Robert P. George, disagreeing with Cornell law professor Eduardo Peñalver over whether Catholics and other pro-life advocates could support the Democratic party, indicated that at the heart of their dispute were two questions: first, whether human embryos are human beings or not, and then, "whether every human being, irrespective of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency, possesses profound, inherent, and equal dignity."
The first question, Dr. George held, is a scientific one, answered affirmatively by embryological standards. The second is philosophical:
Do we possess dignity and a right to life by virtue of the kind of entity we are, namely, a human being -- the one type of bodily creature known to us who has a rational nature? Or is dignity something we possess only by virtue of our acquisition or realization of certain qualities (immediately exercisable capacities) that human beings in certain stages and conditions possess (or exhibit) and others do not, and that some possess in greater measure than others, e.g., self-awareness, consciousness, rationality?
In this question the demonic character -- and I don't simply mean by this "very bad," but "from evil spirits" -- of what is being dealt with here becomes evident. Our opponents view the essential value of the human being as a quantity, not a quality: specifically, a quantity of active intellectual life. They measure the value of the human body only so far as they can perceive it serving as a vehicle for intelligence, hence the devaluation of all life, young, old, or impaired, and, at least by implication -- although this is currently unfashionable to admit -- inferior, in which this power is small or difficult to detect.
The manifest potential of nascent life is, as a rule, ignored for the sake of expedience, although this is irrational. The principal reason why children are condemned to death in the womb is that they are inconvenient, but philosophical justification of the killing nearly always involves devaluation.
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