Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Abortion Dilemma

Are you 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life'? Do you know what these terms mean? Have you really thought about why you believe as you do? Or are you, like many, really not sure what to think about it all?
Many people, if asked, would say they were 'pro-choice'. This has a good ring to it in our modern world. Why should the government tell women what to do with their bodies? We, especially in the West, like to feel that we are free to do what we want, especially with our own bodies.
When thinking about abortion the questions we must ask are:
Are people always free to do whatever they want with their own bodies?
Should governments legislate what we can and cannot do to our own bodies?
Is a foetus a 'part of the woman's body' or is the foetus an 'individual being'?
What defines a person? Is a foetus a person?
When is it right to end the life of another person? When are we allowed to kill?

In this first 'edition' I will discuss the first four questions:

Are people always free to do whatever they want with their own bodies?
There are two clear cases that I can think of when a person cannot do what they want with their own bodies. The first is illegal substance use. The law in Canada (and in many other countries) says you cannot have an illegal substance in your possession – either to sell, give to others or presumably, to use yourself. You cannot use a drug yourself without having it in your possession and that is illegal. The second case is that we must use a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle. Not using a seat belt, when it saves a life, saves only the life of the person using the seat belt. Not wearing a seat belt will not endanger anyone else. You may be able to think of other things that we do with our own bodies that are illegal. Self-imposed suicide is not illegal as the person cannot be charged with a crime if the suicide is successful. Attempted suicide used to be illegal but now a person who has attempted suicide is more likely to have access to counselling and is not charged with any offense. Assisting in someone else's suicide is illegal in Canada and most states of the US but this does not fit into our search for 'what we are not free to do with their own bodies.'
Should governments legislate what we can and cannot do to our own bodies?
There are areas in which the government passes laws which help us to make the right choices for our bodies. Legislation against smoking in public places may be more to do with bothering others than in preventing cancer for the smoker. As it stands people are free to smoke as long as it is not in a public place or a place which causes danger to others (e.g. where oxygen tanks are in use in a hospital). Some provinces are trying to encourage people to eat healthier by making the use of saturated fats for frying fast foods illegal. This has not been widely done yet. Also some countries have tried to make wearing clothing that completely covers the face and the body illegal. One cannot understand why a simple head-covering should be a problem (as it does no harm to anyone) but a garment that completely covers the face and body could be used to hide dangerous weapons or explosives, or be used to smuggle goods into a country or make illegal entry possible as it masks the identity of the person. We can see that legislation for what we can do with our own bodies is a tricky business.

Governments Legislation and Our Bodies?

In 1859 John Stuart Mill, a British political writer, wrote On Liberty. In this work he discussed what role collective society should have over the individual. In other words: Can society (and the government) tell individuals what to do? His conclusions were:
•An individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself.
•For those actions which harm or hurt the interests of others, the individual is accountable, and may be subject to social or legal punishment if society agrees on this action.
Many of our governments in the Western world operate under these guidelines.

Is a Foetus 'part of the mother's body' or is the Foetus 'an individual being'?

This is now a crucial question if we accept Mill's propositions. For if the foetus is only a part of the woman's body if she has an abortion she does harm to no one but herself. She is, therefore, not accountable to society for her actions. If, however, the foetus is an individual being, then an abortion does harm to another being and the mother (and those who have performed the abortion) are accountable to society.

Is a Foetus A Person?

Many have concentrated on whether or not a foetus is a 'person' under the law. Personhood has been defined in various ways: a person can make decisions, a person can own property, a person can feel pain. Some of these definitions raise problems as an infant cannot own property and would therefore not be a person according to that definition. No one thinks it is right to kill an infant. An interesting point is that women, before the 19th century in many countries, were not considered 'persons' under the law and yet to kill them would still have carried a penalty.
Margaret Sommerville, is an ethicist and founder of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal, Quebec, Canada . She defines a person as anyone belonging to the species Homo sapiens or, in other words, any human. Sommerville elaborates by saying that no member of any other species is a person. So when we kill an animal we are not breaking any law but if we kill a human being then we are breaking a law. (Of course, there are those who would disagree and say that killing animals should be illegal. But that does not concern us here. ) The question, 'Is a foetus a person?' would have to be answered in the affirmative if we accept Margaret Sommerville's definition, for a foetus belongs to the species Homo sapiens. Not everyone agrees with her definition, however.
The foetus has a different genetic make-up than his/her mother having inherited genes from both his/her mother and his/her father. In other words, a foetus can have a different blood type or eye colour than the mother. Can we say, then, that a foetus is just a 'growth' or part of the woman's body? Is a foetus not a separate entity? A separate person?

These are the questions we must consider if we want to claim we are either 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life'. We cannot just glibly say we are 'pro-choice' because we want to be in control. This is not the issue. The issue is, 'Are we killing a human being when we have an abortion?'

