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Living the Gospel of Life -- Study Guide

Paragraph Ten


Next step: Infanticide

As we saw in the previous section, Roe asserted a new (but invalid) government authority to permit the killing of the innocent. Once that line is crossed, that supposed authority can be imposed on any group of people. The infanticide, which the bishops call "a predictable next stop along the continuum of killing" is already a reality.

Jill Stanek is a nurse who came face to face with infanticide. She shares her story:

"I had been working for a year at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, as a registered nurse in the Labor and Delivery Department, when I heard in report that we were aborting a second-trimester baby with Down’s syndrome. I was completely shocked. In fact, I had specifically chosen to work at Christ Hospital because it was a Christian hospital and not involved, so I thought, in abortion….

But what was most distressing was to learn of the method Christ Hospital uses to abort, called induced labor abortion, now also known as 'live birth abortion.' In this particular abortion procedure doctors do not attempt to kill the baby in the uterus. The goal is simply to prematurely deliver a baby who dies during the birth process or soon afterward. One night, a nursing co-worker was taking a Down’s syndrome baby who was aborted alive to our Soiled Utility Room because his parents did not want to hold him, and she did not have time to hold him. I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a Soiled Utility Room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. "

Advocates of infanticide are now at prestigious posts in our nation's universities. Peter Singer is a professor at Princeton's University Center for Human Values. He openly justifies infanticide, and asks, "Is life at birth more significant than at the second, fourth, or sixth month of pregnancy? It is not." He explains further,

"The pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference. We cannot coherently hold that it is all right to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive. The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite: to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth" ("On Letting Handicapped Babies Die" as quoted in "In Defense of Life", Fournier and Watkins, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1996, p.43).

Singer sums it up this way: to be morally consistent, there are "only two possibilities." Either "oppose abortion or allow infanticide" (p.44).

Legislatively, we have taken an important step forward in this regard. On August 5, 2002, President Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, which ensures that every infant born alive -- including an infant who survives an abortion procedure -- is considered a person under federal law. This lays an important premise into the law which is essential for further progress in the defense of life, namely, that the law can protect a child at any stage of gestation despite the will of someone else that the child die. The value of that life, in other words, does not depend on another's choice.

Verbal Engineering

The manipulation of language is key to the revolution that brought about the culture of death. In 1970, the journal California Medicine carried a famous editorial that stated the following: "Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices."

The language used to justify assisted suicide is extremely subtle. I was stationed in a NY City parish some years ago when a ballot initiative regarding assisted suicide came up in another state. I asked the parishioners to contact any friends or relatives they had in that state, to inform them of how harmful the initiative was. A few days later, one of the parishioners told me she spoke to her daughter, who lived in the state in question, and that her daughter obtained a copy of the various initiatives that were to be voted on. She said that the one I spoke about wasn't listed. I asked her to send me the list…And right there on the list was the ballot initiative I had spoken of. This woman and her daughter, even when they knew what they were looking for, couldn't find it, because the language was so carefully sugar-coated. The initiative spoke about giving "assistance in dying."

In regard to the cloning debate, a deceptive linguistic distinction is made between "reproductive cloning" (presented as bringing the clone to birth) and "therapeutic cloning" (presented as cloning someone to obtain helpful stem cells). In fact, however, all cloning is reproductive and no cloning is therapeutic. You have reproduced another person as soon as you have that life at the single-cell stage, and no therapeutic benefits of this process have been demonstrated.

Discussion Questions

How is language used to advance a Culture of Death? How can we begin to use language to build a culture of life?

In what ways to physician-assisted suicide, fetal experimentation, and human cloning reduce the human person to an object? How are these problems linked to Roe vs. Wade?

Further reading

William Brennan, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995).

Click below to listen to a series of radio programs (Real Audio format) with Dr. William Brennan discussing his book Dehumanizing the Vulnerable.

Program 1: Click here to listen

Program 2: Click here to listen

Program 3: Click here to listen

Program 4: Click here to listen

Program 5: Click here to listen

Program 6: Click here to listen

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