Do we know what’s human? We’ve been wrong before
May 1, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Last month marked the 147th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. On the evening of April 14th, 1865 he was shot in the head and succumbed to the wound on the morning of April 15th.
I finished reading a 700-page biography of this man, this heroic character who fought so hard for the end of slavery in America. And I was reminded of that political struggle on Thursday evening as I listened to the House of Commons debate over MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312.
Mr. Woodworth stood on Thursday afternoon to present his motion to the House. He argued passionately that any law that says some human beings are not human beings is unjust. He called for a committee to re-evaluate our current law that says humans only become human at the moment they completely exit their mother’s birth canal. That definition, he states, is based on medical evidence that is 400 years old.
All other speakers during the hour-long debate (with the exception of Mr. Albrecht, who stood on a point of order) spoke against the motion, including the Honourable Mr. Gordon O’Connor, government whip. It was his statements that reminded me of the American political discussions over slavery during the rise and reign of President Lincoln.
Mr. O’Connor spoke strongly against the motion, arguing that “the House of Commons is not a laboratory, it is not a house of faith, an academic setting or a hospital. It is a legislature, and a legislature deals with law.” This statement is confusing to me: does our legislature create laws out of nothing? Dream them up out of thin air? On what, if anything, do we base our policy? If not science or moral ethics, then what? On the will of the Prime Minister?
Mr. O’Connor also stated, “whether one accepts it or not, abortion is and always will be part of society… abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.” The same can be said about theft, assault and even murder. The same was said about slavery. “Slavery has always existed, so stop trying to end it.” Both Democrats (who were for slavery) and Republicans (who were split on the issue) argued this. And even Abraham Lincoln struggled with this. It wasn’t until mid-way through the civil war that he finally took a strong stance against slavery when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Finally, O’Connor stated, “I cannot understand why those who are adamantly opposed to abortion want to impose their beliefs on others by way of the Criminal Code. There is no law that says that a woman must have an abortion. No one is forcing those who oppose abortion to have one.” Again, this type of argument has been used before: Lincoln and his supporters were told, “No one is forcing you to own slaves. If you don’t like slavery, don’t buy a slave! But the slaves I own are my property. Keep your morality off of my property!”
Both arguments have this fatal assumption: that there is no inherent worth in the victimized human being, the slave or the unborn child. Both statements assume that because the law says they are not human or not a person, that it is therefore true.
I would suggest that when a court or law states that a living human being is not a human being in law, that we assume they are wrong. History certainly supports this:
- “In the eyes of the law… the slave is not a person.” - Virginia Supreme Court, 1858
- “An Indian is not a person within the meaning of the Constitution.” - George Canfield, American Law Review, 1881
- The meaning of “qualified persons” does not include women. - Supreme Court of Canada, 1928
- “The Reichsgericht itself refused to recognize Jews… as ‘persons’ in the legal sense.” - German Supreme Court decision, 1936
- “The law of Canada does not recognize the unborn child as a legal person possessing rights.” - Supreme Court of Canada, 1997
I would encourage Stephen Woodworth, an honourable Member of Parliament, to continue striving for this most necessary discussion. Just because the law says that some humans are not human, it does not mean we ought to accept that proposition. It is time to have this discussion; we’ve certainly been wrong before.
André Schutten is legal counsel for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada.
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