Adam J. MacLeod

Judging human worth

Adam J. MacLeod
By Adam MacLeod

May 24, 2012 ( - 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.”


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

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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Building of the European Court of Human Rights.
Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website,, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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A vibrant church in Africa. Pierre-Yves Babelon /
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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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