Our friend, Pastor Don Shoemaker, wrote a really good piece with regard to abortion and we thought that it would be a good article to pass along to you.
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By Donald P. Shoemaker
Reprinted from the Long Beach, California, Press-Telegram
A personal note in 2018:
I believe that the observations I made in 1998 are as relevant today as when they were written. The writing below has slight edits and bold italics are added. Since this op-ed was written 20 years ago, my aunt and uncle have both passed away.
My aunt and uncle live in a fine Southern California retirement community. During a recent visit I was taken by my uncle on a tour of the community’s nearly completed state-of-the-art facility for Alzheimer’s patients.
We looked inside one room that would soon house a patient. There was no mirror in the bathroom for there is no need for a mirror. The patient who would eventually stay there is not aware of who he or she is.
Relatives of the patients will be able to visit with them in a comfortable sitting area. But there will be no depth of communication, for the Alzheimer’s patient no longer has a capacity for an “I-Thou” relationship.
As this disease takes its toll, connection with the past and present is lost. All sense of futurity is gone.
When my uncle and I tried to leave we had a problem. There was no way to open the facility’s door from the inside without knowing a special code. This is needed because Alzheimer’s patients no longer have a sense of “here” or “there” and must be protected in their movements lest they wander aimlessly and into danger. We located a worker who could let us out.
The best of care will be provided for these dependent patients. And so it should be, for the spark of human dignity remains in them. As Christian teaching would affirm, they yet retain, in spite of their physical brokenness, the Image of God.
Since my visit to that care facility I have often thought of the issue of “personhood” and how a debate on human personhood and abortion has raged for three decades since permissive abortion laws were first put on the books in the 1960’s. Originally designed for “those truly tough cases,” the laws triggered an abortion avalanche and were themselves swept away by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision 25 years ago today [January 22, 1973].
“Right to Life” advocates have argued for a genetic understanding of personhood. Human life, it is said, begins at conception and ought to be respected and protected from violent assault from then until natural death. Personhood is tied to the biological fact of being human, one of “us” rather than an “it”
or one of “them.” Right to Life advocates have argued for the full person of unborn humans or at least that enough claim to personhood exists for the life of the unborn to be worthy of protection.
Others have seen personhood as a developing value throughout the prenatal state. In this case, our unborn have a greater and greater claim to life and protection and any termination of their existence requires increasing grounds for justification the longer they exist in utero. As a result, these people join with the “Right to Life” advocates in wanting to ban late-term abortions, especially the gruesome and barbaric “partial birth” (dilation and extraction) procedure.
Defenders of permissive abortion laws, of course, do not see matters that way. Personhood is connected to socializing capabilities, or perhaps to intellectual capacities.
Philosopher Mary Ann Warren has argued that there are five traits central to the concept of personhood which we can summarize as (1) consciousness, (2) reasoning, (3) self-motivated activity, (4) the capacity to communicate and (5) the presence of self-concepts and self-awareness. Not all of these need be present for a “person” to exist, but a measure of them must exist and a being that lacks all of them is certainly not a “person” in a moral sense.
The late medical ethicist Joseph Fletcher had a long list of personhood criteria, including self-awareness, time consciousness, a sense of futurity, a sense of the past, the capability of relating to others, communication and control of existence.
Criteria like these clearly exclude the unborn from the realm of “persons.” Abortion can be endorsed as an acceptable moral practice secured, as the Court saw it, by a “right to privacy” implicit in the U.S. Constitution.
What may surprise others but which certainly does not escape the notice of thinkers like these is that infants aren’t “persons” by this standard either. Nor are the comatose and others who lack self-awareness and self-control. Infants lack a moral claim to personhood and therefore are disposable, although we may value them for their potential and charm or for other utilitarian reasons. *
Which brings me full circle to the excellent care facility for Alzheimer’s patients. By the thinking that has prevailed to give us abortion, these patients are not persons. Unlike the unborn, their futurity and their social and intellectual potential are gone. As their disease has progressed, they have gradually but surely lost all claim to the care and love and protection personhood would afford.
In Roe v. Wade, the court threw up its hands and professed agnosticism on the issue of when personhood begins. Incredibly, it then proceeded to adopt a particular view of personhood (you have value at birth) and imposed a model of prenatal “trimesters” and a latitude which, in effect, have given us abortion on demand. ** The court never allowed the open public debate and legislative deliberation on this issue that is appropriate in a free and democratic society.
When the Supreme Court ruled on doctor-assisted suicide last summer ***, this practice did not receive the constitutional “green light” its advocates had hoped for. One might have expected the court to declare a right to assisted suicide on the same “right to privacy” grounds that gave us abortion on demand. But the court saw the need to guarantee “an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality and practicality of physician-assisted suicide [that should take place] in a democratic society.”
That statement may be the closest thing we will hear from the court that sounds like an apology for Roe v. Wade. Rather than resolving the great debate, Roe v. Wade fueled the most acrimonious polarization of our time which shows no signs of abating.
* One medical ethicist would designate infants (up to age two) “proximate persons.”
** However, Roe v. Wade did explicitly reject a right to “abortion on demand.”
*** Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) and Vacco v. Quill (1997)
For years, Pastor Don was the lead pastor at Grace Community Church in Seal Beach, California. He has faithfully served as the chairman of the Social Concerns Committee of the Charis Fellowship. At CE National, we are grateful to Pastor Don for his friendship and for addressing important pastoral issues that many are afraid to touch! To subscribe to Pastor Shoemaker’s free monthly e-newsletter, please send a request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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