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The Pro-Life Struggle
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, S.T.D.
It is a joy to be with you this evening, ladies and gentlemen, and to be able to share with you some thoughts. It is always a thrill to be able to dine with and converse with wonderful people who have in their hearts a love for human dignity and human life, and to share in common so many concerns about the culture of death in which we find ourselves so heavily immerged.
I thought this evening it might be useful just to consider several elements that may be negatives in our continuing and protracted struggle to bring to the culture of death in which we live an alternative outlook that can be and should be a source of joy and optimism. The first obstacle that I see, in our work as dedicated pro-life people, is the constant necessity to struggle against and overcome any tendency to pessimism, undue gloom, and any species of discouragement. Not only in the excitement of the clash of arguments and ideas, but in the long and protracted vigilance and struggle that we are called to engage in must we be unwearying and unflagging. There is no doubt that when we are engaged in immediate controversy, the excitement can stimulate us to extraordinary efforts that might seem sometime even to surpass our normal capacities in what we do. It is, however, in that humdrum monotonous and constant routine of trying to change what seems so absolutely unchangeable that discouragement can creep in.
In Rome, there is a famous fountain, which has been splashing water unto travertine marble for more than six centuries. What is remarkable about the travertine marble underneath the fountain, is the fact that a hole has been worn by the action of the water in the very solid rock. I think that, if nothing else, we can be assured that by being persistent and persevering no matter what the immediate results may be, we may be accomplishing far more than we could ever expect. Perhaps, only as a result of gradual effort, but perhaps too, in sudden and unexpected ways, the victory can come to the pro-life cause. Who would ever suspect, for example, a few decades ago, that an avid and evangelizing pro-abortionist, such as Dr. Nathanson, could be converted, not only into someone who no longer does that evil work, but as someone who very actively and energetically opposes that activity in our country and in our world.
An English poet in the last century said better, what I am trying to say,
Say not the
struggle naught availeth
problem that I see in regard to our pro-life work, is the rapid and
unprecedented growth in technology as well as in the medical and biological
sciences. I think that the unchanging aspects of human nature, while they will
abide always, are being, in some ways, confronted by new undertakings that the
next century and the next millennium will tend to exploit. What Pope John Paul
II calls the error of scientism in his encyclical Faith and Reason, is a reality
that is very much with us. The idea that--if something is technologically
possible, it is therefore, morally permissible--is probably the underlying
principle of scientism. And so, we have great difficulties and moral problems in
such issues as cloning human beings, all of the various gamete transfer types of
technologies as well as in vitro fertilization are bound to be ever more used,
and all of the consequent abortifacient aspects of these things will be,
perhaps, looked upon with growing approval as a result. We, who are in pro-life
work, will be continually seen as obscurantists or as backward-looking adherents
to ideologies which will prevent the advance of progress and science. There is
little doubt that there is a strong tendency among the culture of death to use
human beings, particularly human embryos and human fetuses as a field where the
organs of these innocent children can be harvested for whatever purposes which
will always be portrayed as some noble and daring actions.
might wish them to be will, in the future, be part of human life-styles, at least in Europe and North America, and will probably also be an important part of what we will be called upon to evaluate. There is, even now, for example, a great deal of moral questionability in regard to insurance coverage for those people who may be genetically disposed in one way or another. It could be possible in the future, that after compulsory gene research is done on pre-born children, governments and/or private companies will withdraw support for parents who may have a child who may in some ways be genetically defective, obviously, attempting to induce the parents of such children, or at least the mother, to kill and destroy the child.
I do not think we can underestimate the enormous impact that these kinds of technological "advances" will have on our civilization, especially when they are abetted by huge financial and other resources and by the quite-active support of much of the media. Behind many of these things, we must also remember, that there is a philosophy that makes comfort, good feelings, and pleasure the supreme values of human existence. As a result, those situations that make one uncomfortable are frequently looked upon as situations in which the source of the discomfort must be wiped out, and this is very much a part of the culture of death. An unwanted pregnancy, an elderly person who is taking an unconscionable time dying, a handicapped or crippled child who will obviously need financial and other help through life...all of these are looked on as mere discomforts, and, denying the reality of the personhood of these people, human society already now, and will in the future, try to destroy them.
A third problem in our pro-life work derives from our political situation, not simply the situation world-wide, but also the situation locally in our country. Even if (although it does not seem likely in the near future) Roe versus Wade, for example, were to be overturned, there would still be a very necessary battle in each of the fifty states. We know already now that many states are dedicated to the culture of death and to its principles and purposes. It would be more than optimistic to assume that it would be an easy task to struggle in each individual state legislature for the right of human life. I think that we can surmise that there would be continuing and unending struggle at least through the coming decades in that regard. The work of conversion is never easy, and unless and until the legislative and judicial branches of the government, both federal and state, were to experience a rather wholesale conversion, we need not be too sanguine about what we could accomplish. Nevertheless, with good cheer, with the courage and fortitude that has marked our journey thus far, and with, of course, prayer and confidence in God's all-pervading grace, we may be able to do something on the political and economic scene to, at least, enhance, if not eliminate the most horrible aspects of the pro-death culture.
