by Gail Quinn
April 16, 1999
News programs report on the war in Kosovo, while non-stop talk shows debate the issue, and pictures of ethnic Albanians suffering unimaginable trauma flash across the TV screen. I surely don't have the answers. But I'm rather certain by this late in life that I'll never figure out why even the most serious disagreements among nations or individuals must be settled with bullets and bombs. Yet today, killing by "ethnic cleansing" and explosives are pursued as solutions to human problems.
Jack Kevorkian, the retired pathologist who made a name for himself by helping chronically and terminally ill people kill themselves, has been found guilty and sentenced to prison for killing Thomas Youk by lethal injection. Kevorkian espouses killing seriously ill people as the best way to solve some human problems.
Reports out of Canada tell of nurses forced to be involved in late term abortions, and of babies who survive, (however briefly) "genetic terminations". The nurses comfort but are allowed to do no more, not even to feed babies who will die because they are "unwanted" due to a genetic defect. Said one nurse: "Right now the hospitals are killing disabled children." Killing to solve human problems.
Presidential hopefuls are addressing questions about their position on killing by abortion, although few use either of those words. On the Democratic side, Vice President Gore's and Bill Bradley's positions are known: both openly support abortion on demand, even at Government expense. Republicans generally are staking out positions in opposition to most abortions, while being encouraged by columnists and political pundits to back away from the Party's support for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. Yet even if one does not think a constitutional amendment is a workable short-term strategy, it remains the ultimate goal if our nation is to reject killing as a way to solve some human problems. I would hope that any candidate for public office, at any level and regardless of political affiliation, would understand this and support it.
Abortion has touched this nation and its people as little else has in recent years. Over the past quarter-century, over 37,000,000 human beings have had their lives ended before birth, by abortion. Once it was that few of us knew anyone who had had an abortion. Then came a time when there were few of us who did not know someone who had an abortion. Today, many of us know someone coming apart at the seams because of abortion. Project Rachel, one of the most successful programs available to help women and men deal with the heart-wrenching aftermath of abortion, reports an enormous increase in the numbers of people seeking help, some even decades after the event.
Last November the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted an important document called Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics. It is based on Pope John Paul II's trilogy of encyclicals: Evangelium Vitae (on the sanctity of human life), Veritatis Splendor (on authentic freedom, truth and moral absolutes), and Fides et Ratio (on how faith and reason go hand-in-hand). The bishops took the encyclicals' teachings and analyzed them in the context of life in the United States. They focused on our nation's founding principles, and pointed out where these are at risk, most notably where the "inviolable rights of the human person are proclaimed and the value of life publicly affirmed, [while] the most basic human right, 'the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon.'" The bishops issued the challenge "to call our fellow citizens back to our country's founding principles, and most especially to renew our national respect for the rights of those who are unborn, weak, disabled and terminally ill". As they point out, "the inherent value of human life. . . is not a sectarian issue any more than the Declaration of Independence is a sectarian creed."
The bishops call on all of us, especially Catholics, to defend certain truths and values, urging each of us to promote the Gospel of Life in a manner consonant with our role and responsibility in society. They note that many issues involve the protection of human life and the promotion of human dignity, and that good people can and do disagree on how best to address them. So where to begin? At the very foundation; the existence of human life itself.
The basic principle for citizens and elected officials alike, said the bishops, is to "begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem. In other words, the choice of certain ways of acting is always and radically incompatible with the love of God and the dignity of the human person created in his image". If each of us does our part to the best of our ability, the world can become a place where killing is no longer seen as an acceptable solution to human problems.
Gail Quinn is Director of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. See Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics on the Internet at www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/gospel.shtml.