Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Back to Basics: 1. From conception until natural death
This is one of the most frequently quoted phrases by pro-lifers, one you've more than likely heard or read before. The Church has a lot to say about the sanctity of human life, she proclaims it boldly in fact, and it all stems from this one little sentence. In these 34 words more is said about the wonderful gift of life, its meaning and purpose than often meets the eye. And for some it also raises a lot of questions. I have tried to address some of the more frequently asked ones...
When does life begin?
a) At birth
b) At 24 weeks
c) When there is an audible heartbeat and organs are forming
d) At conception
We asked this very question to our parish's confirmation candidates a few weeks ago and, whilst most of them answered d), there were some who thought c). There is a lot of conflicting opinion about precisely when human life begins; read different books, visit different websites and you will be told very different things. Part of the reason for this is that people often use strange, alien terms to refer to an unborn child during the various stages of development (e.g. zygote, foetus, embryo and many others) which dehumanise it and desensitise us to what it is too. But the fact is that a person is a human life from the very first moment, from the point of conception that zygote is an unborn child. Yes, he or she doesn't have arms or legs or a head yet but not being fully formed yet doesn't make them any less of a human being, in the same way that a toddler is no less a person than an adult purely because they haven't finished growing. A fertilised ovum will always result in a child growing in the womb of the mother, there is no point at which it suddenly becomes human having not been so before.
What does the Church have to say about life beginning at conception?
1:26-38). Our ancestors, along with the rest of the Body of Christ, recognised that Jesus' life on earth began long before his birth on December 25th. His incarnation began in the womb of the Virgin Mary, he became man at that moment, was fully human from that point onwards. The same is true of each of our lives; we are fully ourselves, totally human from conception. And because of this we have the same right to life as any other person. (CCC 2323)
What does it mean to be "created in the image and likeness of the holy and living God"?
Scripture and tradition speak at length about our innate dignity as human beings. That word, 'dignity', is one often thrown around, twisted and warped to mean a whole host of different things in a wide variety of contexts. But our true dignity stems from our being created in the image and likeness of God (CCC 1700), we are given a special gift, a unique honour in creation in that we resemble the divine. And this image and likeness, this dignity, is expressed in all of us, it is what makes each of us truly equal with our neighbour, none of us have more dignity than someone else. This image and likeness is expressed through the sick, elderly, disabled and dying, the toddler and the unborn child just as much as it is shown in the young, the fit, the successful and the healthy. Nothing can ever change this, no set of circumstances, no other person can ever alter the fact that we are made in God's image and that we are loved and cherished by him more than we could ever hope to fathom. And because we all share the same innate dignity we all have the same right to life. Just as no one can stop you from being created in God's likeness so can no one take away your dignity and your inviolable right to exist.
This is an immense and beautiful gift given to us by our Father in heaven, our lives are not something that we can create or bestow upon ourselves or others but something that we have been entrusted with.
What is 'natural death'?
CCC 1011), we set our worldly desires and will to one side and set our eyes on the things of heaven.
But as bleak as this may sound to some death is not a negative, nor is living out our full life. In living a full life (i.e. a life not cut short) we are given the invaluable opportunity to carry our very own Cross, to walk with Christ, to journey with him towards the Father, to grow in love and holiness for God and our fellow man. And because of Christ's triumph on the Cross at Calvary death is not the end but only a gateway into life, life with God for all eternity (CCC 1010). It is something that we should look forward to and prepare ourselves for through a regular reception of the sacraments.
That being said it is not something that we can or should hasten. Suffering is something that is as painful to watch as it is to endure but that does not mean that there is no value in it, that a person's life in those times of darkness and pain is less worth of having than yours or mine. We are called to love our neighbour, to care for them as we would have others do to us (Mark 12:30-31), to try and ease their discomfort through the means at our disposal (e.g. pain medication etc.) but not to perform so-called 'mercy-killings' as, due to our innate dignity as human beings, that person is still created in the image and likeness of God right up until the end and we have no right to say when a life becomes 'worthless' or 'too hard to endure'.
Don't we have the right to an abortion or the right to die?
There is a notion that we have the "right" to an abortion or the "right" to die as and when we choose, some even refer to them as "human rights." Human rights were created and given international recognition after the Second World War to ensure that never again would the rights of our fellow man be violated in such a dreadful way. These rights are there to protect our lives, to keep our right to life from being threatened by others. We, to name but one example, have the right to live free from the threat of torture, something designed to keep us safe and well.
Abortion and assisted suicide/assisted death can never be "rights" as they fundamentally undermine our right to life, they purposely seek to destroy it and this is totally contrary to what human rights were created for in the first place. Abortion, assisted suicide and assisted death are attacks and violations of our dignity as human beings, they destroy that life which has been freely created and freely given and are not a "right" and can certainly never be the correct course of action to take.
Although I tried to think of a poetic conclusion to draw this post to a close it unfortunately didn't quite come together. So instead I leave you with the same quote I opened with and hope that you will see more in those 34 words, understand better the Church's need to proclaim the Gospel of Life than you perhaps did to begin with.
Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2319.)