On John Paul 2’s Consistent Ethic of Life

On John Paul 2’s Consistent Ethic of Life April 24, 2017

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I am tired of single issue pro-lifers hijacking the words of Pope John Paul. Let’s call the following the ‘maximum determination’ fallacy. It goes like this. You complain about the hyper focus on abortion to the exclusion of other issues and the pro-lifer responds with something like this:

‘Saint John Paul II is the one who said that nothing else matters if abortion is not fought with “maximum determination”.’

Not exactly. Here’s the quote:

“The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.” (Christifideles Laici 38)

He didn’t say ‘nothing else matters’ if abortion is not fought with maximum determination. If you pay close attention to his words, several things become clear.

1. He uses the words ‘right to life’, which pro-lifers have equated to abortion. The Church’s views on this don’t equate the right to life with abortion, because the threats to life are not limited to abortion, and because the bearer of that right is not limited to the unborn. It’s typical though of pro-lifers to reduce the one to the other.

2. Why is the right to life the most fundamental one? Because the inviolability of the person is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God. The bedrock foundation value at play here, is the value of the person, made in the image and likeness of God. But obviously, the threats to this value are many and varied, and interconnected, and therefore cannot be reduced to abortion.

3. It makes sense then, what JPII says about the appeal to human rights being false and illusory if the right to life is not defended, because he is appealing here to consistency. He is saying that we must defend the right to life *for the sake of* all those other human rights. In other words, it’s because human rights are so justly and commonly desirable to defend, that we must defend the right to life (not just abortion). It’s a package deal. That’s a very, umm, seamless garment type of argument to make.

4. Speaking of ‘common outcry justly made on behalf of human rights’, where is the outcry by pro-lifers on behalf of all these human rights, other than abortion? Because every time someone tries to call attention to something, pro-lifers start crying Abortion Abortion!

So this quotation cannot be used in support of a pro-life philosophy that rejects a consistent ethic of life. Sorry, but you can’t appeal to JPII or the Church for that perversion of the Church’s pro-life philosophy.

Today’s post was written by reader Brian Killian. It previously appeared on his personal Facebook page.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

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