Life: a gift of inestimable value

Life: a gift of inestimable value

Anne Lastman

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the human condition served to forever change the meaning and value of human life.

His incarnation has again restored upon the face of humanity the image of God, which had been disfigured through sin. As part of the restoration of the divine image upon the human countenance, the value of each and every human being has thus been invested with inestimable worth.

No longer can it be said that the human is far from God, for God has joined Himself to the human condition and in doing so has raised it to the dimension of its origins.

St John Paul II

In his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, St John Paul II has written clearly about the Church's teachings on the value of every human life.

He writes that human life is specifically "good" because "the life which God gives man is quite different from the life of all other living creatures, and inasmuch as man is formed from the dust of the earth, he is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of His presence, a spark of His glory (cf Gen.1:26-27 Ps 8:6)".

Human life is the "place where God manifests Himself, where we meet Him and enter into communion with Him" (n.38). Human beings in themselves are icons of the living God and this reality is affirmed through the incarnation of Jesus.

In his birth amongst the rest of his creation Jesus has shown that each person is a "word", a "conception" of His Father and as such from the very beginning to the very end of this conception this new and unique expression of God is linked not only to the human species but importantly to Him who has conceived of him first.

From the very beginning of life to its very end, the life of every human has a mission to fulfil: to make good choices and return to him the Creator.

Human life is distinct from all other creation because only the human being has been permitted to live with "choice" and hence must serve his mission making right choices.

From the very beginning of her existence the Church has always understood and taught that human life is and remains sacred. Human life must at all times be treated with the dignity that has been invested upon it by virtue of its relationship to God.

The Old Testament contains numerous references to the value of human life beginning in the womb: Gn 11:11 25:21-26; Hs 12:2-3; Ex. 21, 22:15; Jer. 1:5; Is. 7:14; Ps 22:9-10; 139:13-16.

More specifically, references to life beginning at fertilisation can be found in Ps 51:5; Lk 1:35-36; Rms 9:10-13.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2271) adds: "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law ... Abortion and infanticides are abominable crimes."

Early Christian writing explicitly and repeatedly equated abortion with homicide:

"You shall not kill an unborn child or murder a newborn infant" ( The Didache, II, 2).

"You shall love your neighbour more than your own life. You shall not slay the child by abortion (Barnabas [c 70-138] Epistles, Vol. II, p. 19).

"For us [Christians], murder is once and for all forbidden so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother's blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy" (Tertullian, 197, Apologeticus, p. 9) .

More contemporary Church teachings have also been strongly worded and unambiguous.

In 1869 Pope Pius IX declared abortion to be murder. Indeed punishment for abortion was so severe that its intent could not be clearer.

Canon Law Number 1398 and the 1917 edition of Canon Law (2350) state in English and Latin: Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem, latae sententiae incurrat (Those who successfully abort [a living human fetus] bring on themselves instant excommunication).

Vatican II

Whilst claims have been made that since the Second Vatican Council there has been an easing concerning abortion, this is untrue. The Council stated:

"The truth is that God imprints into the human person, and His own Law (Jer.31:31-33; Rms 2:12-16).

"This law encourages and alerts the human person to the reality of right and wrong and in doing so warns of error against the original design and divine essence and imprint."

St Thomas Aquinas described natural law as "the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light."

Therefore, the Church cannot change the law. For the Church to change her teachings on life she would be divorcing herself from the life-giving source, her groom Jesus.

While the Church is consistent and firm on her teachings concerning abortion she is also strong in her moral condemnation of "procedures which exploit living human embryos sometimes specifically 'produced' for this purpose by in vitro fertilisation-either to be used as 'biological material' or as providers for organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases."

"The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act."

In an earlier encyclical, Donum Vitae (1987), the Holy Father and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said: "Medical research must refrain from operations on live embryos, unless there is a moral certainty of not causing harm to the life or integrity of the unborn child and the mother."

Bearing these documents in mind it appears that the Holy Father's and the Church's position and condemnations have been prophetic.

