Abortion sanctity of life essay

Clouser , Frankena nor intense applied bioethical debates have brought a consensus. Thus, the phrase denotes a mode of acting instead of an obscure property of physical life.

Sanctity of Life - The Author of Life

If the historical reconstruction of this idea is convincing, I hope the ethical argumentation can proceed more fruitfully on that basis. In section 4, I examine Kantian ethics as an example that shows how the religious concept of sanctity-of-life can be fruitfully secularized and introduced into a secular ethical debate. Finally, in section 5, I sketch out how and to what limited extent the concept of sanctity-of-life may contribute to a rights-based bioethical debate about end-of-life questions.

He noticed that current writers use the term in ways that do not easily and directly map to earlier traditions he found in his literature search.

BBC - Ethics - Euthanasia: Religion and euthanasia

An additional factor within Christianity is the belief that humans are created in the image of God. In non-religious circles the term is used to indicate the utmost respect with which human life should be treated. More surprising is the fact that we do not seem to know where the term came from, what its roots are, and why it has been appropriated elsewhere. Worse, this lack of knowledge becomes a particular asset for those who oppose the values that the concept purports to protect.

As Keenan has observed, the meaning of sanctity as inviolability of physical human life is used especially in the writings of Pope John Paul II. Keenan pp 3—4 , and is also generally accepted by most of its theological e. Ramsey , Thomasma and philosophical e. Frankena , Dworkin defenders. Like Keenan, many Christian e. She largely adopts the position of William Frankena In contrast to Fletcher p , Frankena claimed that wherever the sanctity-of-life principle is rooted, either in the Pythagorean background of the Hippocratic oath or in the Judeo-Christian tradition or elsewhere, 3 that it was Christian theology that made it especially influential.

Thus the focus of her book questions the distinction between killing and letting die, and tries to show that the latter is an intentional act, which implicitly relies on quality-of-life judgments. Before examining sanctity-of-life versus quality-of-life with regard to end-of-life decision-making issues, it is necessary to understand how far the idea of sanctity-of-life is actually correctly determined to mean absolute inviolability of physical human life. To resolve some of this confusion, the meaning of the theological idea sanctity-of-life needs to be illuminated in order to get rid of naturalistic misunderstandings.

Is there, then, a plausible non-naturalistic history of the idea of sanctity-of-life, and if so, is it of any importance for bioethical discussions? Here, we find many suggestions and speculations about what kind of life could be meant: merely biological, a body-mind unit, a more Cartesian-like life of pure mind or a biographical life see the overview in Zimmermann-Acklin pp — Even authors who are dealing with the whole phrase e. Clouser ; Engelhardt , are not interested in a theological reconstruction of its meaning, since they find it inappropriate for pluralistic societies.

Barbara Kay: Euthanasia, abortion and the sanctity of life

But reconstructing the history of a religious idea in order to understand its original meaning is one thing; defending religious fundamental arguments is quite another one. Life as such is not said to be holy qadosh , as is, for example, the Sabbath. The Jewish people are said to be a holy people, and they are enjoined to be holy as God is holy.

And only God can make his people holy qds hiphil , that is, enable his people to preserve their given sacredness through acting qds hitpael according to their elected relationship to God. It is I who made you sacred. The exegetical examination shows that only God Himself is intrinsically holy in the Hebrew Bible, that is, holy by Himself and permanently holy without any alteration.

What does each side believe?

Creatures like humans receive their sacredness extrinsically from God. In contrast to God, creatures can lose their sacredness: non-human creatures through inadequate cultic use, human creatures because of acting inadequately. Non-observant Jews will witness the righteous behavior of religiously committed Jews and, as a result, be brought nearer to God and Judaism. Jews should be willing to die as martyrs if oppressors try to coerce them to give up their faith.

Leading a spiritually and morally blameless life is the prevailing idea over mere cultic observance and over the extreme possibility of martyrdom. Basically, Kiddush HaShem is an optimistic attitude to life, nourished by grateful trust in God, who wants his people to flourish in and with their earthly lives. The concept of Kiddush HaShem through Kiddush HaChayim is not at all concerned with biomedical end-of-life questions—even the extreme case of martyrdom is no biomedical case—but a religiously based concept of the private moral conduct of life.

Jewish scholars like the physician Michael A. In the Bible, man is adjured to become holy, in imitation of God in whose image he is formed.

The Sanctity of Life

The common Christian understanding of this is, that because God is holy, therefore Man, created in His image, is also holy. The Jewish understanding is different […].

Holiness, an attribute of God, is not to be identified automatically in those created in His image. Since sanctity-of-life is widely accepted by Christian clinicians and lawyers as well as theologians, it has to be asked whether there is a Christian tradition of the concept that has kept its meaning in mind. Revelation , where Christians are admonished to keep their holy state of life. But […] the act itself, of conforming our course of life to the holiness of the law, is impossible of execution in any given time.

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The idea of sanctity-of-life as a life lived in dedication to God can also be found in a special Catholic tradition. Here the term serves in a narrower sense as one of the four criteria by which church fathers and church teachers can be identified. With the last remarks we recognize one model of secularizing the Christian doctrine of sanctity-of-life: its moralization in the Kantian Ethics.

