Monday, February 1, 2010

The Dignity of the Unwanted Life

The autonomy of the human person is a remarkable concept. By nature of my humanity – and yours – my value as a being, as a person, is actually intrinsic to my existence. That’s wild! And it’s a tough sell in a culture which puts performance before personhood, and requires proof of productivity before full rights are granted. How many times have you heard the phrase, “meaningful contribution to society,” uttered in reference to the worthiness – or unworthiness – of some pitiful specimen of human flesh?

It’s a fairly common piece of rhetoric, typically engaged in order to justify the termination of a terminal nuisance such as an elderly victim of dementia, a coma patient who has entered a “persistent vegetative state,” or a deficient “product of conception” who genetic testing has indicated, will most likely be born “defective – if at all.

Why waste resources, then, on someone who lacks the fundamental ability to ever make a “meaningful contribution to society?” That’s the argument used by pro-abortion legislators. That’s the logic employed by Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, in deciding to deny her food or water. And that’s the rhetoric behind an OB industry which pushes routine panel screenings and amniocentesis testing for pregnant women, lest they discover too late the deficiencies of their own offspring.

I wonder what arrogance has led us to believe that we – that you, or I, or anyone else walking the streets or wandering Capital Hill – are actually qualified to make an executive decision on the merits of one life versus another. If we are all created equal – which even the most withered anti-theist will claim to believe – then what could possibly entitle one person to assign value to another?

Age? That’s a common rationale for the pro-abort crowd. Mom’s lived experience trumps baby’s inconvenient existence, hands down. Fair enough. Except the logic doesn’t carry. Because if baby does survive to the ripe old age of 47, then eventually she’ll be calling the shots on mom’s hospice care… despite mom’s obvious chronological advantage. At some point, the tables turn and suddenly the “younger, fitter, stronger” argument trumps “but I was here first.”

Maybe the value of a human life hinges on accomplishment, and we can somehow work ourselves into worthiness. If that’s the case, then, I can think of a few prominent national leaders I would personally nominate for a discontinuation of existence… but I don’t think that’s quite it, either.

Maybe it’s experience. Maybe a cumulative body of accomplishments is what it takes to merit one’s next breath. Then again… see above.

The truth is, each and every human being who has ever existed or who will ever exist has worth. Inestimable, infinite worth. More crucial to the planet than the most precious of natural resources, more critical to history than the greatest of social movements, and more enduring than the universe itself.

The moment we reduce this reality from an absolute to an abstraction is the moment we cease to be fully human, ceding our intellects and our wills to the trends of our time. In so doing, we are trading our humanity for a passing fad that has us each playing the part of little gods, choosing life or death for our neighbors, often under the pretext that we “know what’s best:”

“I know best,” says the family member persuading a teen mother to end her pregnancy.

“Science knows best,” intones the obstetrician grimly relaying test results to a terrified expectant couple.

“Our culture knows best,” insists a guidance counselor, pressing a Planned Parenthood brochure into the hands of a shaking 15 year old sophomore.

“The doctors know best,” agree all three siblings, signing over the release forms to deny dad hydration and nutrition for the rest of his hospice stay.

“The Reich knows best,” nodded Nazi soldiers to one another, herding passengers onto boxcars.

Different stories, same tired line. All in defense of a lie as old as the human race: you will become like gods.

But we’re not gods. We’re people. Broken, defeated men and women pushing our own concept of “right” onto those who cannot speak for themselves. Those whose silence leaves them vulnerable to our violence. Because the honest to God truth is this: every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.

Take your pick. Because you cannot have it both ways.


  1. I believe that terminating a pregnancy is very honorable way to deal with an unwanted or difficult pregnancy. In the end, if the fetus and woman have divergent interests, than her's supercedes its. How dare anybody tell another they are obligated to birth against their will. My wife and I terminated a pregnancy, and the only hang ups were the ugly protestors that were writing down license plates of patients.

