Adam J. MacLeod

Judging human worth

Adam J. MacLeod
By Adam MacLeod
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May 24, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - Some of the great civil rights battles of our day are being waged in Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, and Montana this year. If you do not recognize those states as civil rights battlegrounds, you are not alone. While advocates for assisted suicide have targeted those states with legalization campaigns, residents may not fully appreciate what is at stake.

The connection between assisted suicide and the civil rights struggles of previous centuries is foundational. To claim that some human lives are not worth living is to deny the intrinsic and equal worth of every human being. It is, in other words, to deny the principle from which we derived our prohibitions against slavery and racial segregation. Pro-life scholars and activists would do well to make this clear, and may be assisted in their efforts by consulting the arguments of Emily Jackson and John Keown in their new book, Debating Euthanasia. Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics, marshals the arguments for legalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, and Keown, the Rose F. Kennedy Chair in Christian Ethics at Georgetown University, defends their continued prohibition by law on both practical and principled grounds.

Central to Keown’s case is concern for the equal and intrinsic worth of all human beings. The “cardinal ethical principle” of the inviolability of human life prohibits the intentional killing of an innocent person, and it is precisely this principle that grounds the “equal and inalienable rights” that we enjoy “in virtue of our common membership in the human family.” The authors of the Declaration of Independence thought this principle self-evident. Keown points out that the principle also finds expression in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and a 1994 report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics. Neither anachronistic nor novel, this idea explains the law’s insistence on protecting the lives of all, irrespective of age, stage of development, or condition of dependency. No one is better off dead, Keown maintains, “even if some patients lose sight of their worth.”

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It is precisely the failure to grasp the implications of intrinsic human worth that plagues arguments for decriminalization of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, including Jackson’s. Jackson quite candidly rejects the inviolability of human life. “There is nothing independently valuable about being alive, other than that it enables me to live a life.” But to claim, as Jackson does, that the value of life is merely instrumental is to reject the immutably inherent and equal value of all human persons. On Jackson’s terms, any particular human life is more or less valuable, and thus variably worthy of legal protection, according to some standard of instrumental usefulness. But this raises the questions of how the value will be measured and whom the state will authorize to make the valuation.

Jackson recognizes this problem but seems unable to resolve it coherently. She insists that we should not accept the judgment of the lovesick teenager that her life has no worth, and yet we should accept the same judgment from the elderly or terminally ill person for whom “life has become an intolerable burden.” Jackson discounts outright the lives of persons in persistent vegetative states because of the “important difference between simply being alive, and having a life which is worth living.” But here, again, we are no closer to understanding what a worthy life consists of.

Jackson tries to resist the full implications of her own argument. She protests that “accepting that someone’s life has ceased to benefit them is not the same as saying they have no worth.” Family and friends of a suffering patient, she claims, can assent to the request for death without assenting to the judgment that the patient’s life is worthless. Presumably, the operative principle here is one of deference to the personal autonomy of the patient, but Jackson does not explain why deference is necessary. Given the high correlation between terminal illness and depression, deference would seem especially inappropriate in such cases.

Jackson’s conception of human worth becomes clearer in light of her analogy to animal euthanasia. “When it comes to animals,” Jackson observes, “most people accept that euthanasia is not only justifiable, but also often the right thing to do.” For at least some humans, she argues, the experience of dying is no different than a cat’s. Even allowing for differences between humans and cats, such as the practice of making wills and other provisions for resolution at the end of life, these differences do not “justify forcing someone to suffer intolerably.”

That Jackson considers this argument persuasive indicates that she has not fully confronted the claim that human beings have intrinsic and equal worth. Keown is quite clear that we should not force anyone to suffer, nor should we preserve life at all costs. “That would be ‘vitalism,’” Keown explains, “and morally indefensible.” The right to life is a “right not to be intentionally killed” (Keown’s italics). Animals enjoy no such right precisely because they are merely animals, and not humans. Acting with a purpose to bring about the death of a fellow human being is fundamentally unlike acting with a purpose to bring about the death of an animal.

