Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tribute to Moloch: The Continuum of Human Life and Fetal Pain

THE ISSUE OF ABORTION WILL NOT GO AWAY. It will not go away because of the Christian witness against it; it is part of the Gospel, the Gospel of Life, and Christians, particularly Catholics, shall not tire of proclaiming the truth from the housetops, at curb sides, in politicians' office and chambers, through the internet, or from the Vatican.* But even if all Christian witness were effectively squelched, the issue will not go away because of the natural law's witness against it. Men and women of good will would, like so many stones, rise up and give witness if not as children of Abraham, at least as sons of Adam. (Cf. Matt. 3:9)

The issue of abortion cannot be easily discussed because of vested interests in the institution of abortion. There are--if the abortifacient qualities of modern contraceptive techniques are not considered--approximately 43-45 million abortions annually world-wide,** the actual number being obviously difficult to count. The sheer financial investment in the infrastructure of abortion facilities, the political favor the institution carries with modern media and liberal academia, not to mention the moral baggage and psychological and sociological defense mechanisms which grow out of jettisoned guilt in having justified the institution, all conspire to squelch rational discussion and move it into the realm of ideological fracas. Yet regardless of such powers, dominions, and principalities that jealously guard the heights, if abortion is a moral evil, then it follows we are dealing with a moral failure of massive, historically unparalleled proportion. We are dealing with what may be the most institutionalized evil in the history of mankind, and it may be placed at the foot of the Feminists and their followers or supporters.

[If abortion is morally wrong,] it would be a simple fact, however we dress it up, that homicides are and have for the last few decades been taking place on a scale unprecedented in human history, involving millions upon millions of innocent human beings.

Oderberg, 3. The horror of this brutality pales any form of genocide, mass murder, or institutionalized evil since the beginning of mankind. Since 1922, it is estimated that there have perhaps been as many as 850 million through 950 million abortions worldwide.**

The injustice done to these innocents is irreparable. What will man do if he ever recognizes the great evil he is wreaking and he has wrought? We speak of "German Guilt" for the atrocities of the Holocaust, but, as evil as the Nazi institutions were, and they ought never be minimized, they pale in number before the almost 1 billion killed through abortion. Shall we ever speak of a "Global Guilt" for the atrocities of the abortion Holocaust to Moloch? Under what sort of repression of conscience are we living now to accept this state of affairs with relative equanimity? What sorts of human beings flourish under such a repression of conscience? How shall we ever make amends to the future generations who have never seen light?

The basic argument against abortion--that the deliberate and direct killing of the fetus in his or her mother's womb is wicked and always wicked, indeed a crime against humanity not to mention humanity's God--is very simple. It rests upon two premises. The first, the major premise, is a moral principle: that directly taking an innocent human being's life is always wrong. The second, the minor premise, is a factual principle: the fetus is an innocent human being. "If the foetus is an innocent human being, and if it is always wrong deliberately to kill an innocent human being, then it must be wrong deliberately to kill a foetus." Oderberg, 4. If the major and minor premise are true, the conclusion is necessarily true. All the arguments in support of abortion attack one or both of these premises. We shall call this syllogism, the "Anti-Abortion Syllogism."

The humanity of the fetus, which is the minor premise of the Anti-Abortion Syllogism, is at the front and center of the abortion debate. The most significant feature of the fetus is the continuity of fetal development. No one can deny that there is continuity of development from fertilization or conception through birth. "[T]here is no metaphysically significant dividing line in embryonic and foetal development separating something that is a human being from something that is not." Oderberg, 8. After fertilization or conception (they are usually the same, but in the event of twinning, may not be), there is no dividing line between potential human life and actual human life. All human life after conception is actual, though like all human life it continues to have potentiality related to its development, and it goes through a continuum of phases. What this means, of course, is that any dividing line imposed by advocates of abortion is without any real basis: it is artificial, arbitrary, without grounding in reason. It divides some actual human life in one phase from other actual human life in another phase that is not discrete from the prior phase by nothing other than will, human fiat. It invents a border where there is none.

