Is Innocent Human Life Ever Negotiable?
As we enter the twenty-first century, Georgia Right to Life finds itself in the middle of a raging debate regarding the future of the pro-life movement. As we face new and emerging medical technologies, many tough questions are raised: Should we in the pro-life movement accept that some classes of human life are expendable? For instance, should children conceived during the treatment of infertility, placed in a frozen state, and subsequently abandoned by their parents be protected by law? Should we allow rape and incest exceptions that make it lawful to kill a child based on its manner of conception? What about a woman facing a life threatening ectopic pregnancy: What concerns, if any, should she address before seeking medical help?
Imago Dei and the Pro-Life Message in the Twenty-First Century
Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (ESV). This verse is the foundation of human dignity throughout Western history. “Imago Dei” is Latin for the “image of God.” To be created imago Dei means being endowed with an immortal spirit, a capacity to know and be known by God, a measure of autonomy and free will in the areas of thought and action, each of which separate us from the rest of creation.
Because we bear the image of God, all mankind, and, by extension, each and every human life has a “specialness” and worth that demands respect. Each human life, from its earliest stage of development, is a unique Person which bears God’s likeness, and should have the same protection of law that is afforded other “persons” in our society. For this reason, all human life should be respected in law. This respect is due regardless of the manner of conception, whether through the marital act, fertilized “in vitro” (IVF), or through the “ex utero” process of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT, otherwise know as cloning).
Our United States Constitution limits its protection to “born” persons. This limitation implicitly violates the doctrine of imago Dei, and has resulted in a branch of the pro-life movement now focusing its educational and legislative efforts on promoting “Personhood” as the answer to the emerging biotech issues facing us in the twenty-first century.
Imago Dei: Hard Cases Make Bad Law
“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This biblical command seems verystraightforward in its application. However, when applied to pro-life legislation, we are told that we must make exceptions to this command in order to be effective in the legislature. We respectfully disagree.
A significant number of pro-life laws have been passed in Georgia since 1998, yet in no case has a “rape and incest” exception been introduced into the law! Since 2000, we have consistently labored to refute this flawed logic by denying our endorsement to any politician who believes otherwise. By God’s grace, Georgia is currently ranked as the fourteenth most pro-life state in the nation. If we are successful in passing a “juridical personhood” bill (a bill that would protect human life conceived in vitro or ex utero) in 2009, we will advance into the top five. We went from a 3% pro-life legislature in 2002 to a 53% legislature by 2006. Our insistence on the principle of protecting all human life has resulted in a consistent pro-life standard and message and has produced very pragmatic ends.
We are told by many within the pro-life movement that we must do whatever is necessary “to save as many babies as we can,” and, on the surface, this would appear prudent. The problem is that it requires that we materially participate with legislators who demand that we negotiate and permit the compromise of some human life. Their argument is that it assures that we achieve the highest level of justice that this culture will afford. We allege that if you “aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it!” Pope Benedict XVI has wisely said, “It is necessary to bear concrete witness to the fact that respect for life is the first form of justice that must be applied.” Our aim is to provide a concrete foundation in promoting justice for all innocent human life. We have refused to materially participate with any legislator or support his or her legislation if it calls for the destruction of innocent human life in any case other than to save the life of the mother.
Is material participation immoral? We believe it is when it is unbiblical, freely accepts bad side effects, and establishes bad precedents. Mr. Clarke Forsyth, President, Americans United for Life says:
The first principle of morality is to pursue the good and avoid evil. We are to individually turn from evil and do good. This includes an injunction against calculating to do evil in order that good may come. We must also avoid participating in the evil actions of others . . . material cooperation can be morally wrong, just as it can be wrong freely to accept bad side effects. If material cooperation would be unfair or give bad example, or if one has a responsibility to testify to the truth by avoiding even this much association with evil then one should not cooperate materially.
We couldn’t agree more!
Deuteronomy 24:16 states that “nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death” (NRSV). If we posit that unborn children are “persons,” then we can clearly see that God’s Word forbids abortion in the cases of rape and incest. To allow our pro-life organizations and pro-life legislators to promote a compromise of this nature damages the very core argument of imago Dei and removes the very sure foundation that all innocent human life should be protected from fertilization until natural death. This is not only a bad example, but it materially cooperates with evil. We have rejected this compromise in Georgia since 2000 and have successfully promoted a culture of life that has been reflected in our laws. In 2006, our board voted to focus all of our legislative energies on incrementally promoting Personhood (www.personhood.net) as opposed to seeking incremental gains that simply regulate abortion.
Imago Dei: The Life of the Mother Exception
We admit that a serious medical condition exists whenever a woman is diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy. In very rare cases, ectopic pregnancy has resulted in a live birth. Some respected publications put the odds at 60 million to 1. It is always life threatening whenever the embryo attaches to the fallopian tube. There is no medical record of a live birth of an ectopic tubal pregnancy. This diagnosis requires medical intervention in an attempt to successfully treat two patients — the mother and the child — otherwise both will perish. To date, our medical knowledge and technology is inadequate to save the child. It is estimated that we are just a few years away from the development of an ectogenic womb that may permit the successful treatment of this tragic case.
Does this mean that all approaches to the treatment of an ectopic tubal pregnancy is in keeping with the biblical doctrine of imago Dei? Sadly, no. Many physicians administer the abortifacient drug called methotrexate to patients with early tubal ectopic pregnancies. The object is to avoid the more serious complications that can come from the invasive surgery which removes a section of the fallopian tube containing the dead or dying child and renders the associated ovary sterile. A problem exists when there are multiple fertilized embryos which have successfully implanted in the uterus and would be aborted in the attempt to promote spontaneous regression of the dead fetus. This is a well-documented medical scenario. This would entail material participation in the death of innocent human life. The official position statement of the Association of Pro-life Physicians says this:
It is only ethical to remove the tubal pregnancy if spontaneous resolution does not occur after watchful waiting and if the physician is 100% certain that there are no twins. At this point, the embryo in the fallopian tube is likely to be dead and, even if not, the death is unavoidable and unintentional, and the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother. In conclusion, there are no occasions in which the intentional killing of the pre-born child is justified.
Divine law supports the scientific fact that life and personhood begin at fertilization or its equivalent. The twenty-first century will challenge these facts in a host of new battlefields centered in emerging technologies and bio-tech science. If we are unsuccessful in combating the attack on the doctrine of imago Dei, then I fear that we will be inundated with a franken-science straight from the pages of Huxley’s, Brave New World. In the twentieth century, it was enough that we were pro-life, but in the word’s of evangelical bioethicist, Nigel Cameron, “in the 21st century we must also be pro-human.”