Jackson fails to appreciate her interlocutor’s arguments in other respects, as well. An important corollary of the inviolability of human life is the principle of double effect, according to which it is sometimes permissible knowingly to bring about harms (as foreseen side-effects) that may never be intended directly. Jackson attacks this principle with a hypothetical:

If I visit my doctor complaining of mild stomach cramps, it would not be acceptable for him to give me a life-threatening injection of diamorphine, and he could not escape responsibility for my death by pointing to the doctrine of double effect. My doctor could not claim that his intention was merely to relieve my pain, and that my death was a foreseen but unintended side-effect.

It apparently does not occur to Jackson that the doctor’s disproportionate response to the pain would in fact supply a significant, perhaps conclusive, reason to infer that his intentions were not pure. She ignores what Keown expressly states, namely, that one of the conditions of the operation of double effect requires a “proportionate reason for allowing the bad effect to occur.” Far from excusing the disproportionate conduct that Jackson rightly condemns, the principle of double effect would rule out the doctor’s actions.

By contrast, Keown takes Jackson’s arguments seriously. (In one instance, he makes the effort to strengthen one of her arguments before refuting it.) Indeed, the book’s most glaring weakness is its asymmetry. The rules of engagement required each author to submit his and her contribution blindly, unable to predict precisely what arguments the other would deploy. Nevertheless, Keown and others have developed many of the pro-life arguments over a period of many years. If Jackson wanted to understand the arguments she was trying to refute, then she could have found robust statements of those arguments with little effort.

Despite this asymmetry, Jackson’s contribution to the book is well worth reading. She is often refreshingly candid, as when she acknowledges the limits of personal autonomy. She remarks that the choice of suicidal patients to end their lives requires the cooperation of others: “they are crucially dependent upon other people, namely healthcare professionals, to comply with their wishes.”

Jackson’s contribution also contains important reminders for opponents of decriminalization. Legalization proponents, like many citizens who are open to legalization, are motivated not by bias against the disabled but rather by compassion and respect. “It seems cruel to force someone to endure suffering they find intolerable,” Jackson’s argument goes, “and condescending to disbelieve them when they claim to be suffering so much.” Such advocates, therefore, tend to be unpersuaded by the common pro-life argument drawing analogies between contemporary legalization and Nazi euthanasia practices. As Jackson notes, the Nazis operated on social Darwinist theories of racial hygiene; their “motivation was never a compassionate response to individual suffering.”

Similarly, Jackson offers some insight into the relative inefficacy of “slippery slope” arguments. Accepting assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia does not, in her view, obviously set one on a course toward “the involuntary extermination of disabled people,” and therefore, a blanket prohibition seems to her “a peculiarly blunt approach to regulation.” Why not give carefully regulated legalization a try?

There are, of course, many good reasons not to try. Keown discusses the failures of regulatory efforts in Oregon and the Netherlands. Despite the prevalence of depression among those who request assisted suicide and euthanasia, fewer than 10 percent are referred for psychiatric evaluation. Oregon’s meager reporting requirements prevent any comprehensive study of abuse, but anecdotal evidence suggests that coercion by family members is sometimes a factor in the decision to commit suicide. And the speed with which the Dutch have moved from voluntary euthanasia of adults to non-voluntary euthanasia of infants should trouble even those who are unmoved by slippery-slope arguments. But for legalization proponents, these failures are insufficient reasons not to proceed with legalization, albeit with more rigorous regulations. Jackson herself criticizes the Swiss regulatory scheme for its lack of safeguards. For example, she favors rules that would require “thorough investigation of the person’s circumstances.” One has the impression that, no matter how many of these safeguards might fail in practice, Jackson will always be prepared to propose more, until reasonable concerns about abuse are satisfied.

Most importantly, Jackson has no answer to the moral argument against physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. And herein lies a lesson for pro-life advocates as they fight legalization efforts around the country this year: they should resist the temptation to avoid making moral arguments. They are our strongest resources. To skirt the fundamental moral question would be both unnecessary and, it seems, a strategic blunder. Pro-life activists should not give offense or recall images of swastikas. It is enough to point out that a nation committed to racial equality should, for the same reason, be committed to the intrinsic worth of the sick and the disabled.

Adam MacLeod is an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.

