Sunday, September 14, 2008

On being truly pro-life

One of the problems with using a label such as “Pro-life” is that it implies that others are in same way anti-life. It is not obvious to me who the anti-life people are supposed by those who call themselves pro-life to be. Even morticians, whose livelihood depends on people dying, are probably not accurately called anti-life. So if no one is really anti-life, then everyone is pro-life, and the label turns out not to be very informative. So perhaps what we need to do is to explore just what it means to be pro-life in a meaningful way.

The most meaningful way to be in favor of life is to be opposed to terminating lives, and to be opposed to the conditions that lead to premature death, and to support those conditions that improve the quality of the lives that are preserved. So a minimum criterion for being in favor of life would be to oppose capital punishment, war, and conditions that lead to war (such as doctrinal inflexibility, intolerance, hatred and lust for power, territory, markets, natural resources and cheap labor). And to be truly in favor of life would be to favor all forms of life and so would include opposition to killing animals for food or clothing or sport, since all such killing is unnecessary for maintaining human life. A pro-life political candidate, then, would naturally oppose hunting, fishing, and a carnivorous diet, in addition to those things already mentioned. A truly pro-live candidate would also be opposed to human activities that lead to environmental degradation and to the destruction of habitats that support wildlife.

Being in favor of enhancing the quality of the lives preserved by opposing those things that end lives prematurely would naturally include supporting a strong social safety net that would provide for those who have fallen into circumstances that make it impossible for them to earn their own livelihoods. Since human beings are born with very few instincts and therefore must learn almost everything necessary for their survival, being pro-life would also consist in being strongly in support of all kinds of educational institutions. In an ideal society, everyone considers everyone else as part of a large family. Caring for the members of one's family means providing them education, wholesome forms of recreation, nurturing in times of illness and injury, and security in old age. In looking for a meaningfully pro-life candidate, one would look for a demonstrably strong commitment in the form of a record of being effective in providing for the well-being of every member, without exception, of, at the very least, the entire human family, and, at best, of the entire family of living beings.

In the United States there are political candidates who label themselves pro-life who do not show signs of showing a strong commitment to desisting from war, from hunting and fishing, from raising animals for food and clothing, and from harvesting resources in ways that have a minimal destructive impact on the environment. It is not obvious that these people are significantly pro-life. What many of the people who call themselves pro-life really are is anti-abortion.

Not many people are enthusiastic about abortion. Nearly everyone would like to see some kind of limits placed on the procedure and would like to find a way of distinguishing between circumstances in which it is acceptable and those in which it is not. A question that everyone must answer is what is to be done when the procedure is done when the circumstances do not warrant it.

At one logical end of the spectrum on the question of warrantability are those people who believe that abortion is never warranted under any circumstances whatsoever and who regard all abortion as being tantamount to murder. People who take this position, that abortion should be regarded as one of the classes of murder, must be prepared to say exactly who should be seen as guilty of committing the crime, and what the penalty should be. Should the mother of the aborted foetus be charged with murder? Should the person who performs the procedure be charged with murder? If the person is to be charged with and tried for murder, should the sentence upon being found guilty be the same for the abortive mother and the abortionist as for one of first-class murderer? In states that still have capital punishment, should an abortive mother and an abortionist both be sentenced to death? Or, since demanding two deaths for one might seem an odd way to be pro-life, in these cases does “pro-life”mean being in favor of life imprisonment for the abortive mother and the abortionist?

Unless one has carefully sought out a response to the question of what a just sentence for a crime should be, one is unwise to be in favor of making an action criminal. Not everything that one finds immoral or inadvisable in some way can be translated into a reasonable law, a reasonable law being one that can be enforced and that offers some sort of penalty that can be justly opposed. When a reasonable law cannot be crafted, then we must be content with moral persuasion and argumentation. When, for example, the ethical vegetarian comes to the realization that it makes no sense to sentence someone who eats a Big Mac to be executed by a firing squad, or even to be incarcerated for the rest of her life, then that vegetarian must find a way to be content to a life of trying to persuade other human beings of the moral virtue in avoiding the taking of innocent life and the pursuit of a lifestyle that is meaningfully pro-life.

The most effective way to persuade others in matters of morality, I find, is to begin by creating an atmosphere or mutual trust and respect and love. When trust, respect and love are lacking, moral discourse loses all meaning. Unfortunately, in the time of political campaigns, mutual trust, respect and love are not in evidence. In their place we find accusations and recriminations, usually based on half-truths or even outright lies. Unless one has a conviction that truth is the bedrock of morality, it is difficult to make a convincing moral argument. Alas, it is a rare politician in our culture who demonstrates with his or her words and actions that truth is a high priority.

I would love to find a candidate who is pro-life in all the ways I have mentioned. I would gladly cast my vote for any woman or man who demonstrated impeccable and unflinching honesty, and who shared my core values of being opposed to war, the conditions that lead to war, the death penalty, hunting and fishing and the exploitation of animals and the destruction of the environment and who actively worked for providing everyone in the human family with at least basic education, health care and security in old age.