Taste for Death

News: Campaign 2020Commentary
by Richard A. Spinello  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 7, 2020   

Joe Biden and 'Evangelium Vitae'

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In a recent interview with Crux, Abp. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, declared that it would be "harmful" if "some topic of bioethics is extracted from its general context" and used as a political weapon. Catholics must embrace a broad perspective on global bioethics "that engages all the major topics that touch on life," he suggested. In other words, it would be wrong to isolate one issue such as abortion as pre-eminent for determining the suitability of a political candidate.

Abp. Vincenzo Paglia

Paglia's convictions echo the "seamless garment" thesis once championed in the 1990s by Chicago cardinal Joseph Bernardin. That notion has been revived since Pope Francis' election to the papacy, and many liberal prelates like Bp. Robert McElroy of San Diego proclaim its merits. Some Catholics have seized on this theme to justify a vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election despite his pro-abortion politics.

Adding to the confusion is Pope Francis himself, who sometimes links the abortion issue with other social justice concerns. In a speech delivered last month he conflated ecological and pro-life issues because of their common root:

the same indifference, the same selfishness, the same greed, the same pride, the same claim to be the master and despot of the world leads human beings on the one hand to destroy species and plunder natural resources and, on the other ... to no longer respect the right to human life from conception to its natural end.

But a far different perspective is presented in John Paul II's encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which introduced the phrase "Culture of Death" to describe a subculture that is quite willing to endorse abortion and euthanasia.

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As legal philosopher and scholar John Finnis has pointed out, the pope's strong language refers to a systemic and shameless willingness to treat some human beings as nonpersons — to choose and intend to kill these human beings and to legally protect and publicly promote those choices. In the case of abortion, some individuals deliberately choose to bring about the death of a human being within the womb while many others ensure that these actions can be carried out with impunity.

The result of such "systematically programmed threats," is a "conspiracy against life" (EV 15). That conspiracy is grounded in an immoral impulse, fundamental to the abortion culture, to endow some individuals with "absolute power over others and against others" (20). Those who share in this perverse culture, including politicians who craft and ratify liberal, taxpayer-funded abortion laws, must bear some responsibility for its disastrous results.

'Moral Urgency' Prioritizes Abortion

This systematic willingness to choose and intend the death of powerless victims that constitutes the Culture of Death makes the pro-life question unique among the full spectrum of ethical issues referred to by Abp. Paglia.

The abortion issue is not being weaponized but properly prioritized because of its moral urgency.

Some individuals may have deficient ecological values or an illiberal immigration policy, but they do not intend anyone's death nor do they lend moral and legal support to a subculture that does so. They do not condone or rationalize direct acts of violence against another human being.

Contrary to Paglia's veiled support of the seamless garment philosophy, it is valid to isolate the antiabortion issue and give it the salience it deserves, because in this case the person is reduced to an object that can be conveniently disposed of. The abortion issue is not being weaponized but properly prioritized because of its moral urgency.

Joe Biden unequivocally supports taxpayer-funded abortion right up to the moment of birth. The Biden ticket wants no restrictions placed on abortion, even for those taking place in the last trimester. Defenders of Mr. Biden hasten to point out that very few abortions occur in the late stages of pregnancy.

But as a National Review article indicates, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 1.3% of abortions occur after 21 weeks (the threshold for a premature infant's survival outside the womb with medical care). And since there are currently about 926,000 abortions per year in the United States, the 1.3% rate translates into 12,000 abortions after the preborn child is viable. Moreover, most of those abortions are elective. Even those who erroneously contend that the preborn child is not a human being in the early stages of development (despite its unique human genome and active potency to know the truth and to make free choices) must acknowledge that every year 12,000 babies are intentionally executed in this gruesome procedure.

There are currently about 926,000 abortions per year in the United States.

Through his zealous support for unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion, Joe Biden directly participates in the dark Culture of Death graphically described by John Paul II. Those who have questioned the authenticity of Mr. Biden's Catholicism have come under withering criticism. Perhaps some of that criticism is warranted, but anyone who eagerly provides material support to the abortion culture is in a state of rebellion from the Catholic faith and its gospel of life, which is at "the heart of Jesus' message" (1). In addition, this "systematic violation of the moral law" protecting innocent human life generates a "progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving presence" (21).

Pope St. John Paul II

Critical Distinction

It is also essential to differentiate the root of that culture from the fundamental causes of environmental degradation or economic injustice.

Genesis explains that God gave human beings "dominion" over creation (1:26), since nature must be subdued to satisfy our basic needs. The problem is that some people are prone to careless excess. But the root cause of the Culture of Death is far more insidious since it comes from "a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands" (15).

While God has given us dominion over nature, He has not given us dominion over other people so that they become subjugated even to the point that we decide whether they live or die. The human person is God's possession. While abusing our natural resources is morally reprehensible, it is a far more sinister offense to claim another's life as one's "exclusive property" (22).

Mr. Biden's positions on other social justice issues are tainted by the turbulent darkness of abortion's shadow, because an explicit attack on the right to life represents "a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights" (18). This is the central message of Evangelium Vitae, a moral treatise that brightly illuminates the way out of the deep recesses of the abortion culture and its incipient nihilism.

Dr. Richard A. Spinello is Professor of Management Practice at Boston College and a member of the adjunct faculty at St. John's Seminary in Boston. He is the author of The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary, and The Splendor of Marriage: St. John Paul II's Vision of Love, Marriage, Family and the Culture of Life along with numerous other books and articles on ethical theory and applied ethics.
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