In recent times it has been common to hear of embryos being destroyed in the process of finding a compatible donor for a sick sibling.

As noted, the use of and deliberate destruction of human embryos is strongly condemned by the Church.

This is the very thing that Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) sought to warn against.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ( CCC 2274) states: "Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

" Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human foetus and is directed towards its safeguarding or healing as an individual ... It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing abortion, depending on the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence" ( CCC 2274).

"It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material" ( CCC 2275).

While some may claim, in light of these prohibitions, that the Church is against all research and experimentation this is not the case as the Catechism makes clear:

"One must hold as licit procedures carried out in the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it but are directed towards its healing, improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival" ( CCC 2275).

Assisted reproductive technology is a minefield waiting to explode. Fetal experimentation, fetal tissue and parts harvesting, fetal manipulation are not new. These have been happening quietly for the past 50-80 years.

Harvesting for fetal parts is lucrative. Therefore, abortion and genetic engineering, and extra corporeal conception must be in place so that there is a ready-made supply embryos and fetuses for the scientific market, which is financed by those who are ultimately not concerned with the value of human life but with money and ambition.

While in theory experimentation can lead to the eradication of human illness and disease the reality is that human experimentation is against all that is holy.

Those behind this do not perceive the fetus as an icon of the unseen God or a replica of Jesus, the seen God, but as tissue, cells and extractions whose spiritual value is nil but whose purpose is to serve the designs of men and women without conscience and heart.

Euthanasia

Because of the lack of respect for life in its genesis, there have been continuing pressures to legitimise the premature taking of life before its natural end .

Euthanasia simply means an earlier death than would be the natural course of events and in fact its proponents would suggest that it is death or dying gently and with dignity.

A more emotive word used by its supporters is mercy killing, which means helping the individual to terminate his or her life by artificial means or even induced assistance.

Euthanasia is countenanced and at times encouraged where it is believed that the quality of life of the individual has been greatly diminished and the suffering experienced is thought to be excessive.

Again like embryonic experimentation for humane purposes, to alleviate sickness and disease, so too with euthanasia.

The euthanased will be relieved of all that is considered unpleasant, including their lives with the possibilities of useful experimentation on their bodies and in some cases early inheritance.

In Evangelium Vitae, St John Paul II calls today's society a society immersed in "a culture of death". Rightly he puts a name to something which is permeating and undermining humanity, an anti-life mentality that has become unstoppable and with a life of its own.

Of course a "culture of death" does not happen overnight but evolves silently and insidiously.

For modern society this culture of death has been fuelled by the contraceptive pill and associated devices, which have led to uncontrolled sexuality, disrespect for human life and the weakening of moral boundaries.

Pope Paul VI, in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae predicted that relationships between males and females, and parents and children would be put at risk following the universal acceptance of contraception, especially with the advent of the "pill". No past or future papal document would elicit so much dissent within the Church, yet with the benefit of hindsight it is now possible to see that his following words were truly prophetic ( HV, 17).

"It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer his respected and beloved companion."

Warning bells

Humanae Vitae tried to sound the warning bells about possible future disasters, that is, uncontrolled abortions, psychological suffering, fetal experimentation, cloning, mutations, family breakdowns and other horrors, which have emerged one by one and are now known as "rights".

Euthanasia has ultimately become possible because abortion on demand is accepted.

If it is legitimate to kill the weakest and most defenceless by abortion, then it is equally possible to dispose of any life considered to be burdensome or overly costly.

In contrast, the Church's constant teaching on matters of life and death is that authority over these resides with God who has a plan for each human being that comes into existence and with whom He has a relationship extending far into that individual's life here on earth.

Abortion, fetal experimentation, fetal parts harvesting, cloning, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, all attempt to wrest from Him his very authority. It is the human saying again, "Non serviam."

 

This life in us ... however low it flickers or fiercely burns, is still a divine flame which no man dare presume to put out, be his motive ever so humane and enlightened.

To suppose otherwise is to countenance a death wish.

Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account: it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.

from Something Beautiful for God, by Malcolm Muggeridge

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