One of the red herrings of the culture of death is the, “What about those poor people over there?” argument. If you were really pro-life, they accuse, you’d care about orphans, and the homeless, and name-that-suffering-people-group. It’s not only a distraction, it is also a false accusation: The same people who campaign for the right of all innocent people not to be killed are also in the business of helping the not-dead-yet to live well.
The distraction is likewise used by people who will swear they care about saving the lives of their fellow men, but feel it would be unseemly to work on legislation to that end just now. Yes, yes, we’ll get around to protecting the unborn or the elderly or the chronically depressed, they say, but first we have to eliminate all the reasons people are tempted do such things, so that there’s no need for such laws.
It’s the same logic that would tell us not to pass laws against drunk driving, but to content ourselves with running AA meetings. There’s a need for both.
The “How You Spend Your Time” Fallacy
In these two arguments we should recognize a vicious fallacy and be particular about avoiding it ourselves. Those who accuse, say, an anti-abortion protester of not caring for the already-born are often being intentionally obtuse — anyone who’s paying attention can see that all kinds of practical, material assistance is being offered to those struggling with crisis-pregnancies or just plain crisis-lives by those of us who profess to be pro-life. But there is an implicit fallacy in saying that just because a particular person devotes a large portion of his time to _______ that therefore he cares about nothing else.
We are all mere humans. We cannot any one of us do every single thing. I can care very deeply about a multitude of grave needs in the world, and yet only be able to respond to one or a few of them.
So when we look at someone who devotes the bulk of his time and energy to feeding the poor or campaigning for just wages or name-that-cause, we can’t assume that such a person doesn’t also care for those whose very lives are directly threatened by this or that other unjust law or practice.
But at the same time, if such a person explicitly argues against other people spending time and energy on saving vulnerable lives, or explicitly argues that laws allowing the killing of innocents should not be overturned, then in that case we can indeed conclude the person doesn’t really care about protecting the lives of innocent persons.
If Not Human Dignity, then What?
Quite a few people who are passionately involved in this or that worthy cause are also in favor of killing innocent people. Witness the ACLU, who has rightly taken a stance against certain unjust laws that unfairly burden the poor. The ACLU is, at the same time, actively attempting to require Catholic hospitals to kill some of their patients. Thus we can conclude that concern for the lives of innocent people is not the motivation behind the ACLU’s actions.
We can make the same conclusion about people who (rightly) campaign for suicide-prevention, except when they are busy promoting assisted suicide. Likewise are those who (rightly) campaign against the killing of the innocent by gun violence or natural disasters, but who are quite certain that if only the victim had been killed a few decades earlier in the privacy of a medical clinic, that death should have been right and good. Most chilling are those who will swear passionately that every innocent person does indeed have a right to life — unless that person’s father committed some unspeakable crime. In which case, killing the baby is just fine.
“Dignity.” You Keep Using that Word.
People who campaign for death will use words like “dignity” and “privacy” and “freedom.” They do not mean these words in the sense of recognizing that every human is precious, a person of inestimable worth, innocent until proven guilty. When they say “dignity” they do not mean “safeguarding the lives of all the innocent” as part of that dignity. When they say “freedom” they do not mean “protecting the innocent from the violence of the powerful” as part of that freedom.
When someone is in favor of every kind of death and oppression, we say the person is pathologically criminal and look no further.
When someone is in favor of stopping some kinds of death and oppression but also favors other acts just as violent, just as egregiously committed against the innocent, one must look to patterns for an explanation.
The pattern that typifies our culture of death is this: Pleasantness.
By “dignity” what the purveyors mean is “avoiding things I find unpleasant.”
Terminal illness, depression, rape, loneliness, poverty, disability: These are unpleasant things. These are sources of suffering. They are often the cause of suffering for the person at the heart of the problem, and often the cause of as much or more suffering for those nearby.
To campaign for the right to kill some of the innocent people involved in these various situations is to make it very plain: It is not the protection of innocent lives that we are after; it is the protection of pleasant lives.
The Pursuit of Fugitive Happiness
What to do with unhappy people? What to do with those people who create difficulties that impinge on our own happiness?
Killing them is the solution increasingly sanctioned by law.
We live in a democracy. The law is not imposed on us by strangers. It reflects our national will. How many of us know a proud grandmother, showing off photos of this or that beloved grandchild, but who felt it her right and duty to pressure her unwed son or daughter into aborting some other less-convenient grandchild?
If you were really pro-life, Grandma says, you’d take steps to eliminate the scourge of the poverty.
Yes and we do. But the poor will always be with us, Grandmother. If you really loved the poor, you would not tell us to kill them.
Artwork: Meister Bertram von Minden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons