The Meaning of (Pro) Life

by Jeremy Kee:

The Pro-Life movement is developing a rift within its ranks as to what the term “Pro-life” truly means. With the annual March for Life having recently occurred, there is no better time for considered reflection on this issue.

Pro-Life GenerationFrom the outset “Pro-life” has represented those who fight for and support the right to life of the unborn. It has since begun to encompass those who support what is known as the “Consistent Ethic of Life.” Developed by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the Consistent Ethic of Life an ideology that defends all human life. It is perfectly rational argument that “Pro-Life” represent the preservation of human life in all of its forms, but critics claim that this dilutes the cause of protecting the unborn, hence said rift.

Being now primed on the issue, we turn to the crux of the matter: is it possible to be pro-life if one supports such issues as euthanasia and capital punishment?

Let’s look at the root argument of the pro-life movement as it pertains to the fight for the unborn and see how it applies to euthanasia and capital punishment.

The central argument of the traditional pro-life movement is that all human life is valuable. Neither man nor woman should hold power over another’s life.

At first glance, there is a notable distinction between euthanasia and abortion. Whereas in the case of abortion the fetus is at the mercy of his or her life parents, with euthanasia the onus of decision making rests with the individual. Those who choose to be euthanized have possibly stipulated this in their will, that should their medical or mental condition reach such a point as to render life not worth living a designate will be authorized to have their life ended. This is, of course, a subjective determination, as there is no objective measure that dictates when a life is and is not worth continuing. It is, in essence suicide, but a choice no less.

What makes this issue problematic is the present worship at the altar of individualism. So absolute is the modern conservative desire that each man is an island, and that he should accordingly be responsible for himself; that an increasing number of Conservatives support the idea that one may end their life if and when they so choose.

Legal legitimacy, however, does not equate to moral correctness. By choosing to end a life prematurely, even what that life belongs to one’s self, one is still declaring that there is a point at which a human life has no value. What other reason is there to throw something away except that it has reached the point of worthlessness?

Pursuant with capital punishment, there is a different choice made, namely to take the life of another. Murder, as all are aware, is the premeditated act of ending the life of another. If found guilty, by a jury of one’s peers, they may be sentenced to death as a propitiation for their crime. It is eye-for-an-eye rationality. Perhaps in this way, balance is restored. However, if the cost for premeditatedly taking the life of another human being is grounds for having ones own life taken, then why is choosing to abort the life of an unborn human legal?

There are an increasing number of Americans who hold that it should never have been legalized in the first place, and nor should it continue to be, but why not advocate for the charge of murder to be placed on those who choose to end said life? Why not charge with murder every so-called doctor who has performed so heinous a crime against God and nature? That would no doubt be extreme. Why, then, is this act permitted by the state in the case of those who have killed walking, talking human beings? By this reasoning, a clear and untenable duality emerges: either the value of human life is objective or else is it subjective.

If, as pro-life advocates maintain, all human life is valuable, then actions such as euthanasia and capital punishment cannot be supported. If, however, these causes are supported, then quite clearly not all human life is valuable, but rather only certain human lives. If not all human life is valuable, then the implication is that its value is determinant by man. If it is determinant by man, then the pro-life movement claim that women should not have a right to choose whether or no to terminate their pregnancy is logically untenable. If, however, all human life is valuable, then all human life is valuable. It is simple and clean.

This is not a clean debate by any means. Not mentioned here for the sake of brevity are questions such as how justice can be served if the life of an innocent creature is taken but not equally vindicated?; what alternatives are there to capital punishment?; what can be done for those who suffer from such afflictions as Alzheimer’s, who not only pose a threat to themselves and others, but who have also long since ceased to be the person they once were?

These, and so many others, are not easy questions to answer, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend to hold any of their answers. One thing remains as true as the Gospel: either all of human life is valuable, or none of it is. The Pro-Life movement needs to decide how big their tent is, and who is counted amongst the congregation, lest they slip into irrelevancy. Many pro-life advocates believe that this generation can be the one to abolish abortion. Why stop there?


Jeremy Kee is a seminarian and graduate student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of  the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor and is a contributor to The Christian Post and The Daily Caller

One Comment

  1. This naturally leads to talking about food stamps, reliable access to quality healthcare and minimum wage laws (maybe even guaranteed basic income). The pro-life rabbit hole can go really deep, you might not like what you find at the bottom… but that’s generally the problem with demands for ideological purity that doesn’t allow for some grayer areas or fringe cases.

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