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A protester rallies against Hobby Lobby, protesting against the Supreme Court decision Dan Holm/Shutterstock
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

DNC chairwoman exhorts constituents to boycott local Hobby Lobby store

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision was nearly two months ago, but the issue as hot as ever, as was demonstrated yesterday when Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, D-FL, urged constituents to boycott a Hobby Lobby store in her district.

In a press conference one lot away from the Hobby Lobby location in Davie, which opened in April, Wasserman-Schultz said that she wanted "people to know that this Hobby Lobby is here and they should vote with their purses and their pocketbooks, and women should not shop here."

"If you didn’t know this Hobby Lobby was here before, know it now and don’t shop here. They don’t deserve women’s business because they are the ones that all across the country have made it harder for women to get access to birth control,” she said.

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Wasserman-Schultz said that Hobby Lobby's corporate ownership "doesn’t support its employees" and "wants to be able to get in the personal business of their employees and make health care decisions and replace their own values, replace their employees’ health care decisions, with their values…."

She also criticized the Supreme Court's late June decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had sued the federal government over the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.

The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, say it violates their conscience to pay for coverage for the four abortifacients and potential abortifacients that the mandate required them to cover.

"The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not only disappointing, it was dangerous," said the Democrat. "No boss should have the right to dictate and employee’s health decisions because [they] don’t belong in the bedrooms, doctor’s offices or pharmacies of their employees.

"A woman and her doctor know what’s best for their body. Not an insurance company. Not a politician. And certainly not a manager at a Hobby Lobby."

The Supreme Court's decision allowed closely held corporations to not fund coverage of contraception or abortion drugs and devices.

Wasserman-Schultz's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Through a spokesperson, the Green family declined to comment about the Congresswoman's statements. 

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Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten

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America is rejecting abortion because pro-lifers are having more children: study

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
By Kirsten Anderson

According to a new Northwestern University study, American attitudes about abortion are trending more conservatively than other contentious social issues, a phenomenon the authors credit to the simple fact that pro-lifers have more kids.

“We find evidence that the abortion attitudes have lagged behind a liberalizing trend of other correlated attitudes,” the authors wrote. Using GSS data collected between 1977 and 2010, “We test[ed] the hypothesis that the comparatively high fertility of pro-life individuals has led to a more pro-life population.”

The authors wrote: “Support for abortion rights has turned flat after a period of increase following Roe v. Wade, and in recent years there are even indications of a reversal toward more restrictive attitudes. This U-turn is evinced particularly among younger cohorts, and is happening despite liberalizing trends in several ostensibly related issue domains.”

The authors speculated that the reason for the increase in pro-life attitudes among young people is that their parents had more children than their pro-abortion counterparts. When they examined the data, they found that pro-life individuals had, on average, 27 percent more children than those who considered themselves “pro-choice.”

Not only that, but pro-life parents appear to be much more likely to pass their views on to their children. The researchers found that the younger generation’s pro-life shift was too strong to be blamed solely on differences in fertility – meaning children of pro-abortion parents are rejecting their parents’ views.

“[E]ither pro-life beliefs are always more faithfully transmitted than pro-choice ones; or, there has been a cultural shift towards more pro-life beliefs that is being reflected in the parent-child correlations,” the authors wrote.

The study concluded that if it wasn’t for the higher fertility rate among pro-life people, the nation as a whole would favor abortion by about five percentage points more than it does currently – and researchers predict the pro-life trend will continue.

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“Taken together, these findings suggest that fertility has had at least some part in leading the population in a more pro-life direction over time,” the authors wrote. “Further investigation into this pattern indicates that not only are abortion attitudes associated with fertility, but in proportional terms—which is what matters for cultural change—the gap is widening.”

“Fertility has declined for both pro-choice and pro-life groups over the past 30 years, but fertility has declined far less markedly for pro-life individuals,” they added. “Whereas pro-[life] individuals born before 1940 were only having about 1.2 children per one child born to a pro-choice parent, this ratio has grown to over 1.5 for those born in the mid to late 1970s. This pattern suggests that future cohorts may place an even stronger demographic drag on the liberalization of abortion attitudes.”

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A declaration that PP is an 'enemy of the Church' would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication. American Life League
Lisa Bourne

New campaign asks Pope Francis to declare Planned Parenthood an ‘enemy of the Church’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

The Catholic pro-life organization American Life League (ALL) is launching a campaign calling for the Catholic Church to declare Planned Parenthood an “enemy of the Church.”