A fourth problem
which I see, is the problem that derives from several decades now of the
"seamless garment" doctrine. I have no doubt that there is a linkage between the
various pro-life causes, purposes and undertakings, but I think it is time, if
not to eliminate at least to evaluate a little more critically what, if
anything, has been accomplished by the promotion of this "seamless garment"
doctrine. I think it is plainly incorrect to exaggerate the linkage, let us say,
between the opposition to the death penalty and opposition to abortion. There is
not a great deal of equivalence between several hundred convicted murderers in
the United States, who have had, not only a fair trial but many years of
judicial appeals, who are defended by lawyers and who also when they are put to
death are killed with a lethal injection or a sudden jolt of electricity or some
other method that, at least is quick if not painless. Comparing those people to
millions upon millions of innocent little babies, who, of course, commit no
crimes, have no trial, have no defense, are by the very definition utterly and
totally innocent, and who are killed not only without appeal, but sometimes in
the heinous, gruesome and unspeakable torture, experiencing pain which can be
plainly seen by ultra-sound pictures. And the same might be said about many
people elderly and handicapped who also in complete innocence are destined by
certain forces in our society to be brutally and cruelly exterminated. I am not
sure that opposition to the death penalty and opposition to abortion, although
as I said they are linked, are really enhanced by excessive and exaggerated talk
about this linkage. Perhaps both causes have been harmed, at least I believe,
there should be a more careful and critical examination of the value of this
"seamless garment" doctrine.
The fifth problem that I see looming, and one that is already with us, is the continuing situation of the elderly and handicapped. Not only disputes about hydration and nutrition for those incapable of ingesting food and fluids, but I think modern technology which has the capacity to prolong life and help the survival of the many people who in other ages would have died, will make the questions about end-of-life issues ever more vivid. The philosophy of autonomy which in its erroneous and exaggerated form is a part of our American outlook will impact heavily on this aspect of pro-life work. People will say, "Nobody is going to tell me what to do with my life." A complete misunderstanding of stewardship of human life...a complete misunderstanding of the place of God in the equation of human existence! People particularly will say, "No government is going to tell me what I can do when I want to kill myself; nobody should interfere with this undertaking." As the population becomes more gray and more aged, there is going to be more and more pressure on the part, for example of younger members of unscrupulous families, as well as on the part of society itself, for older people to willingly volunteer to kill themselves, to dispatch themselves from the earth, and to unencumber financially and otherwise, the family and society. Because people have little knowledge and appreciation of the excellent pain-control mechanisms that are now available, (indeed, many people in the medical profession are oblivious to these things) the idea of prolonged agony and pain, particularly in a society that sees no value in suffering, but only sees value in pleasure and comfort and good feeling, will incline ever greater pressures to be exerted upon the ill, the handicapped, and particularly those whose sufferings cannot be sufficiently mitigated so cause them a modicum of comfort.
All of these things are, indeed, obstacles, which I believe, with eyes wide-opened and hearts filled with conviction and with compassion as well, we who are in the pro-life movement must take into account. It is particularly important that we continually, not just at conventions such as this, but by our study and labor do everything we can to reinforce within our own hearts and minds the convictions that guide us in our work.
It is important then, that we, first of all, recognize human life as a supreme value far more precious and valuable than any other life on this planet; vegetative and animal life, ecological considerations, and other aspects of our planetary existence fade into the background before the sublimity of what it means to be a human person. The fact that Divine Revelation tells us that God made men and women in a different kind of way, that there was a direct, divine intervention in human creation, that there is a created and immortal human soul in each human being, tells us that we must have a special esteem for those who are human persons, those who are human beings. A human life means that God created man in His image. This gives to human beings a dignity which is unsurpassed by all except the angels. Despite the efforts of our primordial ancestors and the efforts of each of us in our sins, to disfigure this image of God, it remains always present, and therefore, every human being, even the most despicable and ugliest of us is the image of God, and we are violating one of the reasons God revealed this to us by our lack of esteem for the image and likeness of the divine that is in every human. We must even go beyond this revealed truth in our understanding of the value of human life. Not only did God make us in His image and likeness, but His only divine Son was the blueprint that He used in this creation. Then, wonder of wonders, the event that we are about to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of...namely, of the incarnation of the Son of God, the One Who created the moon, the sun, the stars, the galaxies, the mighty vastness of the entire universe, chose to take flesh and to become one of us. The incarnation bestows on humanity a dignity that it is impossible to exaggerate.
Pope John Paul II, long before he was a priest, wrote, "Jesus Christ was not God pretending to be Man. Jesus Christ Who was the incarnation of God entered fully into the drama of the human condition. One Man experienced the might of the holiness of God, Jesus Christ. He bore the weight of man's guilt and stood bearing this ballast before God. The awareness of sin on one hand and of the holiness of God on the other drew Him to sacrifice Himself into union with God. This explains the mystery of the Garden of Gethsemeni and of Golgatha."
And then the Pope wrote (how appropriate for our time), "The lethal paradox of the age is that for all its alleged humanism it ended up devaluating the human person into an economic unity and ideological category, an expression of a class or a race or an ethnicity."
To see, then, in every human being an image of God, and to see in every man, woman, and child, born and unborn, no matter what age or what condition, the Face of Christ, is really the glory of the pro-life movement. Whether we like it or not we are engaged in a war, a war of ideas, a war of words, a war of ideology, but a war nonetheless, and we must expect that in every war there are casualties. The war for human life, the war to end those things that destroy human life must go on, unending, until, in God's good time, victory, by His strength and under the banner of His cross is accomplished. Now, as I once said, it may be night, but night which envelopes us sometimes in darkness is not all bad, it can be a time for us to rest and gather strength for tomorrow, and this, I think, is very much the glory of our pro-life cause--that we are certain the morning will come and that the sun will rise and dawn in glory and splendor upon us all.