Friday, October 08, 2010

IVF's implication in Abortion

British physiologist, Robert Edwards, was recently awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine. It is not my intention to give the pros and cons of his winning nor to discuss the morality of the procedure which he perfected. But there are implications in the procedure with the other much-debated option - that of abortion.
When interviewed on television, Lesley Brown, the first baby to have been conceived by in vitro fertilzation, said that without this procedure she would not be here today. It would be nice if those who feel abortion is an acceptable option would see the relationship between what Ms. Brown said and abortion. If those babies whose lives have not been allowed to continue, that is, those babies who were aborted, could speak, wouldn't they say the very opposite? Wouldn't they say, "If it weren't for abortion, I would be here today." In one case a life was given, in the other, lives were taken away. If we can state the first truth, isn't it reasonable to admit, the second truth?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Salt of the Earth or Dangerous Fanatics?

In 1833 slavery in Great Britain ended. For eighteen years William Wilberforce had lobbied against the slave trade and had introduced anti-slavery motions in the British parliament. Finally the law to end the slave trade had ended in spite of the opposition of influential people who profited by it. After this success Wilberforce worked to make education accessible to all children and was involved in the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. William Wilberforce was an Evangelical Christian.
Three hundred years before Wilberforce, Thomas More, a Roman Catholic lawyer, was Lord Chancellor of England and Henry VIII's right-hand man. Because More would not acknowledge Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon and would not recognize the King as the Head of the Church in England over the Pope, the King had him beheaded. Before his execution More proclaimed, 'I die the King's servant, but God's first.'
Obviously these politicians did not believe they should leave their religious beliefs outside the doors of parliament.
Closer to our own time, Father Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish priest, boldly criticized the politics of Hitler in his newspaper and hid 2,000 Jews, saving them from the Nazis. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, participated in the resistance movement against the Nazis in his native Germany. Both of these men died in concentration camps because of their actions. Notably, Father Kolbe offered to die in place of a man who was married and had children. Father Jerczy Popieluszko (1947-1984) a chaplain for Poland's Solidarity Movement, was instrumental in the resistance to Communism in his native land. He was killed by the Communist secret police in 1984 and his martyrdom led to the final defeat of Communism in Poland. They were not politicians but Kolbe, Bonhoeffer and Popieluszko took their religious beliefs into the political arena and risked their lives for them.
Lest some think there were no like-minded women, read about Florence Nightingale, who felt that God had called her to be a nurse, a profession that was unheard of for women of her class in the Victorian era. Florence defied convention and not only improved medical care of soldiers during the Crimean War but overhauled the training of nurses in Britain and made nursing a respected profession. An American convert to Catholicism Dorothy Day (1897-1980),began the Catholic Worker Movement to help the poor, many of them immigrants.
Were these people the 'Religious Right' of their day? Were they criticized by their non- believing contemporaries? Did they have a' hidden agenda'? Or were they just trying to be 'the salt of the earth' as Jesus had told his followers they should be?
In today's Canada surely there are those whose tactics even make some of their fellow-Christians cringe. But let us not forget there are still Christians who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. There are still those who feel it is their responsibility to defend natural law. They may do this by their votes, by petitions, peaceful protests or even by running for political office but as long as they are not disobeying any law in Canada don't they, as taxpayers and Canadians, have a right to free speech? Perhaps we may even look back someday and thank them for the way they helped change society for the better.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

I just returned from a trip to the Holy Land. On hearing Pope Benedict XVI's homily of the Palm Sunday Mass I wanted to share what he said about his own trip last year to the places where Jesus walked.

"The pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem," he said, "can be something useful for us Christians. Faith in Jesus Christ is not the invention of a fairy tale. It is founded on something that actually happened. We can, so to speak, contemplate and touch this historical event.

"It is moving to find oneself in Nazareth in the place where the angel appeared to Mary and transmitted the task of becoming Mother of the Redeemer to her.

"It is moving to be in Bethlehem in the place where the Word, made flesh, came to live among us; to put one's foot upon the holy ground where God wanted to make himself man and child."

"Following the material paths of Jesus should help us to walk more joyously and with a new certainty along the interior paths that Jesus himself points out to us," he said.

The Holy Father added, "When we go to the Holy Land as pilgrims, we go there, however as messengers of peace too, with prayer for peace; with the firm invitation that everyone in that place (which bears the word "peace" in name), has everything possible so that it truly become a place of peace."

"Thus," he said, "this pilgrimage is at the same time an encouragement to Christians to remain in the country of their origin and to commit themselves in an intense way to peace."

So to summarize the Pope said:
1) It is a great privilege to see the places where Jesus lived and walked and this can help us to appreciate His teachings and the sacrifice of His life for our salvation.
2) A visit to these lands should help us to pray for peace in these sometimes troubled lands.
3) Our visit can give hope and encouragment to Christians who have not left because of danger but have stayed.
(Pope Benedict's homily taken from a post on Zenit News Service on Palm Sunday, 2010)