The source for the purposes of this thread is here: vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a4.htm
The verbatim quote:1) the object chosen;
2) the end in view or the intention;
3) the circumstances of the action.
Let’s translate them into everyday language:1) what the agent wants to achieve.
2) why the agent wants to achieve it.
3) how the action is carried out.
Can’t argue with it. It is clear and obvious. It is not “invented” by the church; any rational person would come to the same conclusion. But reality is sometimes not clear and obvious. Let’s take a real world example, depicted quite dramatically in the movie: “Full Metal Jacket”. If you have not seen it, here is a short excerpt of the pertinent part.
A group of American soldiers are sent out to investigate a territory during the Vietnam War. They are on their own, no support. They are cut off from the main forces. As they approach a seemingly abandoned factory building, a sniper opens fire on them, and manages to kill at least three of them.
They storm the building firing at the windows, and manage to get inside. There they find the sniper, a girl, who was seriously wounded in the counter attack. She begs the soldiers to shoot her. Some of the soldiers want to grant her wish. But the leader of the group says: “No, we shall leave her to the mother-loving rats”. When the other soldier disagrees, the leader says: “If you wanna waste her, then waste her”. And the soldier (for whom it is his first kill) raises his gun and shoots.
Here comes the question: Catholic theology forbids “mercy killing”. Yet we are expected to be compassionate and merciful. The compassionate act is to fulfill the request, leaving someone to be devoured by rats (while still alive) is as horrible as it can be. They don’t have the ways and means to help the sniper. They may even feel revenge because she killed their comrades (not nice, but understandable). There is NO THIRD OPTION. Either kill or leave and allow her die.
For an abominable heathen (like me ;)) the solution is obvious. Raise the gun and kill. It is not a murder, it is a mercy killing. The intent is what makes the difference. Funny that the Catholic ethics says that if you do the “right thing” for a “wrong reason”, it will still make your action immoral. If you help out a homeless but secretly you want to feel good about yourself, your act was immoral. But the reverse is denied. No matter how noble, compassionate and caring your intent is, the “mercy killing” is still considered to be a murder.
How would you act in such a case? And even more importantly, how would you justify your action to yourself? I know the propensity of trying to avoid hard hitting dilemmas. But in this case there is no “get out of jail” card. You must choose. How would you choose?