Deciding Who Is a Human Being by Monsignor Ferrarese

Sometimes a principle needs to re-expressed for its importance to be seen: It is an article of our faith that God creates each human being in His image and likeness and that from the womb he directs and creates and sanctifies each and every human being. Every human person has an intrinsic value that cannot be bartered or diminished by accidental circumstances.

The minute human beings start deciding who is human and who is not, we have big problems.

The Nazis decided that non-Aryans, and especially Jews, as well as handicapped people, were not “life worthy of life” (their horrible phrase). Thus, the holocaust became necessary and even a good thing for Germany.

In Africa, the Hutu tribe decided that the Tutsi tribe were nothing but ‘roaches’ (again, their horrible term) so it was logical to stamp them out.

And now our own New York State will pass a law that says that at any time when the mother decides that her infant is not human, doctors could dismember and kill it, even on the day of birth. This is called ‘reproductive choice’ (our term). How did we get this way?

Just like at the basis of all physical phenomena are mathematical formulae, so at the basis of all ethical issues are philosophical ideas. When these ideas are false or in error, they have huge ethical consequences.

At the basis of this ethical tragedy is the philosophical move to subjectivism. By that I mean: Things are not objectively real. They are what I subjectively want them to be. So if I do not want to be 49 years old, I can change my age, or my gender or my ethnicity. I am who I want to be. You hear this in the movies: you can be anything you want to be; you just have to believe in yourself. While there is a subjective component in all of our perception of reality, it does not change reality. This bedrock philosophical assertion is widely contested and forms the basis of this decision to define the human according to our personal way of seeing. So the Nazis wanted everyone to believe and see that Jews were fundamentally different and irretrievably deficient and even dangerous to the common welfare. As Joseph Goebbels, one of the architects of Nazism asserted: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

Just as a mathematical error of the slightest fraction of a point can cause a major disaster, so an error in philosophical thinking can cause huge amounts of mayhem in the real living of our daily lives. This move from objectivity to subjectivity as the guiding frame of reference of our judgment regarding the real world has had, and continues to have, terrible consequences.

What is growing in the womb is either objectively a growth or a growing human child. It cannot shift from day to day depending on the choice of the beholder. Perhaps our task as Americans is to debate the issue of when human life begins so as to have an accepted objective and commonly accepted point that marks the change-over from growth to child. The Catholic position is that it is at conception, since a new DNA pattern is guiding the development of the future child. But one can also make an argument for the presence of a heartbeat or brain waves or the ability to feel pain. This needs to be debated by those on all sides thoroughly before being enacted into law. Once the entity is passed that point, then it must be afforded all legal protection.

The time for choice (from a Catholic point of view) must be before beginning the act that often results in the conception of a child. Once the child is conceived, then no one must hurt its progress. Both the father and the mother must be equally responsible for the welfare of the developing child. The mother must never be asked to shoulder the burden alone.

At the basis of this issue, as in many other modern issues, is that aforementioned philosophical rule that must be acknowledged and abided by: the objective truth of material and spiritual being does in fact exist and that I, in my subjectivity, must conform my life and my decisions to its reality.

At the center of our reflection we can put that fateful encounter from the Gospel of John between Christ and Pilate. Christ reveals Himself as the Truth and all that abide in Truth hear His voice. Pilate, the modern skeptic, responds, “Quid est veritas?” or “What is truth?”

That is our choice: do we stand with Pilate and question truth, or with Christ who is Truth?

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