Respect Life Week a time of worship
Maybe you haven't heard that this is Respect Life Week on campus. Or maybe you dismiss it as a knee-jerk attack on abortion from the fever swamps of the Radical Right. The reality is different. Let me try to explain.
Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, legalized abortion has delivered a body count of at least 40 million — not including the uncountable abortions by injection, pill, intrauterine device, etc. The Court will not uphold any law which effectively prohibits any abortion. The technology of early abortions by pill and other means, moreover, is moving abortion beyond the reach of the law.
In 1997, the Supreme Court upheld a law prohibiting assisted suicide. But the Court allows the states, in effect, to permit intentional killing of supposedly consenting patients by withholding food and water or by "terminal sedation." How can the law determine, except in an extreme case, whether a physician's decision to sedate a patient is intended to relieve pain or to kill? Like abortion, euthanasia is becoming a private choice, beyond the reach of the law. The American Hospital Association estimates that 70 percent of all the deaths in hospitals in this country are what Dr. Norman Fost, director of medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin, calls "planned deaths." Planned killing is a response to the shortage of workers to support the elderly, the retarded and the disabled. This shortage is a result of contraception and abortion.
In the "culture of death" the intentional infliction of death is accepted as a problem-solving technique. Right now, 3,565 persons are on death row in the United States. About 300 more are sentenced to death each year. To empty the death rows would require the execution of one person every day for 60 years. The state has authority to impose the death penalty. But that authority can rightly be exercised only if it "is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor." Catechism, (1997) no. 2267. That penalty can no longer be justified for reasons of deterrence or retribution but only to protect others from this convicted criminal. The criminal is guilty while the victims in abortion and euthanasia are innocent. In all three, however, John Paul II insists that God — not the individual and not the state — is in charge of the ending as well as the beginning of life.
Abortion, euthanasia and the wholesale use of the death penalty are symptoms of a culture that has lost sight of God as the Lord of life. "We are facing," said John Paul, "[a] clash between good and evil, death and life, the `culture of death' and the `culture of life.' We are all involved in it with the responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life."
The Respect Life effort makes that choice. While it seeks to prohibit abortion and euthanasia and to restrict the death penalty, it offers positive alternatives and help to women contemplating abortion or who have had an abortion to single mothers and to the disabled or terminally ill. It reminds us that, as John Paul put it, "not even a murderer loses his personal dignity." And it is not afraid to address the root evil of contraception. If, through contraception, you make yourself, rather than God, the arbiter as to whether and when life shall begin, you will make yourself the arbiter of whether and when it shall end through abortion, euthanasia or the death penalty. The entire "culture of death" is based on the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living and that the decision on that point is for us rather than God.
ND/SMC Right to Life includes effective outreaches to single mothers, to the Women's Care Center and to Hospice of St. Joseph County. But the heart of the Right to Life effort is Eucharistic Adoration. "Through Jesus," said John Paul, "man is given the possibility of `knowing' the complete truth concerning the value of human life. From this source he receives the capacity to "accomplish" this truth perfectly." "The Church and the world," he said, "have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease."
We suffer from the scourge of having the '60s and '70s generations in power. But, like an oil slick on a river, this, too, will pass. One of the Pope's recurrent themes is that "God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs."
Respect Life Week, run by students on their own initiative, is one of those signs.
Professor Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, October 12, 1999