Using prayer and education, ALL’s Defend the Family campaign seeks to expose the nation’s largest abortion provider for contribution to the destruction of human lives, as well as the family. 

The campaign, said Jim Sedlack, vice-president of ALL, is quite simply “a way of calling attention to the fact that this is a very bad organization.”

“Planned Parenthood is attacking the family, either by killing preborn children or by robbing the souls of the older children,” he said. 

A declaration that PP is an “enemy of the Church” would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication.

Such a declaration would not be unprecedented. Popes in the past have identified and condemned organizations that posed a grave threat to the Church, most recently Pope Pius XII in 1949 with Communism and Pope Clement XII in 1738 with Freemasonry.

While specifics would depend on the wording of the Papal pronouncement, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews if the Holy Father makes the declaration there would be no mistaking its intent.

“When the pope makes the declaration it becomes crystal clear,” Sedlak said. “There’ll be no shades of gray, it’ll be black and white, it’ll be clear to the world.”

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'Now is the time'

There are still people who are not fully aware of the extent of the societal damage inflicted by Planned Parenthood, said Sedlak, including members of the Church hierarchy. He said it’s important to emphasize the truth of what the abortion giant does.

“That’s why we’re focusing on the enemy,” said Sedlak. “When people really stop and focus on Planned Parenthood, they realize it’s the enemy.”

ALL cites Planned Parenthood’s targeting of children to sexualize them as a major cause of the destruction of the family and a fundamental reason for the Defend the Family campaign.

“They really push for getting young people into lives of sexual sin,” Sedlak said. “Young people who aren’t pulled into sexual activity do not provide a cent of income to Planned Parenthood, but young people who are pulled in provide millions of dollars to the Planned Parenthood empire.”

ALL compiled a comprehensive report on Planned Parenthood titled, “The Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood,” as part of the Defend the Family campaign.

“The document builds the case,” said Sedlak. “Why Planned Parenthood, why now is the time.”

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that for its part Planned Parenthood has always recognized that its greatest enemy is the Catholic Church, even working to have the Church lose its status at the UN.

“They fight anybody who wants to take sex away from the kids in any way possible,” Sedlak said. “That’s one reason why Planned Parenthood is the sex mafia.”

And when Sedlak uses the term “mafia,” he means it literally, pointing out that the Holy Father condemned the mafia in his June 21, 2014, homily in Calabria, Italy, denouncing its, “Adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

“Planned Parenthood kills far more people than the mafia,” Sedlak said.

Also underscoring the need for the Vatican to act on declaring Planned Parenthood an enemy of the Church, is the convening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this October in Rome, which will lead into the general synod in 2015.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that these, along with the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, are events that ALL will rally around to raise awareness of the Defend the Family campaign.

Preliminary response to the campaign has been very positive, he said.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that the “Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood” report was so well received upon initial presentation to Vatican officials, that ALL was asked to translate it into three more languages.

“The support we’ve gotten from talking to bishops has been overwhelming,” Sedlak said.

Prayer is priority #1

The Defend the Family campaign consists first and foremost of prayer, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews.

“Our approach is that we need prayer support,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to succeed is through prayer to the Blessed Mother; the only way it will succeed is if God wants it to succeed.”

Participants are asked to say regular prayers after Mass, to offer prayers for the pope and to initiate communication with local bishops about the dangers that Planned Parenthood poses to the faithful.

Sedlak also added that The Defend the Family campaign is for everyone, not just Catholics.

He said pro-life supporters of all faith traditions are invited to contact ALL for assistance in encouraging their religious denomination or church leader to declare Planned Parenthood an enemy.

In addition to prayers for the campaign, ALL is asking people to sign and submit ALL’s Declaration of Encouragement to the Holy Father, enroll in the Spiritual Bouquet for the Holy Father and to share ALL resources on Planned Parenthood.

Information, links and resources are available on the campaign website, defendthefamily.org.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that ALL is giving the success of the Defend the Family campaign up to God.

“This is all happening in God’s time, and so far he’s been blessing us mightily,” Sedlak said. “And we’re going to go wherever God takes us.”

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