Ethicists Without Borders on the Crisis in Syria


Ethicists Without Borders on the Crisis in Syria

April 17, 2018

The poison gas attack that killed and injured scores of people, including children, on April 7, 2018, in Douma, Syria, shocks our consciences. We are a group comprised mostly of ethicists representing an array of religious, philosophical, and methodological perspectives. One of the things about which we agree is that the intentional, direct killing of civilians, including children, who are noncombatants and pose no threat to anyone, is never morally justified. Chemical weapons are both immoral and illegal; their use is always indiscriminate and their effects always inhumane. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France have expressed their confidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military were responsible for using these chemical weapons. All those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, regardless of their side or affiliation in this civil conflict, must be held accountable in accordance with international law.

As ethicists, we find the present situation, which has remained much the same, if not gotten worse, over the past several years in Syria to be truly tragic. There does not seem to be a clear, right answer with regard to the question of what ought to be done to ethically end the Syrian conflict. There’s definitely no easy solution. But we do know that what’s happening in Syria now is morally wrong. Missile strikes might stop, at least temporarily, chemical weapons from being used against civilians, but conventional weapons continue to injure and kill all too many. The status quo is unacceptable.

Something must be done that does not make matters worse, especially for civilians. Until constructive options are identified and effectively implemented, we call for a cease fire that will allow “the least of these”–children and other civilians who pose no threat to anyone in Syria or elsewhere–safe access to shelter, food, and medicine and for the establishment of a protected corridor to enable them to find refuge in safe sanctuaries.

Moreover, we emphasize the importance of strengthening international channels and structures of accountability and enforcement. We lament the politicization of the United Nations Security Council, which has left no credible mechanism for impartial international attribution of responsibility. We insist that our national leaders uphold the rule of law, show compassion for refugees and subscribe to international institutions like the International Criminal Court to bring perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice.

That’s the least we can do, for now, until the smoke of war clears in Syria.

(If you are an ethicist or teach ethics and wish to add your name, please email Tobias Winright at with your name, title, and institution. Institutions are named for identification purposes only and this does not necessarily represent their support of this statement, although we hope they do, too.)


1. Tobias Winright, Mäder Endowed Associate Professor of Health Care Ethics and Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University

2. María Teresa Dávila, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Andover Newton Theological School

3. Anna Floerke Scheid Associate Professor of Theology Duquesne University

4. Michael P. Jaycox, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Seattle University

5. Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Associate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology

6. Jackie Turvey Tait, Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Chester

7. Elizabeth Sweeny Block, Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University

8. Jacob W. Torbeck, Instructor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago

9. Scott Paeth, Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University

10. Bradley B. Burroughs, Fully Affiliated Faculty in Ethics and Theology, United Theological Seminary

11. Emily Reimer-Barry, Associate Professor, University of San Diego

12. Christine E. McCarthy, Teaching Associate, Fordham University

13. Myles Werntz, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Theology, Logsdon Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University

14. Mark Allman, Associate Dean and Professor of Religious Studies, Merrimack College

15. John Slattery, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Notre Dame

16. George Faithful, Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Dominican University of California

17. Vincent Lau, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary

18. Amy Levad, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN

19. Maria Kenney, Affiliate Professor of Christian Ethics, Asbury Theological Seminary

20. Joseph J. Fahey, Retired Professor of Religious Studies, Manhattan College

21. Andrew Staron, Assistant Professor of Theology, Wheeling Jesuit University

22. Kevin Ahern, Assistant Professor of Religous Studies, Manhattan College

23. Justin Barringer, PhD Student in Religious Ethics, Southern Methodist University

24. Rachel Hart Winter, Director, Siena Center, Dominican University

25. Jame Schaefer, Associate Professor of Theology, Marquette University

26. Raymond R. Roberts, Pastor, River Road Presbyterian Church, Co-Chair Advisory Committee on Social Policy Witness

27. Susan A. Ross, Professor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago

28. Elisabeth T. Vasko, Associate Professor of Theology, Duquesne University

29. William George, Professor of Theology, Dominican University

30. Elizabeth Collier, Professor of Business Ethics, Dominican University

31. Marcus Mescher, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics, Xavier University

32. Sam Tsang, Adjunct Professor, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary

33. Jessica Wrobleski, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Wheeling Jesuit University

34. Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon, Researcher and Fellow, Center for Ethics, University of Pardubice

35. David DeCosse, Director of Campus Ethics Programs, Santa Clara University

36. Dolores Christie, Catholic Theological Society of America – Executive Director (Retired)

37. Bryan N. Massingale, James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Applied Christian Ethics, Fordham University

38. Sameer Yadav, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Westmont College

39. Richard W. Miller, Professor of Systematic and Philosophical Theology, Professor of Sustainability Studies, Creighton University

40. John Inglis, Professor of Philosophy, cross-appointed to Religious Studies, University of Dayton

41. James T. Bretzke, S.J., Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College School of Theology & Ministry

42. T. Michael McNulty, S.J., Scholar in Residence, Marquette University Center for Peacemaking

43. Lisa Sowle Cahill, Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College

44. Daniel DiLeo, Assistant Professor of Social and Cultural Studies, Director of Justice and Peace Program, Creighton University

45. Mary E. Hines, Professor of Theology, Emmanuel College

46. Ron Pagnucco, Associate Professor, Department of Peace Studies, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

47. Peter Gathje, Professor of Christian Ethics, Memphis Theological Seminary

48. Vic McCracken, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, Abilene Christian University

49. Laura Stivers, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Education and Professor of Ethics, Dominican University of California

50. Mary Jo Iozzio, Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

51. Brian Volck, Pediatrician and Writer, Baltimore, Maryland

52. Timothy Harvie, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Calgary, Canada

53. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College

54. Kathryn Blanchard, Professor of Religious Studies, Alma College

55. Jonathan R. Wilson, Teaching Fellow, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada

56. Christopher D. Jones, Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics, Barry University

57. John Sniegocki, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Director of Peace & Justice Studies, Xavier University

58. James Hug, S.J., Past President, Center of Concern, Washington, DC

59. James Keenan, S.J., Canisius Professor, Boston College