogue fertil...

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Health Minister Simon Harris wants the State to provide free contraception as a way of reducing t...

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AngeloBottone

God and Reason

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AngeloBottone

Our politicians’ blind spot about the natural ties and children

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AngeloBottone
Public post

Refusing to see the evidence about children of married parents

Yet another study was published recently showing that “children born to unmarried parents are disadvantaged relative to children born to married parents in terms of parental capabilities and family stability”. The study follows the lives of 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in large US cities. It is called the ‘Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study’. It is overseen by Princeton University’s Professor Sarah McLanahan. She was interviewed about the study recently on the BBC. What is fascinating is the interviewer’s obvious resistance to the findings of the research.

Professor McLanahan, who raised a child on her own for ten years, first of all outlines some of the main conclusions of the study.

She says of the ‘fragile families’ followed by her research team: “The bottom line is that there is an enormous amount of instability, partnership changes, so a lot of them, mothers who do start out cohabiting with the father, most of those relationships end by the time the children are five-nine years old and then the mother goes on to look and have another partner that she may live with, and she may have a child with that second partner. And then that relationship may you end. And so, the children in these families are exposed to a lot of changes in the partnership composition of the household. They also end up with many half-siblings.”

The interviewer then asks: “When you looked at the children’s education, their emotional well-being, their behavior, how did it look for the children?”

Professor McLanahan responds: “It looked worse in every dimension and some of that is due to the fact that these children have less educated parents, they have lower incomes and all of those things but even after you take those factors into account, there’s an additional a negative consequence associated with the partnership changing. So, the children they do worse on cognitive tests. They do worse in behavior, especially social emotional behaviour problems, and there’s also more asthma, worse sleep patterns and lots of just health problems as compared to children raised in stable two parent families.”

It is now that the interviewer begins to resist the findings and discover if there is some way to explain them away and conclude that they have nothing to do with the children having two parents per se, or with being married.

She asks Professor McLanahan “how she could be so sure that these results are due to the parent’s marital status and not other differences.”

Professor McLanahan responds: “But you can do that statistically by comparing parents who have the same amount of instabilities but one also had the instability of partnership and the other family has not.”

The interviewer presses on: “And is the effect of being unmarried really worse than some of the other effects that we’re talking about?”

Professor McLanahan cuts to the heart of the interviewer’s concern: “I think what you’re asking is: what if you were unmarried, a stable single mother, who has lived in the same house and never had a partner. There are a few of these mothers and the research does show their children do worse. And if you think about it, why do they do worse? They have one parent time instead of two.”

The interviewer still doesn’t let up: “Were these results consistent enough for you to be absolutely sure that you were saying, an effect that was linked to the to the family setup?”

Professor McLanahan (remember, she lived for 10 years as a lone parent and therefore sympathises greatly with lone parents) sticks to her guns. She says: “Yes, yes, I think so. A parent’s time and money is what parents have to invest in their children so when you only have one parent you’re going to have less time and money, even though as many as about a third of the unmarried fathers do stay involved with their children, even after they’ve ended the relationship with her mother. But they don’t stay nearly as involved as the married fathers and one of the things that’s interesting about this, or sad I guess you could say, is that during the last twenty years there’s been a large increase in fathers’ involvement with children and so the during the period when the more highly educated fathers are spending more time with their children, the less than college educated fathers are spending much less, primarily because they’re not living with their children. What worries me the most is I see this as really contributing to a growing gap between the children born to educated parents and the children born to less educated parents. So, it’s increasing inequality”.

Even now, the interviewer won’t let go. She still wants to be absolutely sure that the study really finds that family structure makes a difference to children.

Now she states: “Your study includes thousands of families but given the complexity of families and of day-to-day living, how can you be sure that the families you studied give you a reliable enough findings to make these conclusions?”

Professor McLanahan (a very patient women evidently) responds: “We can’t run an experiment where we had kids who are exactly alike, we assign one living to a fragile family or being born to a fragile family, and one being born to a stable to parent family. So, we can never rule out that some of the factors that are affecting those choices are responsible for the poor child outcomes. But we have lots of econometric and statistical approaches for dealing with these issues and my sense, at the end of the day, is that there is a causal effect in these family changes on child wellbeing. I don’t think it’s gigantic, it’s not as big as the effect of mothers’ education, but it’s big enough to be a concern, it’s big enough to increase inequality.”

What is going on here is very interesting. When studies are published showing the poverty can have ill effects on children, no-one asks the researchers if they can be absolutely, 100 percent sure that they are really measuring the effects of poverty and not other factors (e.g. family instability!).

Studies have been produced of children raised by same-sex parents saying the children are doing just fine, and they are barely questioned, even though the sample sizes are almost always tiny and/or non-random.

But here we see huge resistance to the findings of another big, longitudinal study which indicates that family structure makes a difference to the lives of children, even after controlling for other factors.

Finally, having explored every other avenue, the interviewer pointblank asks: “Do you worry that your findings are open to being hijacked by people who might want to draw quite different conclusions about how, particularly women, should lead their lives?”

Professor McLanahan answers: “Definitely yes. There are people who would like to say, you know if we just get everybody married everything will be ok, and you know, I definitely don’t think that would fix things at all. I think we have to fix a lot of this societal conditions that are making it so hard for these parents to have a stable relationship.

But who is really saying this? Who really thinks that getting married is a cure-all? But it clearly helps in some cases, as the Fragile Families study indicates. Why can’t we say this? Perhaps it is ideological resistance to saying marriage matters that is the real problem here, or ideological resistance to saying fathers matter?

Few people say mothers don’t matter and surely it is simply common sense to suggest that having the father around is of benefit both to the mother and the children, assuming he is a fit parent?

Maybe one day we can accept studies like this one at face value, draw the necessary policy conclusions and do what we can to connect more fathers to their children and the mothers of their children. That something used to be marriage.


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