Zoe's Law and the right to life

Zoe's Law and the right to life

Eamonn Keane

At the time of writing, there is a private member's bill titled "Zoe's Law" before the NSW Parliament which for purposes of defining the scope of grievous bodily harm offences under the NSW Crimes Act refers to a foetus of 20 weeks or more as a "living person".

The bill is named after an unborn baby, Zoe Donegan, who died when a car driven by a drug-affected driver left the road in 2009, knocked down Zoe's mother, Brodie Donegan, and killed her unborn baby. The driver was convicted for injuring Brodie, but was not charged over the death of Zoe.

The Donegan family has been campaigning to amend the law, to enable charges to be laid against people who kill an unborn baby. Central to this is the recognition that an unborn baby is a person.

The attribution of the term "person" to an unborn baby in the bill has advocates of women's sexual and reproductive rights up in arms. They are concerned the passage of the bill may lead to more restricted access to procured abortion.

New human beings

Science indicates that from the moment of the fusion of the human gametes (male sperm and female ovum) we have the initial stage of a continuous human life. Commonly referred to as "zygote" or "early embryo" this miniscule entity is a human being different and distinct from the parents. In itself is printed a genetic process for its ongoing development as a human being. It has an inbuilt capacity to initiate, sustain, control and direct its own development.

According to Keith L. Moore, "Human development begins at fertilisation, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialised, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual ... A zygote is the beginning of a new human being ..." ( The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 2003).

In other words, once an ovum is fertilised, the life of a new human being has begun, even though it will take time for its various capacities to develop.

As innocent human beings, fetuses therefore have an inalienable right to life. Laws extinguishing this right are inherently corrupt and unjust.

Pro-abortion advocates frequently draw on the ideas of Peter Singer to support their demands for legal and free access to abortion services. Singer perceives a demarcation line existing between those human beings who he thinks should be granted the status of personhood and those who should not.

As markers of personhood he delineates "self-awareness, self-control, a sense of the future, a sense of the past, the capacity to relate to others, concern for others, communication, and curiosity" ( Practical Ethics, 2011).

Speaking of this in their book, Architects of the Culture of Death, Professor Donald De Marco and Benjamin Wiker say: "The subject comes before consciousness. The subject may exist prior consciousness (as in the case of the human embryo) or during lapses of consciousness (as in sleep or in a coma). But the existing subject is not to be identified with consciousness itself, which is an operation or activity of the subject."

They add, "Singer, by trying to be more broadminded than is reasonable, has created a philosophy that actually dehumanises people, reducing them to points of consciousness that are indistinguishable from those of many nonhuman animals."

Some of the worst human rights abuses in history have been associated with denying certain human beings the status of 'human person'. Examples of this given in William Brennan's book Dehumanising the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives (Chicago, 1995) include negro slavery, the Soviet gulags and the Nazis' mass murder of the Jews.

In regard to abortion, the biological data we have already noted indicate that from the very beginning of its existence, the human embryo is an individual human being and as such has to be the subject of inalienable human rights. The first such right is the right to life itself.

The long-running campaign for the institutionalisation of free and easy access to abortion in every country in the world is one of the most evil ideologies to appear in history.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran theologian and pastor, who was executed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler and the Third Reich, had no compunction about calling abortion murder. He said:

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder."

Referring to the difficult circumstances that can give rise to the demand for abortion, Bonhoeffer added, "A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual.

"Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man's more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but that cannot in any way alter the fact of murder." (Cited by Eric Metaxas in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Thomas Nelson 2010).

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