Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Theories of Ethics

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a Roman Catholic nun of Albanian origin. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with the poor and dying, primarily in India. Her humanitarian organistaion, the Missionaries of Charity, continues to expand, and at the time of her death it was operating 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programmes, orphanages, and schools.

She has been praised by many individuals, governments and organizations and was considered a "living saint" before her death in 1997. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002, following varification by the Vatican that a number of miracles could be attributed to prayers to her.

We have discussed five theories for the existence of ethics:
  • Moral relativism
  • Religion
  • Duty
  • Self-interest
  • Utilitarianism
Few people, until recently, would have doubted that Mother Teresa was motivated by strong religious ethics and a sense of duty. However, it has been suggested that close to her death she experienced doubts concerning her faith. She has also faced critisism of the focus of her work and it has been suggested she was motivated by self-interest.

One of her most vociferous detractors is the British (now American) journalist Christopher Hitchens, well known for playing 'devils advocate'. Interestingly, this phrase was originally used to describe a lawyer who gave evidence against a person's beatification, and Hitchens was called by the Vatican in this role in the case of Mother Teresa's. In his book, The Missionary Position, he critises her work, including baptisms of the dying, her strong anti-contraception and anti-abortion stance, and her belief in the spiritual goodness of poverty. Several medical journals have also criticised the standard of medical care in her hospices and concerns have been raised about the nature in which donated money was received and spent.

In the following documentary Hitchens develops his arguments. Please note that this piece is very one-sided and I'd encourage researching other sources on Mother Teresa's work in order to develop a more balanced viewpoint. Take note of the references to ethics.

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