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The Life Doctrine

Andrew C. Thomas

Every time I hear a debate between this country’s major two sides about life -- right to life, the death penalty, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and so forth -- I start to wonder who’s actually doing the thinking for each side.

Too often, solidarity trumps reason. The arguments that both sides make tend to crumble in their hands.

Since everyone must have a position on which to base their arguments, allow me to put this in print: Whenever I am given the choice of whether life should be preserved or taken, I will always aim to preserve it.

Yes, I know, it sounds like a soft stance. He loves life? Wow, that’s some real earth-shattering stuff there, Mr. Thomas. You think that’s original? Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV), like much of the Bible, quotes God: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (We must, of course, take the quote in context; life and death in this case refer to blissful eternity and burning hell, not the crude temporal terms we consider and can actually control. Congratulations, columnist Ben Shapiro, for misrepresenting the meaning of the quote in a recent piece.)

My stance is not based upon biblical dogma, however, or upon quickly considered opinions, but upon idealistic and pragmatic concerns combined with a healthy dose of support for individual rights. I seek to apply my belief to the issue of partial birth abortion.

I suppose it’s unfair for me to take a meaningful stance on abortion in general, seeing as I’m neither a woman or an expectant father, but in general I’m not a fan. Nobody enjoys the act itself; it’s invasive and not particularly pleasant. So the fact that the “pro-abortion” side has been portrayed as a group of sadists by their opposition is sad; why this impression has stuck is just one example of why we’re not playing a fair game here.

I have no business saying whether a fetus inside a woman’s body is part of her or some legal entity we should protect (though if asked, my answer sits comfortably between yes and no). The main argument against dilation and extraction, the procedure known as partial-birth abortion, is not that it is gruesome (which everyone pretty much agrees), but that the act of birth, whether at term or not, essentially gives a fetus the legal rights of a person (which also happens to be the hinging point of much of the broader abortion debate). Now I don’t know if I agree with that logic; and after a bit of research, I know I don’t find it hard to believe Congress’ heavily researched assertion that the procedure is never medically necessary. But that doesn’t mean it should be prohibited, or selected against other alternatives.

Here’s a question I wish had been asked by the general public -- or by either side in the debate -- more often: Why, exactly, is the procedure not medically necessary? The procedure’s creator, Dr. Martin Haskell, has never seen a case where the procedure is necessary; somehow, this was seen to be a flawless logical argument suggesting that it could never happen. But if you agree that the procedure can be used to save the life of a woman -- which other doctors did believe -- then the only natural conclusion is that other procedures could not be performed instead, like a Caesarean section that would be less stressful than a canal birth. If that’s the case, then I’m all for it. But we had better be sure that no woman will die for lack of this procedure before we as a society deem it unacceptable. And from the language being used, I’m not at all convinced we’re ready to take that step.

I also don’t believe we’ve reached a point where we’ve devised some kind of equation that determines how lives can be traded. Philosophy students have been asked since day one whether it would be reasonable to kill one person close to you in order to save five you’ve never met, and an answer still escapes us. But few would dispute that killing one life in order to save another, had that life been forfeit to begin with, is right. And such scenarios extend far beyond the victims in “Alien,” into the offices of doctors across the country.

The debate on this issue is as powerful as that on the necessity of the death penalty. The execution of criminals falls under this feeling; since life is sacred, and all steps should be taken in my power to preserve it, I would never wish for the death of a criminal as payment for his crimes, considering I also think that a lifetime of solitary confinement is more cruel. Does the death penalty save lives of the innocent? Does it matter? If we claim to be a society that operates on the sanctity of life (ignoring, of course, the obvious First Amendment handicap that should remove such language from the documents of Congress), how can we go on executing criminals without a strong body of evidence to show that it saves those lives we wish to protect -- ours?