The Sanctity of Life*
In a radio interview that I linked to yesterday, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said something that got me thinking. He said “[…] we believe sanctity of life has got to be central to any genuinely conservative movement, belief in a creator and to defending natural marriage and resisting homosexual agenda.” (emphasis added)
Now, obviously his insistence that our country’s military should be weakened by discrimination against gays is deplorable, and his denial of the validity of their relationships and families is equally shameful. But his belief that viable human embryos deserve the same right to life that a full-born human enjoys is one that I can respectfully disagree with. I am also on the fortunate side of this debate because of a certain SCOTUS decision that protects women from government intrusion into their medical treatment.
But what if the opposite were true? What if a future US Congress, led by so-called “Right to Lifers” were to pass a Constitutional amendment protecting the ‘sanctity of life’?
Women’s rights groups that fight to keep reproductive freedoms in place respond to this question with the barrage of real-world consequences of anti-choice laws: higher maternal death rates, an increase in underground abortion procedures (and the ills that come with them), creeping infringement on other personal privacy rights (especially medical ones) and the obvious reality of having to bring a fetus to term even if you don’t want to. These are all great reasons why abortion needs to remain legal. The only truly subversive ideal that can counter these arguments is the idea that all human life, including embryos, deserve protection from being destroyed in the same way actually-born individuals do.
This sentiment is not born from a desire to reduce human suffering. If it were, its proponents would back off when shown evidence of how little higher brain function exists in legally terminable embryos, not to mention the profound suffering of a woman has been raped who is forced by law to bring the baby to term. The idea that human embryos must be protected from all intrusion comes from a belief that somehow, someway, a higher power has granted special powers to every human being at the moment of their conception, that a divine and individual soul exists and must be defended at every stage of life. After all, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill.*”
*does not include capital punishment, war, self-defense, denial of medical care/housing/subsistance due to systemic poverty.
Suppose Immanuel Kant were to stray into this discussion for a moment. It is a noble imperative that we might forbid our people from taking the life of another. Can it be applied categorically? If we were to enshrine the Sanctity of Life in our Constitution, it would certainly forbid the gruesome lethal injection of convicted criminals, no? It would forbid euthanasia in any form. Such an amendment would never apply to the military, as even the basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution are subject to national security interests when you join the Forces. But how glorious it would be if we could make war the crime that it is! If we all agree that killing another human being is absolutely wrong under any circumstance, all of these applications would have to be made illegal. And what to do if such a statute was violated? You’d better hope the suspect is unarmed, because deadly force would not be authorized.
All of this is a game of definitions. Those who favor capital punishment but oppose abortion are in the business of defining the worthiness of human life. So are those who insist the opposite. The fact is that at this stage of our understanding, such definitions are arbitrary. Whether life begins at conception or ends at conviction should not be subject to the whims of the electorate. If any metric is upheld to measure the morality of an act of the state, it should be centered on the goal of reducing human and animal suffering. This does not mean preventing, or extinguishing, it means reducing. Such a distinction would focus our policy on protecting the conscious mind as the essence of what is worthy to protect, rather than an absolute human superiority or some imaginary sentient zygote.
Or we could do this:
Amendment 28 – The Sanctity of Life
1. The Congress may make no law which allows the taking of a human life.
2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
What do you think?