Try it. It cannot honestly be done. Try honestly to find a reasonable, meaningful boundary to distinguish why and when sometime between a zygote and a child born in full-term (or adult, for that matter) the "thing" is, on one side of the divide, something that can be destroyed, and on the other side of the divide, something that ought to have full protection of moral and positive law. It cannot be done because the process of fetal development, like human life generally, is a seamless continuum.
  • The product of conception, the joinder of the gametes, of ovum and sperm, results in a zygote (from the Greek word ζυγωτός, zygōtos, meaning "joined" or "yoked") with a unique DNA formed from the contribution of the DNA of the father and the DNA of the mother. From the perspective of DNA, the zygote has the identical DNA makeup as the fetus, the child, and the adult. The DNA cannot serve as any basis for a dividing line once there is joinder of the gametes.
  • As the zygote cleaves and then divides and grows, and there is nothing of any substantive significance between the phases through which it travels: morula (12-16 cells), blastocyst (100 cells), the implantation, embryo, fetus, new-born, where any reasonable dividing line can be drawn. Any dividing line is entirely arbitrary because of the continuity of development of human life.
The biological evidence of this continuity of development is so compelling that even the consequentialist and pro-abortion advocate Peter Singer admits two facts: he admits "there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo [sic] conceived from human sperm and eggs [sic] is a human being." He also admits that the "liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the new born baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right." Oderberg, 10 (quoting Singer, Practical Ethics, 86, 142-43). So compelling is the biological process, that Singer has to concoct a category entirely unrelated to the process of human life--his own concept of personhood--to try to build his justification of killing human life.

The proponents of abortion are fiendishly clever, however, as most humans are who want to get their way or rationalize their conduct. And a number of efforts are made by them to try to avoid the moral implication of the continuum of human life by focusing on other factors, such as feeling or sentience, or the existence brain activity, or viability outside the womb, or other more vague metaphysical concepts such as their conveniently vague concepts of personhood, or the false distinctions between potential humans and actual humans applied to actual humans. (Viability is a particularly important standard, from a practical perspective, since it is the legal standard around which Justice Blackmun's opinion in Roe v. Wade revolved and under which our law analyzes when the State may begin to prohibit the process.) Additionally, the proponents of abortion offer other arguments to try to avoid the consequence of that fact human life develops in seamless continuity from conception to natural death. We find such absurdities proposed as that of Stuart Derbyshire, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham in Britain: “A fetus is biologically human, of course,” he says. “It isn’t a cow. But it’s not yet psychologically human.”*** It is hard to believe that someone actually believes that human is a psychological category, and not a real one. But no one said the advocates of abortion are wise, they are just clever, and sometimes just clever fools.

Some advocates of abortion (as well as advocates against abortion) seize on the issue of fetal sentience or fetal pain as the basis for argument pro or con abortion. Fetal pain is what has been at the forefront of fetal pain laws, such as the recently-passed Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (LB 1103) which was signed into law by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman in April 2010, and which became effective October 15, 2010. That law aims to change the debate from a "viability" standard which generally drives the U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence under the regime of Roe v. Wade to an earlier standard based upon fetal pain. Based upon scientific evidence that the fetus experiences something that could be characterized as pain as early as 20 weeks from gestation, the Nebraska law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks regardless of the viability of the fetus.

There is huge debate on the matter in terms of empirical evidence and what it shows with regard to fetal pain. A lot of it revolves around the definition one uses for the word pain, and that ends up being a vague standard, easily prone to manipulation and ideological capture, which is one of the problems with such a standard in using it for moral analysis. If pain is defined to require a conscious recognition or awareness to some sort of noxious stimulus, then the onset of fetal pain can arguably be extended as far as the third trimester (29-30 weeks) because it would require fully functional thalamocortical fibres and full cortical processing. (There is, contra, extensive debate as to whether the cortex is related to consciousness of pain, since hydranencephalytic children clearly experience pain, and their cortical development is extremely limited as a result of their condition.)