    Regarding end of life, do you really think you are so stinking important that you would insist on pillaging your kids' finances, grandkids college funds, and wreak havoc on your loved ones? How awful you think that highly of yourself that you would do that to them.

    In my case, I would never ask my family to dig themselves into such a bind just so I can lie there like a Terri Shiavo type corpse in my own filth and puke. NO thanks.

    Oh, I am that guidance counselor that has walked folks through the abortion process. In one case, I counseled the woman (a parent of a student), printed out the map to the clinic (great folks working there), and helped make the appt. Woudl do it for you or any other woman who asked me. Regards, Bob R (formerly IronDog)

  2. Bob,

    I am so sorry. Dave and I will be praying for you and for your family. I'm sure that makes you angry, but pain can cause a great deal of anger. Nothing that you - or I - have done or will do is beyond Christ's mercy.

    And yes, I suppose I do think I am pretty important. And so are you. At least important enough to merit continued existence. And neither one of us has the right to say otherwise to anyone else.

  3. You are so sorry? What 4? We are not sorry, but for the mean/nasty way we got treated by yor co-religionists. As an atheist the bewildering god speak matters little to me. I think of the huge catastrophe that would have been our lives if your zeitgeist actually were law of the land. I sure as heck would not be making reservations for our family trip to Sevilla and Madrid Spain.

    Are you really OK with running your family into financial ruin, wrecking any children's retirement or grandchildren's college funds. Please answer me. Would you really do that to them? I love my wife and kid too much to render them little more than paupers so I can stew in my own puke. That, in my opinion, is a slow death. (having said all of that you sound like a decent lady)

  4. I wish Bob R would answer the question you posed, because I would like to know -- what does allow us to assign value to someone else?

    And he's right-- no one should have to lie in their own filth and puke, because regardless of their mental condition, they should be treated with love and dignity-- and therefore would be taken care of, cleaned, etc. Terri Schiavo didn't have to lie in her own filth because she had parents that loved her and cared for her.

  5. Bob,

    If you have the right to end your own life, what gives you that right and not others the same right to take your life? Only a belief in it being God's right is there any sound philosophical ground for that type of thinking. If you are so unimportant that you can take your own life when you want to- then you are so unimportant that I could also take your life whenever I wanted to- or you take mine. Atheism leaves no boundaries to human behavior besides whatever is convenient.

  6. hey Jenny, this is Jen's friend Sarah (or Shred) and I've been reading for a while now. just wanted to say that i enjoy the blog a lot; it's great to see someone so passionately use the talent God has given them :).

    Also, my family has always wanted to go to Spain but we've just never made it there. I'm so thankful my family doesn't wish "gosh, if we'd have aborted one of them, the whole family could have gone on vacay!" Phew, dodged that bullet. :D

  7. Bob, I just want you to know that I am raising 6 children to believe that your life is sacred. If ever you are dependent on others, I hope it will be in a world shaped by people who love life, and that they will respectfully keep you clean and fed and comfortable because you are of infinite value and precious to God.


  8. beautiful, guys. And better than I could have done. Thanks for standing up for ALL life, not just those lives which are convenient or "wanted."

    and thanks for the compliment, Sarah!

  9. Bob R, I offer you an article that provides, with a minimum of "God Speak" what I think is a very compelling argument for burdening one's loved ones.

    First Things is a website and publication that offers (IMHO) intellectually and theologically sound Catholic perspective on social and political topics. If you are looking to explore this sort of thinking or simply want to do some "opposition research" ;), you could hardly do better than to be familiar with the thinking offered there.

    I wish you well,


  10. Great post. Thanks for standing up for the unborn. It takes courage to proclaim that all life is precious! I am so grateful that there is a loving God who desires all babies to have life.

  11. Good posts. Thanks.
    You might be interested in this organization ( They are doing things differently, and having great results in getting women to change their minds outside the abortion clinic. One of the members is from my parish.
    If you have time, you might want to glance at some of my thoughts on how I can make a difference.


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