All human beings from the moment of conception possess an inalienable right to life and no government can take it away writes Fr Maurice Hogan SSC
It has been remarked that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. This is hardly a time for complacency or business as usual for we are living in an age which underestimates human dignity which is leading to a widespread abuse of individuals.
That is why an anti-abortion stance is an essential safeguard of human dignity to prevent democratic states from voting out of existence the human rights of a group of human beings, and court systems from legalising abortion.
There is also the sophistry of formulating confusing arguments with the intention to deceive, and of proposing the relativity of truth, i.e., that all opinions are equally valid. Added to these is the failure to distinguish between individuals and their opinions that prevents one from asking whether an opinion is true or not, lest one be accused of being ‘judgmental’ which, ironically, is itself a judgment!
If we consider the human foetus to be only matter without spiritual or transcendent significance, we are likely to view it as a mere thing and treat it as such, thereby underestimating human persons.
The US Supreme Court declared that since human embryos are not persons they do not even have the right to life (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Yet biologists have proved that the single-celled human zygote, that is, the initial fertilised cell produced when a wholly new organism is formed as a result of human sexual intercourse, has a full human genome.
The human genome is our DNA instruction book. In ordinary circumstances this single cell will become a fully mature human being if there is no natural or artificial impediment in the developmental process. It will grow into a unique, fully developed human being with its own distinctive features, including details like the colour of eyes and hair. This is as a result of the genetic code that is already contained within it.
If persons are defined as actualisable human beings, then the zygote must be considered a person. Otherwise, who is to say what part of the developmental process makes a human being a person, apart from subjective preference.
The court should have presumed personhood in a being of human origin. The DNA sequencer invented in the late 1980s enabled scientists to be certain of the presence of a unique, fully human genome in the single-celled human zygote that constitutes a unique human being with its own distinctive personality.
However, the Court did not reverse its decision in the light of this new technology. Person is not merely a legal concept; it is an objective concept that defines what a being is, in this case, a human being.
Furthermore, person is also an ethical concept, i.e. the kind of being we may not to kill because of its intrinsic worth as human. Consequently, person is inseparable from a living, individual human being. The court introduced a spurious distinction between human being and person as it tried to find a rationale to justify abortion. It made no attempt to justify this distinction. Common sense tells us that human foetuses come from human beings and scientific evidence now proves conclusively that the human foetus is a person – a being of human origin with a full genome capable of being fully actualised.
Human being and person are therefore interchangeable terms. In the light of this, could abortion then be the ultimate form of child abuse?
Human beings/persons have a special intrinsic and transcendent value and cannot be treated like inanimate objects or animals. Humans are more than a collection of material parts.
This is acknowledged by common sense and is based on the spiritual and intellectual powers of human beings. The philosophical and scientific origin of the specialness of human beings is grounded in the fact that human beings, unlike animals, ask questions, seek purpose and meaning in their lives, are moved to contemplate the world born out of wonder and a desire to understand. From a Faith perspective, we say that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen.1:26-27), that is, they are capable of having a relationship with the transcendent God.
All human beings from the moment of conception possess an inalienable right to life and no government can take it away. It is recognised as self-evident, and as a natural right of all human beings. Governments can only recognise this right to life. Nor is it sufficient to say “we are only acceding to the will of the majority”, because governments are also responsible for preventing a tyranny of the majority. They cannot permit any majority to oppress a minority.
For life issues are not simply a matter of personal choice. They are a matter of protecting the innocent and protecting our culture from a rapid descent into a culture of death.
Fr Maurice Hogan SSC is Director of World Mission Ireland.