If pain is defined, however, more broadly to include more reflexive responses to invasive or noxious procedures (such as grimaces, recoiling, or flinching) or hormonal stress responses (e.g., increased levels of adrenaline or cortisol), then one can push back the boundary to as early as the seventh week of gestation. There is, however, vagueness even here, as avoidance responses begin around the area of the mouth of the fetus as early as five weeks and progress to the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet by the eighth and ninth week respectively. Oderberg, 6-7 (citing P. McCullagh). In response to the argument that the cortex must be developed before their is consciousness and therefore pain to be felt, some argue that the fetus's immature physiology means it has less of the mechanisms for inhibiting or reacting to pain and therefore may feel pain more intensely at earlier stages than later stages. These scientists point to the existence of a subplate zone which is fully functional at 17 weeks, and which they believe provides the capacity to process pain signals. For example, Dr. Kanwaljeet ("Sunny") Anand, a pediatrician who specializes in the the care of critically-ill newborns and children, and who has testified before Courts and legislative committees on the issue of fetal pain, is at the forefront of the controversy, and his view is that the fetus feels pain at 20 weeks gestation.****

The issue of fetal pain is naturally important to physicians who perform legitimate surgical procedures on the fetus in utero, and judge on the matter of the advisability of anesthesia. But the fetal pain issue has also been captured by the abortion controversy. Predictably, advocates of abortion generally try to extend out the time period, whereas opponents tend to point to evidence that the fetus feels pain earlier.

There is, perhaps, some value in letting people know that the fetus may feel pain, since it may trigger some feelings of human empathy for the fetus by someone otherwise completely insensitive to the fetus's plight. In other words, the issue of fetal pain, from a subjective standpoint (since objectively it is irrelevant morally) of the actor, humanizes the fetus. There is some value in making the fetus something different than the anonymous Balzacian mandarin whose death is of hardly any moment since it is so far removed from us, shrouded as it were, by time and place.***** It is the Jew Shylock's argument to his Gentile prosecutors:
I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that.
Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, III.1.58-68. If you prick a fetus, does he not bleed?

But even though we may think that the "evidence is overwhelming that the foetus displays at a very early age what would uncontroversially be called pain behaviour in you or me," and the fetus is in "the great chain of feeling" of sentient beings, as Martin Pernick described it in his history on anesthesia, A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism, and Anesthesia in Nineteenth Century America, that fact's "moral worth is dubious," as important as it may be for other reasons. Oderberg, 7.

Why is fetal pain morally dubious when it comes to abortion? Why is "sentience, as such," "not the nub of the debate"? Oderberg, 7-8. The reason why the issue of fetal pain is of morally dubious value--in fact is irrelevant to the moral assessment of abortion--is because the moral issue is not whether pain ought to be avoided, but the moral issue is whether the intentional taking of the fetal life is morally licit. The two questions are distinct, and whether or not the fetus feels pain or does not feel pain has nothing to do with whether it can be directly and intentionally killed or not killed. If pain were the issue, then simple anesthetizing of the fetus (or for that matter, any human being, for example, the elderly or those in a persistent vegetative state) before killing it would remove any moral objection. It clearly does not. If pain were the issue, then we would prohibit the intentional slaughter of animals such as chickens, pigs, and cattle, since they are sentient beings who feel pain. Hunting or trapping would be off limits since animals probably feel pain at being shot at or trapped. Moreover, sometimes it is morally legitimate, in fact, morally compelled to inflict pain even on a fetus. Physicians may have to inflict some pain on a fetus to determine its response in order to judge whether certain medical procedures should be performed.

Whether or not the fetus feels pain, therefore, is not at the foundation of moral objection to abortion. While, in general, the deliberate infliction of pain should be avoided, suffering is not the criterion of morality as Bentham and classic utilitarians would suggest. Else, we could anesthetize a human being and justify enormities. Moreover, once we fall into the trap of measuring fetal pain as the foundation for justifying fetal protection, we are bound to measure maternal pain against which to weight it, and he have collapsed our moral foundation and fallen head long into an untenable utilitarianism or consequentialism. Moreover, the fact that human beings feel pain is not what gives us the right to life and the dignity of being human, since pain and the ability to suffer is something shared with brute animals and not something we share with the angels.

