Life Is Sacred — or Not

The Sept. 28 issue of The Tablet contained a beautifully insightful column (“Up Front and Personal”) by Bill and Monica Dodds, founders of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver, in praise of those who give care. “Caregiving is pro-life!” they asserted, citing numerous examples.  And so it is.

October is “Respect Life Month.” The pro-life message is often miscast in mostly negative terms such as, among others, anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia and anti-embryonic stem-cell research. In reality, living the Gospel of Life is essentially one of the most affirmative and positive of activities — radically so.  It is radical because it runs counter to the grain of those elements in the secular materialistic culture of our time which tend to glorify cults of power, self-absorption and celebrity to the denigration, if not vilification, of the virtues of service, self-sacrifice and humility. It is rather more pro-active than defensive in that it seeks to give care to those not given honor and respect because of some condition in their life.

At the heart of all “pro-life” activity is a commitment to serve those who are rendered the most vulnerable, often for the convenience of the elite and powerful. We can see many Gospel parallels. Elective abortion, for example, not only represents the morally unjust taking of a pre-born human being — albeit under cover of the law — but a crass assertion of power over a life that is completely unable to defend itself. Institutionalized as it now is in our country to the point of having become a very profitable industry, defended by well-financed political, labor and commercial interests, it has resulted, effectively, in a class judgment on the moral inferiority of some human beings based solely upon their developmental stage in life: being unborn. From a social standpoint, it conveys the message that power is determinative of the moral worth of a human being.  Humanity then becomes an exclusive meritocracy defined by its power classes rather than a banquet table to which God’s inclusive mercy invites everyone.

All examples of power wielded over the weak and vulnerable in our society are but variations on a theme. The corporal works of mercy bring to mind those who fall into the margins because of what their condition happens to be: illness, homelessness, mental deficiencies and imprisonment, for example.  They also invite us to respond to Christ suffering in the marginalized and undervalued. In Matthew 25:37-40, the “righteous” ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And, the King answers, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The common thread throughout the Gospel’s call to give care is the equal dignity of all human beings, regardless of any class into which individual or social convenience might relegate them. Even within the lifespan of some of our readers, we have witnessed the suffering, persecution and death of Jews and Christians, people of color, migrants — and, in insidious, often religiously or culturally excused ways, women. And this based solely upon a class devaluation of their claim to humanity by those with the power to do it and get away with it.

Such is not the foundation upon which our country was established by those who declared in the preamble of our Constitution that all were created equal. It is alien to the Gospel as well. If pro-life issues are said to be “divisive” in American politics or even among some people laying claim to Christian faith, then it is the dividing line between those who give care for all human life and those who insist on imposing class distinctions on which some lives are more valuable than others. There is no ground for compromise here. The right to life is either unalienable or it is not. All human beings are beings of moral worth or they are not.