One sentence sums up the political dysfunction in today’s environment. The free market of ideas only works when there are buyers. Debate and discussion only better the system if positions are subject to change – otherwise it’s arguing and lecturing. When positions become engrained sometimes the why becomes lost. To that end, an examination of why protect life serves as a moment to reflect, and will help reaffirm the why part of the equation and advance argumentation, as opposed to the arguing that so often characterizes the debate.
In order to understand the context of the current arguments for and against the right to life it’s necessary to examine the history of the unborn, for this history sets forth the rational for defending life in today’s culture. While all ideas must be examined on their merits absent any outside influences, an idea that runs contrary to a long established position carries an extra burden of establishing how the long established position is erroneous or harmful. Claims of enlightenment, or the opposite, asserting that the historical position is primitive, are self-serving allegations. They do not serve to establish the merits of the new position or demonstrate harm that flows from the historical position.
To begin with, life itself is not what’s being protected. Only the most radical would object to killing a cockroach. Historically, even human life itself isn’t where the protection lies. Protection arises at the point of ensoulment. It was the living, ensouled embryo that warranted protection. We do not, and cannot, know with absolute certainty when ensoulment occurs. It’s a matter of faith, not science. It cannot be proven. As a result, scientific advancements imparting new knowledge challenged philosophical conclusions, and as science advanced philosophy advanced in light of the new knowledge resulting in a changed belief about the point of ensoulment. Today, the prevailing belief is that ensoulment occurs with conception, and so the protection of life begins at conception.
The culture of life has roots in religion. The western religions all have a long history of disallowing abortion. For different reasons, the eastern religions also disapprove abortion. Islam has characteristics of both western and eastern religions.
With the western religions the prohibition on abortion is clear. In the Jewish tradition, Sanhedrin 57b states, “Whoso sheddeth the blood of man within [another] man, shall his blood be shed.” The implication is clear, shedding the blood of a “man within man” refers to the unborn child. Early Christian teaching also directly forbids abortion. The Didache is one of the earliest Christian texts, written around 100 AD, so it states the position of both Catholic and Orthodox beliefs as the separation had not yet occurred. The Didache states, “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.” The phrasing not only is explicit in prohibiting abortion it also specifically acknowledges that abortion is referring to the unborn by contrasting it to “nor kill that which is born.” Not only that, the Didache notes that abortion is a “grave sin” rather than “other sins” suggesting the gravity of the teaching.
With the eastern religions the tone is one of disapproval rather than prohibition. In Buddhism abortion violates the precept against killing, but the general inclination against abortion is not absolute. Abortion must be considered on a case by case basis and is permissible when “the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception.” In Hunduism the principle of Ahimsa requires a negative view of abortion. But just as with Buddhism this is not an absolute prohibition as, “though abortion is wrong, it is worse for a child to kill his mother” so abortion is allowed to protect the life of the mother.
Islam has features of both eastern and western religions. In Islam it is impermissible to have an abortion unless the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life or would leave her handicapped. This follows the eastern religions allowance for an exception on the prohibition of abortion. However, in instances when it is permissible to abort the exception only applies until the soul has been infused to the body, accepting the ensoulment tradition of western religions.
While the culture of life has roots in religion, the culture of death has ugly roots; there’s no other word to describe it. The culture of death existed before abortion with the roots originating in infanticide. Infanticide has existed since at least the ancient Greek city-states. Abortion is the current face of the culture of death, and while words like eugenics are thrown around to describe the genesis of the abortion movement it’s more accurately described as an observation of the outcome created by the underlying values that gave rise to abortion. The warrant upon which abortion is supported is that not all ensouled life has equal value, and at some point ensouled life is disposable. The assigning relative degrees of value is just a manifestation of the underlying warrant. Eugenics is one result of a belief that not all ensouled life is equal. As the heinousness of eugenics has been realized other results have come to fill the void and established and promote a culture of death.
With the culture of death sometimes victories occur in marked changes in the law such as legalized abortion or euthanasia, but more often and more seriously the culture of death advances by a pervasive creep rather than major lurches forward. No area is spared the creep of the culture of death. Even Texas, while proudly pro-life, even Texas has accepted some culture of death argumentation and implemented policies at the legislative level. Regardless of your belief on the necessity of the Texas Advance Directives Act, two things cannot be disputed. One, the act shifts medical decision making from the patient (through their surrogate) to medical personnel. Two, the medical personnel are given legal immunity for their actions. The culture of death’s pervasive creep carries the day in this instance.
In her diary, St. Faustina often noted Christ lamented that souls rejected grace. When a soul accepts grace the acceptance is self evident in the soul’s works. To this end, the culture of life has expanded to encompass more than opposition to abortion. Crisis pregnancy centers, Gabriel Projects and similar organizations try to account for, care for, babies both before and after birth. This has lead to a logical extension of protecting the babies health in the womb. This can take the form of organizations such as the March of Dimes, but it also can take place in the form of legislation extending insurance coverage to the baby, and awareness of and prevention against specific birth defects, such as drug regulation by the FDA and environmental regulation by the EPA.
Just as when a soul accepts grace the acceptance is shown in the soul’s works, so too when the soul rejects grace the rejection appears in the soul’s works. The rejection of grace has lead to the creep in the culture of death becoming a cause for proponents. Look at how quickly the debate has evolved since Terri Schiavo’s case was decided. With her case, there was at least facially an open question of self determination being administered through her surrogates (specifically her husband.) She died on March 31, 2005; and only 4 months later articles were being written in support of euthanasia for babies. Now, the talk has shifted and arguments are being proposed for “after birth” or “4th trimester” abortion. This isn’t euthanasia for babies, but outright support for infanticide. The culture of death has come full circle, the victories along the way pave the way for the creep to expand back to the root to strengthen the culture of death.
That is why we must fight to protect life. The culture of death is self-sustaining and is never satisfied.