On November 8, 2011, the people of Mississippi will have an opportunity to cast their vote to affirm a scientific fact, that a human being in the womb of his or her mother is a human person from the moment of conception. The lieutenant Governor of the State recently expressed what many of his fellow Mississippians believe in these words: “The Founding Fathers said that every American has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On November the 8th, we’re going to give that right to every child in America, beginning in Mississippi”
If the people of the State pass this amendment to the State Constitution, intentional abortion, which is the taking of innocent human life in the womb, will be illegal – just like every other act of killing an innocent human person. The Mississippi amendment specifically includes them in the definition section of person in the State Constitution.
The Mississippi effort is a part of a growing trend in the States to pass such constitutional amendments to protect the lives of our youngest neighbors. These efforts are referred to collectively as the “Personhood” movement. Even within the Pro-Life movement, they have their detractors. However, the Pro-Life detractors do not deny the truth about the personhood of the unborn; they disagree with the legal approach taken by the Personhood proponents. They share the goal of re-securing the fundamental Right to life for these children in the first home of the whole human race.
The personhood movement has similar initiatives underway in more than a dozen States. The movement draws its marching orders from the language of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the infamous Roe v Wade decision, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” The Amendment to which Justice Blackmun referred is the Fourteenth Amendment to US Constitution which, in its first section affirms,
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Congresswoman from Florida and Chair of the Democratic National Committee, recently told CNS News that calling the child a person is an extremist position. “For the vast majority of Americans, including people on both sides of the abortion issue, this is an extreme and radical step.” She further alleged it was a “divisive, dangerous, and destructive” attack on women.
She continued, “To American women, their reproductive health and choice is an intensely personal and private issue between themselves, their families, and their doctors. But Republicans in Washington and across the country have tried to limit these rights, with their assault on Planned Parenthood in Congress and restrictive laws in the states being among several examples.”
“Now, the effort by the far right [is] to pass these so-called personhood amendments-divisive, dangerous, and destructive laws which would cripple a woman’s right to choose, limit access to birth control, and put the lives of women with difficult pregnancies at risk.”
As I read her words I recalled a statement issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on September 8, 2008, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary called “The Dignity of a Person”. This defense of the dignity of every single human life from the moment of conception until natural death should be read by all who work to stop the killing of children in the womb by intentional abortion.
As is the custom with “magisterial” documents of the Catholic Church, the title of this instruction was taken from the first line, “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death”. The document continues, “This fundamental principle expresses a great “yes” to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever greater importance in today’s world.”
All Catholic Christians should read this well written teaching document. It is a “doctrinal” statement of the ordinary magisterium (teaching office) and must be given the full assent of our intellect and will. However, the document is not only for Catholics, other Christians or even just people of faith. It is addressed to “all who seek the truth”. It presents the truth by drawing upon the “light both of reason and faith and seeks to set forth an integral vision of man and his vocation”.
The document does not discourage progress in biomedicine. In fact it encourages it within an ethical framework, one which accepts that science must always be placed at the service of the human person, the family and the common good. Any use of the so called “new technologies” must also respect that the human body is never an “it” – but an “I” – some-one who must never be treated as an object, “The body of a human being, from the very first stages of its existence, can never be reduced merely to a group of cells. The embryonic human body develops progressively according to a well defined program with its proper finality, as is apparent in the birth of every baby.”
The insistence upon this framework for evaluating biomedicine finds support in the history of other true advances in Medical Science. The ethical criterion is revealed in the Natural Law; the fundamental right to life and the dignity of human persons. This right is knowable by and binding upon all men and women and is not simply a “religious” construct. Footnote 7 within the document cites Pope Benedict XVI’s presentation to the United Nations in April of 2008 which summarizes this point well:
“Human rights.in particular the right to life of every human being,are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks. This great variety of viewpoints must not be allowed to obscure the fact that not only rights are universal, but so too is the human person, the subject of those rights”
It is in light of this fundamental moral criterion that the instruction discusses human sexuality and marital love, procreation and infertility treatments and the “manipulation of the embryo or the human Genetic Patrimony”. The section concerning gene therapy and the therapeutic use of stem cells, distinguishing both the types of cells and the techniques used to obtain them, is one of the best explanations of the complex technologies which I have read.
The Church encourages the use of adult stem cells and stem cells which can be derived from non-lethal uses such as fetal cord blood. These technologies do not take human embryonic lives and have also been the subject of amazing scientific progress. I am deeply grateful for the Catholic Church, Defender and Champion of Life. No matter how many efforts there are to dismiss Catholic teaching in this fundamental area of ethics, the opponents of the truth which she defends will not prevail because her teaching is true, it is never right to take innocent human life.
To conclude with some words from the Instruction: “Just as a century ago it was the working classes which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the Church courageously came to their defense by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights of the worker as person, so now, when another category of persons is being oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the Church feels in duty bound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who have no voice. Hers is always the evangelical cry in defense of the world’s poor, those who are threatened and despised and whose human rights are violated”.
“In virtue of the Church’s doctrinal and pastoral mission, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has felt obliged to reiterate both the dignity and the fundamental and inalienable rights of every human being, including those in the initial stages of their existence, and to state explicitly the need for protection and respect which this dignity requires of everyone.”
“The fulfillment of this duty implies courageous opposition to all those practices which result in grave and unjust discrimination against unborn human beings, who have the dignity of a person, created like others in the image of God. Behind every “no” in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great “yes” to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.”
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz says that children in the womb are not persons. The question must be raised, who are the extremists?
HT: Catholic Online