A Consistently Pro-Life Ethic

I wanted to expand upon and provide some clarification on something I said in my recent essay that argued we should let Dzhokhar Tsnaraev live. In that essay, I wrote the following: “Political issues that involve taking a human life are usually complicated, but I still land on the side of finding ways to sustain life even if, like in this case, a person has done awful things and hurt many.” I mean this in the fullest sense, and I think this consistency across issues is tragically lacking in the American two-party system.

This is not to say I’m the first to make this connection or use this language; I’ve heard Jim Wallis, for example, talk about what it might be like to be consistently pro-life. The conclusions I reach starts way back at this premise: life is a gift, which I received. I didn’t give or make my life or anyone else’s. Because I believe that most days of the week, I tend to think it’s not my (or our!) job to take lives. Oh, that it were only that simple! Anyway, there are a lot of political and social issues that have life-and-death implications, but here are the four most commonly associated as “life issues”:

Capital Punishment 

Because I’ve already written about this, I won’t say too much more. This issue is what I’ll call the Republicans’ baby, which is to say they tend to support it more often than not. I happen to find it more and more disturbing that we give the authority to other human beings who decide to, in some cases, take the life of convicted prisoners, most of whom we think have killed someone (or more than one). From what I understand, the research on the death penalty tends to suggest three things: 1) the death penalty doesn’t really work as a deterrent (or preventative measure) for those who commit violent crimes, 2) death-penalty sentencing tends to reveal some pretty disturbing racial bias, and 3) the United States has executed a number of people who were actually innocent. The reason I brought up Lee Malvo in my essay about Dzhokhar Tsnaraev is because I think he’s a great example of how we don’t know how someone is going to turn out if we continue to give him (or her) the opportunity to live. My belief is that life matters, and so I cannot feel good about taking it from someone, even convicted criminals.

Abortion

If capital punishment is the Republicans’ baby, then I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that abortion is the Democrats’ baby. No pun intended. I have to be honest, I think progressive rhetoric about abortion is extremely intellectually dishonest. For starters, they want to champion “choice” without accepting responsibility for the choices that are actually made. Pro-choice advocates will tell you abortion rates have been decreasing for years, and they’re correct, statistically, when they say that. But the fact remains that well over a million abortions still occur every year in the United States. That rate is higher than any other Western nation. Progressives love to quote Bill Clinton on abortion: “Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare.” Well, we’ve got the legal part down. I’m not sure any act as internally violent as abortion can ever really be “safe,” and as for rare, well, over a million a year doesn’t qualify as rare for me. The solution for Democrats tends to be some version “education” and greater access to contraceptives. Well that’s all good and well, but this New York Times graphic that shows how often birth control fails might be worth considering. Birth control works sometimes, and even most of the time, but no matter how much we want it to, it just can’t fully protect us from the natural consequences of sex. I would go a step farther: as much as we want sex to function as casual, it cannot meet us there. We don’t have “control” over it. We were made the way we were made. And no matter how “educated” people are, in the heat of passion, sometimes under the influence of alcohol or whatever else, they’re not always going to grab for a condom. Especially when we know there are convenient ways to discard after-the-fact. Once we get this far in the conversation about abortion, it’s common to hear the old, “Well, you’re a man; you can’t possibly understand.” Or even, “You don’t get a say.” And to some degree, I’ll grant that women have a larger investment in this than I do, given that they carry the child inside their bodies for nine months. But there are three lives — the woman, the man, and the child — involved in the act of conception (and ultimately, in an abortion, too). So if I concede that my opinion counts for less than fifty percent that doesn’t mean my voice doesn’t count at all; it’s not zero. And I’m allowed to express what I think.

Euthanasia 

I should admit that of these four issues, this is the one I feel the least strongly about, probably mostly because I feel the farthest from it. Perhaps in another season of life, I would feel differently. I still reach the same conclusion, by the way: life is worth preserving. I do want to make a distinction here, though: I think there’s a difference between taking someone off a machine that’s keeping them alive (I see no ethical or moral problem with this because I’m not sure we were meant to need technology in order to live) and administering a pill or whatever that actively ends the person’s life. I find the latter a lot more disturbing.

War

With the exception of Ron and Rand Paul, the modern political left does a much better job than the right of appearing to oppose war. I say appearing because I think they’ve mastered the art of peace and diplomatic language, but there doesn’t seem to be all that much difference in result when Democrats are in power. Maybe that’s too harsh. President Obama does deserve some credit for his recent diplomatic successes in Cuba and Iran. But our direct interventions in the Middle East? During Obama’s presidency, the U.S. has been actively involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, and I’m sure I’m missing others. Drone strikes, drone strikes, drone strikes! In terms of lives lost, it doesn’t seem like Obama has been an improvement from (W.) Bush, and he has even been worse by some measures. I’ll admit, I don’t see the intel that moves across Obama’s desk, but then again, the same was true for Bush. Think these two presidents are too small a sample size? Check the history of the Vietnam war. Presidents from both parties escalated our involvement and shared responsibility for the loss of so many lives. Our addiction to the tool of war makes me angry, and it makes me sad, too, because I’m not very optimistic that things will get better. As Wendell Berry ironically wrote in “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer,” “Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?”

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