Tollefsen, Christopher O.
29 Articles at

Christopher O. Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. His book Biomedical Research and Beyond: Expanding the Ethics of Inquiry (Routledge, 2008) has just been released in paperback. Tollefsen sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.


Ask Chris Tollefsen: An Ethics Advice Column

As always, I'll give my best account of what seems reasonable in the situation. But it is only advice: everyone who writes needs to make an independent assessment about the soundness of my guidance.

Date posted: 2024-01-09

What Is Abortion?

No particular terminology that is adopted in medicine or law determines the moral issues of abortion, nor does any common usage of the word. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike are capable of recognizing that a range of medical interventions can end an unborn human being's life. They differ, often radically, about the justice of most such interventions.

Date posted: 2022-11-08

Dobbs, Medicine, and Threats to Maternal Life

Genuine cases of conflict between maternal and fetal health raise difficult moral questions, but a necessary starting point is to affirm both that physicians must honor their commitment to the mother's health and that the law's just protection of unborn human life should not interfere with that responsibility.

Date posted: 2022-07-23

Making Children, Unmaking Families

Manufacturing children using the genetic material of multiple parents is not a prospect to be celebrated. It is a dystopian technology, making children, as if they were consumer goods, and unmaking the family, as if it were not essential to the common good.

Date posted: 2020-08-30

Research Using Cells of Illicit Origin and Vaccines from Fetal Tissue

What happens if a possible future vaccine for COVID-19 is developed unethically, by using contemporary tissue from aborted children? Could pro-life citizens morally use such a vaccine?

Date posted: 2020-06-01

It's Unethical to Use Fetal Tissue in COVID-19 Research

The use of fetal tissue from aborted human beings in medical research predicates the health of some on the deliberate destruction of the lives and health of others. That predication is incompatible with the fundamental commitments of medicine. In the face of this global crisis, we must hold to our ethical principles more firmly than ever.

Date posted: 2020-04-24

Measles, Mumps, and Religious Freedom: Mandatory Vaccination and the Limits of Parental Rights

It is a mark of responsible governance, not authoritarian overreach, for states to act when the demands of public health call for such measures. It is true that the presumption of freedom, religious liberty, and parental authority are all at risk in an increasingly regulatory, secular, and statist culture, but it is an error to see vaccination policy as an essential battleground for defense of these important rights.

Date posted: 2019-07-14

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Personal Action: Responding to the Law

We can't afford to live without physicians who are devoted to always healing and caring, and never harming. Requesting physician-assisted suicide, like legalizing it, erodes that devotion. A refusal to ask, even on the part of those not committed to the inviolability of human life, helps sustain that devotion.

Date posted: 2018-06-02

The Deficits of the iPhone Generation

Members of iGen suffer from serious intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration.

Date posted: 2018-03-31

Assault Weapons, Defense, and the Resistance to Tyranny

On some rights - such as the right to life - there is no room for compromise. But assault weapons seem an appropriate point of compromise for proponents of a right to bear arms.

Date posted: 2018-03-24

Practical Reason, Basic Goods, and Natural Law

Reason operating without error judges that no human being should ever intend the death of another human being for any reason whatsoever. No achievable good can justify such a choice. And that is the foundation for the case against the death penalty.

Date posted: 2018-01-15

Doubting Thomas (Aquinas) on Private and Public Killing

There is a genuine tension, not just in Aquinas but in Church teaching more generally, between claims about the intrinsic goodness, sanctity, and inviolability of human life, and claims about political authority to kill. The second in a two-part series.

Date posted: 2017-11-20

A Philosophical Case Against Capital Punishment

Arguments against the death penalty can be made not only on the basis of theology but also on the basis of natural law philosophy. The first in a two-part series.

Date posted: 2017-11-20

Mercy for Dylann Roof

Showing mercy to Dylann Roof by refusing to impose the death penalty would respect the acts of both his victims, who showed him welcome, and their families, who showed him forgiveness. In this way, good could be drawn from evil, and the sinfulness of Dylann Roof's actions could be overcome by love.

Date posted: 2016-12-30

Couples Who Adopt Are "Real Parents"

Couples who adopt children out of an abundance of spousal love are creative and life-giving; they help form the identity of their children in a way that mirrors God's adoption of us through baptism.

Date posted: 2016-10-13

To Whom Do Children Belong? Melissa Moschella's Defense of Parents' Rights

A new book defends the view that parents have primary authority over their children. The role of the state is to help parents, not to take over tasks that are properly parental.

Date posted: 2016-10-13

Pope Francis, the Zika Virus, and Contraception

Moral reasons exist for the use of contraceptives to defend against sexual assault, thanks to the principle of double effect - but these reasons do not apply to using contraception because of the Zika virus.

Date posted: 2016-03-01

Gender Identity

Gender is a way of communicating truths or falsehoods about one's sex and its corresponding social and cultural roles. An age of gender confusion and rejection calls for reflection on important issues that, in an upright age, would hardly arise. The second in a two-part series.

Date posted: 2015-08-29

Sex Identity

As animals that reproduce sexually, humans in the paradigm case are either male or female, with the sexes specified by reproductive roles they can potentially fulfill. According to this account, it is impossible for someone to change his or her sex, and all attempts to do so involve mutilation. The first of a two-part series.

Date posted: 2015-08-20

God, Death, and Capital Punishment

It is philosophically and theologically defensible for Catholics to believe that the death penalty is intrinsically wrong.

Date posted: 2015-05-24

Incest and Pornography: More Similar Than We Think

Although we uphold the cultural taboo on incest, we accept something with precisely the same negative effect on integrity, marriage, and family: pornography.

Date posted: 2014-09-20

Science and the Embryo

It is an interesting, difficult, and manifestly important question: "When does a new human being begin to exist?" Many crucial moral, political, and legal matters turn upon the answer. But this question is distinct from a further one: "How should we go about answering this important, difficult, and interesting question?"

Date posted: 2014-08-25

In Defense of the Innocent

Although Nigel Biggar's new book on just war has many strengths, the author gets himself into a moral muddle over the question whether the deaths of innocent non-combatants can be deliberately chosen in war.

Date posted: 2014-04-28

Abortion: A Public Issue

Contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court, abortion is not a private issue. It snuffs out the existence of a member of the human community - a person like us with a radical capacity for reason and freedom.

Date posted: 2014-04-28

Should we really treat animals like humans?

All creatures are special, but some are more special than others.

Date posted: 2014-01-09

What Obligations to Other Animals Are Not

Charles Camosy's new book argues that we should treat animals with the same Christian justice that underlies our treatment of other people. But human beings and other animals are not fundamentally equal in the way that all human beings are, as free and rational beings created in the image of God.

Date posted: 2014-01-09

Gosnell, Law, and Modest First Steps

The Gosnell case shows us that a society's laws teach, and if they teach a lesson of injustice they will corrupt its people over time. Indeed, contemporary abortion jurisprudence undermines the very notion of natural rights and constitutional government.

Date posted: 2013-07-19

Capital Punishment, Sanctity of Life, and Human Dignity

Intentional killing is always wrong, and support of capital punishment often stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of human dignity.

Date posted: 2011-09-27

The Caregiver's Lesson

One of the more subtle arguments for denying human dignity and moral worth to the severely disabled or dependent could be called the "No Benefit" view. It holds that any patient who is in a persistent vegetative state or suffering from dementia and is no longer capable of pursuing human goods also cannot be benefited by the action of others. Similarly, unborn human beings, because they are not sentient, are said to have no interests, and no welfare. Action for the sake of their well-being is thus impossible.

Date posted: 2011-08-19