The issue of fetal pain or sentience ought not therefore to distract us from the exceptionless rule that the intentional direct killing of the fetus in his or her mother's womb is wrong and always wrong and always gravely so whether there is pain or there is not pain. It is, though the law may not classify it so, homicide. Morally, by the testimony of the natural law, it is murder.

*Pope John Paul II effectively declared the grave immorality of direct abortion in his Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life. The teaching is predicated upon the Church's teaching against murder in No. 57:
57. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

Quapropter Nos auctoritate usi Petro eiusque Successoribus a Christo collata, coniuncti cum Ecclesiae catholicae Episcopis, confirmamus directam voluntariamque hominis innocentis interfectionem graviter inhonestam esse semper. Doctrina haec, cuius innituntur radices illa in non scripta lege quam, praeeunte rationis lumine, quivis homo suo reperit in animo (Cfr. Rom. 2, 14-15), inculcatur denuo Sacris in Litteris, Ecclesiae Traditione commendatur atque ordinario et universali Magisterio explanatur (Cfr. Lumen Gentium, 25).
Abortion is treated immediately after murder in the encyclical, indicating its direct link to the prohibition against murder, specifically in Nos. 58, and 61-62:
58. Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime." . . .(Gaudium et Spes, No. 51: "Abortion and infanticide are nefarious crimes.")

58. Omnia inter ea scelera quae patrare homo contra vitam potest, notas quasdam prae se fert procuratus abortus quibus improbus insignite ac detestabilis evadit. Illum describit Concilium Vaticanum II, perinde atque infanticidium, “crimen nefandum” (Gaudium et Spes, 51: «Abortus necnon infanticidium nefanda sunt crimina»).

61. The texts of Sacred Scripture never address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human being in the mother's womb that they require as a logical consequence that God's commandment "You shall not kill" be extended to the unborn child as well. . . . Christian Tradition -- as the Declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well -- is clear and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describing abortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. . . .

61. Litterarum Sacrarum loci, ubi de voluntario abortu numquam est sermo et propterea directis propriisque vocabulis abortus haud reicitur, talem tamen tantamque hominis ipsius exprimunt materno in sinu venerationem, ut tamquam necessariam conclusionem postulent ut erga illum etiam prorogetur Dei mandatum: “Non homicidium facies”. . . . Prout effert probe Declaratio de hoc argumento a Congregatione pro Doctrina Fidei edita (Cfr. CONGR. PRO DOCTRINA FIDEI Declaratio de abortu procurato), consona est atque illustris a principio ad nostros usque dies christiana Traditio, quae tenet ipsum abortum veluti morale quiddam unice inordinatum. . . .

62. . . . . Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition [regarding abortion] is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops -- who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine--I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

62. . . . . Coram simili consensione in tralaticia doctrina disciplinaque Ecclesiae, valuit pontifex Paulus VI adseverare idem magisterium nec esse mutatum nec posse mutari (Cfr. PAULI VI Allocutio ad Italicos Iuris peritos Catholicos, die 9 dec. 1972: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, X (1972) 1260 ss.; EIUSDEM Humanae Vitae, 14). Auctoritate proinde utentes Nos a Christo Beato Petro eiusque Successoribus collata, consentientes cum Episcopis qui abortum crebrius respuerunt quique in superius memorata interrogatione licet per orbem disseminati una mente tamen de hac ipsa concinuerunt doctrina – declaramus abortum recta via procuratum, sive uti finem intentum seu ut instrumentum, semper gravem prae se ferre ordinis moralis turbationem, quippe qui deliberata exsistat innocentis hominis occisio. Haec doctrina naturali innititur lege Deique scripto Verbo, transmittitur Ecclesiae Traditione atque ab ordinario et universali Magisterio exponitur (Cfr. Lumen Gentium, 25).
Evangelium vitae, Nos. 57, 58, 61-62. The teaching would appear, at minimum, ordinary, if not extraordinary, infallible teaching of the Church. The Church expressly declares that abortion is against the natural law.
**See, e.g., Johnston's Archive: Abortion Statistics .
***As reported in Annie Murphy Paul, "The First Ache," in the New York Times, Feb. 10, 2008.
****See, e.g., his report on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice on the matter of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

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