Kant admonishes the moral subject to strive for moral perfectibility. As in his Religion, he shows himself well acquainted with a religiously coined language and religious metaphors. For Kant, the reason is that physical life is a necessary condition for a human moral subject to conduct a moral life So bodily life is a means, moral life the end. In St. Physical human life serves as a sanctuary—a temple in St. Therefore, Kant can even deliver casuistic reflections upon the ultimate possibility of morally justified self-killing acts if morally higher values could be realized.

That leads to a second, often neglected aspect:. Duties to oneself are not addressed in the Doctrine of Right , only in the Doctrine of Virtue. That is meaningful because the Doctrine of Right refers only to interpersonal duties, not to intrapersonal duties. Although duties to oneself have objective moral validity for Kant, it is their nature that they cannot be prescribed by another person or judged from an external position. Only the moral agent oneself can and shall take these duties into account by recognizing and constituting oneself as a moral subject.

With that, Kant confidently transfers the biblical sanctity-of-life concept into a secular virtue-ethical self-relationship between the empirical person homo phaenomenon and the ideal moral personality homo noumenon.

Finally, the understanding of human bodily life as an instrument for leading a moral life is not only significant with regard to physical self-preservation and therefore to end-of-life situations. In addition, the duty to self-preservation considers life as the basic good that enables leading a moral life in general in the full range of the basic motif: praising God through living a holy life Kiddush haShem through Kiddush haChayim.

The question of suicide is therefore only the extreme point, where the moral question of how to live a life emerges. Thus, reducing the sanctity of human life to mortal questions fundamentally impoverishes its meaning. So the first-person perspective exemplifies the fact that sanctity-of-life is not an empirical feature of another physical or mental or biographical life, but a sanctifying moral way of living that questions no one but oneself.

Hence, the theological history of the idea of sanctity-of-life already offers a model of its secularization through internalization by Kant. Kant adopts the commandment from Lev as a call for moral self-perfection, but drops the theological foundation. That is how the external interpersonal relation between God and the human being is turned into the internal or intrapersonal relation of the human moral agent herself—a process described as the secularization of human moral consciousness by Kant Kittsteiner Since it is not logically impossible to think of ourselves this way, the human being can be thought of as having the unique ability to put oneself under obligation.

Therefore, being human means not only being alive, but being able to conduct a moral life and take responsibility. According to Kant — , the internal possibility of self-obligation is the necessary precondition for the possibility of any external obligation towards others.

Obligations to others presuppose self-obligation. The creational ontologizing perspective, which is often taken by Christian theologians see 3. There he refers to a concept of sanctity-of-life as an intuition that human life should not be wasted. According to Dworkin, the idea of sanctity-of-life applies also to human entities like fetuses, which he does not regard as persons with interests or rights see pp 68—69; similar already Clouser With the help of these assumptions, Dworkin tries to explain the gap between the parties within the public abortion debate despite the fact that almost all of them were equally convinced of the sanctity-of-life.

Dworkin leaves the concept of sanctity-of-life evaluatively vague since he uses it for some human entities, which are, in his eyes, not persons with rights. He designs sanctity-of-life as a concept that ascribes value to other human physical lives from an external point of view. The criterion of evaluation is the economic grade of investment instead of the moral grade of moral self-perfection. Finally, what is the outcome of the examination of the history of the idea of sanctity-of-life—bioethically and ethically? What purpose does it serve and what purpose should it not be asked to serve?

First, we see that for a variety of bioethicists, secular or religiously bound, liberals or conservatives, the sanctity-of-life concept disappoints with regard to end-of-life decisions. It delivers no criterion and no norm with which to decide upon euthanasia issues. Second, although it touches peripherally the problem of the moral justification of suicide, the sanctity-of-life idea should not be reduced to functioning as a bioethical principle.

Arguments might perhaps indirectly be drawn from the sanctity-of-life motif for reflections on the moral justification of assisted suicide in biomedical contexts, but these ethical deliberations do not derive solely from a so-called sanctity-of-life principle. Normative bioethical argumentation about assisted suicide has to consider more than the isolated and perhaps academic question of whether there might be ethically justified cases of really free suicidal acts.

Third, the sanctity-of-life is not a doctrine of the basic human right to life, since it is a virtue-ethical concept and not a rights concept.


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The rights-perspective is an inter personal issue, sanctity-of-life in its secular form, however, denotes a virtue-ethical intra personal relationship. From this perspective, the idea of sanctity-of-life is an ethically useful concept. In Roe v. Wade, the Court ruled that a state may prohibit abortion only after fetal viability.

In fact, there is no one who defends that position. If they did not, where might this idea if it is around at all have come from?


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Beyond the White House, state leaders are taking action to protect the unborn. And thanks to the efforts of millions of compassionate and caring Americans across the country, we are changing minds and turning hearts to embrace life as never before. Fewer abortions are being performed than ever recorded — a decrease of more than 50 percent since the s.