As Italy was facing the full wrath of COVID-19 in March, Pope Francis quietly marked the 25th anniversary of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae. He stressed that the Catholic Church’s pro-life message is more relevant than ever: “The attacks on the dignity and life of people unfortunately continue even in our era…We are faced with new threats and new slavery, and legislation is not always to protect the weakest and most vulnerable human life.”
Evangelium Vitae was promulgated by St. John Paul II and dealt with the value and inviolability of human life. The very first line of the document reads: “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.”
This year’s Easter celebration was put into sharp relief worldwide by COVID-19. Pope Francis reminded us: “The life we are called to promote and defend is not an abstract concept, but always manifests itself in a person in flesh and blood: a newly conceived child, a poor marginalized person, a sick person alone and discouraged or in a terminal state, one who has lost his job or is unable to find it, a rejected or ghettoized migrant.”
In secular North America many Christian principles are now affirmed in documents like the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Yet our expanding Post-Modern world is intent on destroying all religion and human rights in the name of Moral Relativism: “There are no objective truths.” To this end Post-Modernists attack our most fundamental human right—the Right to Life—at every stage of human development.
COVID-19 is serious, but more deaths happen at the hands of our fellow human beings than from the virus. This dichotomy is reflected in Evangelium Vitae: “These noble proclamations are unfortunately contradicted by a tragic repudiation of them in practice. This denial is still more distressing, indeed more scandalous, precisely because it is occurring in a society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective and its boast…How can we reconcile these declarations with the refusal to accept those who are weak and needy, or elderly, or those who have just been conceived? These attacks go directly against respect for life and they represent a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights.”
Zygote, Embryo, Fetus
Every person walking on the face of the Earth developed inside their mother during pregnancy. (There are three main stages: one-celled zygote; embryo to 8 weeks; fetus.)
A majority of sex-selective abortions occur before 20 weeks gestation, because after 13 weeks gestation, ultrasound is almost 100% accurate in defining the sex of the baby. It is estimated that 160 million females are ‘missing’ from the world as a result of sex-selective abortion. This happens most often in families of East Indian, Korean, and Chinese descent.
Eugenic abortions also occur. Countries like Denmark and Iceland test about 80-85% of unborn babies for Down Syndrome. Of those found, almost 100% are aborted.
Around the world the legal landscape for the unborn is bleak. Only 29 countries currently prohibit abortion completely and that number is dwindling. St. John Paul II said to Ireland: “Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it.” Ireland may have proven him wrong in 2018, when a referendum overwhelmingly erased all constitutional protections for the unborn child.
Seven countries in the world allow elective abortion past 20 weeks gestation though many countries allow late-term abortion for “maternal health” reasons. In three—the US, the Netherlands and Singapore—the limit for elective abortion is the estimated time of “viability”: approximately 24 weeks. Canada has joined Vietnam, China and North Korea in allowing elective late-term abortion without restriction.
The American numbers are quite staggering: about 60 million humans have been aborted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. These numbers will increase faster if abortion is allowed on-demand, at any gestation and for any reason. After America reduced foreign aid for Third World abortion, Canada promised $5 billion in aid for “Reproductive Rights” (which means abortion, primarily). $5 billion can fix many social problems, but instead it is being used to kill tens of thousands of babies.
Sadly, infanticide is creeping into acceptance in parts of the world. In the UK it started with a featured article in the Journal of Medical Ethics (subsidiary of British Medical Journal) entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”
The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” was blocked from coming to a vote over 80 times in the US House of Representatives. It would require medical-care for children born alive after an attempted abortion. There are still unanswered questions arising from Statistics Canada information about 491 babies dying after being born alive following attempted abortion between 2000 and 2009.
In the Netherlands, euthanasia of children under 1 year old was decriminalized in 2005 for any doctor following the Groningen Protocol. The criteria for this protocol are:
- The infant’s diagnosis and prognosis must be certain
- The infant must be experiencing hopeless and unbearable suffering
- At least one independent physician [other than the delivering neonatologist] must confirm that the two conditions are met
- Parents must give informed consent
- The termination must be performed in accord with the accepted medical standard
Children and Pre-Adolescents
Euthanasia for terminally ill children under 12 years of age is legal in Belgium on request.
Voluntary Euthanasia is legal at any age in Belgium and down to 12 years of age in the Netherlands. There are moves to extend Voluntary Euthanasia in Canada to “mature” minors.
Adults and Geriatrics
In 10 US States or jurisdictions, “Medical Aid in Dying” is legal for competent adults and geriatrics suffering from a terminal illness. These policies allow for a self-administered fatal dose of legally-provided medication: Assisted Suicide. (The law in America does not allow for Voluntary Euthanasia where a health-care provider kills the person with a toxic dose of intravenous medication.)
The Supreme Court of Canada has reinterpreted the Right to Life for competent adults. In essence, it granted some Canadians a “Right to Death” through Medical Assistance in Dying [MAiD.] The vast majority of MAiD cases in Canada are effected now by Voluntary Euthanasia. The legal restrictions are being challenged repeatedly so it is quite possible Canada will join Germany in legalizing Suicide-on-Demand for all.
In some countries the legal restrictions are meaningless. The Supreme Court of the Netherlands just exonerated a doctor who ordered the family of an elderly woman to hold her down so he could administer a lethal injection. His actions were based on her Prior Directive signed while she was still competent.
Involuntary Euthanasia was once called murder, but doctors in the Netherlands and Belgium can get away with killing patients without their consent. There is evidence of an illegal trade in transplantation organs in China. The unwilling “donors” are often Falun Gong practitioners or other healthy prisoners. “If you’re going to go to China and you’re going to get a liver transplant, during the three weeks you are there, then that means someone is going to go schedule an execution,” according to Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D, the Director of Medical Ethics at NYU.
Rights and Freedoms
Some issues of Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia boil down to the dichotomy between rights and freedoms. As humans we have the freedom—the free-will—to kill ourselves. We do not have the right to do so. Likewise, there is no human right that grants us power over others, so we should not be able to demand that another person kill us.
It might take a while for the Post-Modernists to understand Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poem which ends: “Then they came for me – And there was no one left to object.” Their turn may come.
What can men and women do against such reckless hate?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Catholic faith showed through the Lord of the Rings which arose from the absolute devastation he experienced in World War I. Just when things looked the bleakest Sam still believed: “There’s some good in this world…and it’s worth fighting for!” Many believed that Roe v. Wade would cause the opposition to abortion to just fade away. The opposite happened! The annual March for Life in Washington, DC, is larger than ever and many countries are challenging their laws allowing abortion.
Like Sam—and Pope Francis—we are the quiet voice in the ear of the broader secular society. We remind one person at a time that every human being has value and inalienable rights. We hold true to universal truths especially Thou Shalt Not Kill.
COVID-19 is taking a grave toll on the world but we will win the fight against this virus. Likewise, we will win “the battle of our time” for our Right to Life!
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Kevin is married to a good Irish woman and they live in rural Alberta, Canada. They are blessed with three grown children and are looking forward to the arrival of their first grandchild this summer! Kevin has worked on parish and diocesan pastoral councils. As a Hippocratic family physician he is distraught to see so many colleagues supporting voluntary euthanasia and ‘Medical Assistance in Dying.’