Torture, the inflicting of excruciating pain, is a direct attack on the integrity of the body. Everyone possesses the right of immunity from assault in order to live humanly. This right is analogous to the right one has not to be deprived of the sense of sight. Thus, the act of torture is always and everywhere immoral. Richard John Neuhaus (Public Square, March 2005) appropriately asks: "Does the duty to protect thousands of innocent lives override the duty not to torture?" The reply should be in the negative. An intrinsically immoral act is never permissible, not matter what physical good it may occasion.
The policy of our government to shoot down hijacked airplanes, also mentioned by Fr. Neuhaus, requires a review of the principle of double effect. According to traditional morality, a person must verify several conditions before performing an action that results in two effects, one good and the other evil. In this instance, the passengers and crew are killed; the targeted victims of the terrorists are saved.
To solve this problem, we must determine whether or not certain conditions are met. Natural law ethicists point out that, first of all, the act itself must be good or indifferent theoretically. To destroy a plane-become-a-bomb is not an intrinsically evil act. And in this case, the evil effect certainly does not produce the good effect. The deaths of the travelers on the commercial jet is not what safeguards the terrorists' intended victims. It is, rather, the elimination of the airplane that thwarts the murderers.
Obviously, neither the government nor the Air Force pilot who pulls the trigger intends the death of...