Human life: sanctimony trumps sanctity

Few things are as polarising as debates over the taking of human life.

By now the Augustinian concept of just war has caught on, and soldiers killing for their country aren’t widely regarded as murderers.

When the state says that the war it is fighting is just, youngsters aren’t supposed to struggle with moral choice. They are expected to go and kill or be killed.

When they exercise their own moral choice, the state punishes those whose moral choice it finds wrong. The issue is more or less clear-cut.

Not so with other forms of homicide, such as the death penalty and abortion. One observes that those in favour of the former are almost always opposed to the latter and vice versa, with both sides invoking the argument that human life is sacred.

Since even intelligent atheists acknowledge that Western morality derives from Judaeo-Christianity, it’s worth mentioning that religious views on such matters are unequivocal. The death penalty doesn’t contradict our religion; abortion does.

The religious argument must be made. Yet the same case can be argued rationally, without taking God’s name in vain.

Executing a murderer doesn’t so much deny as assert the value of human life. By having the courage to kill the killer, the state expresses society’s abhorrence of murder.

Human life, the state says thereby, is sacred. Whoever takes it wantonly thus strikes out against not just his victim but against every moral foundation of society.

A murder sends out destructive waves into society, and their amplitude can never be attenuated if the crime is left unpunished, or punished inadequately.

No punishment other than death is in this case adequate specifically because human life is sacred.

Its value can’t be measured against any length of imprisonment. Society can no longer protect the victim, but imposing the death penalty is the only way for it itself not to be victimised.

Therefore the death penalty was never regarded as cruel and unusual punishment anywhere in the West until the last few decades.

At that point the Judaeo-Christian underpinnings of our society were destroyed  and society was cast adrift – into oblivion.

Since, as Margaret Thatcher once explained, society no longer exists, it can no longer be threatened, and suddenly the death penalty becomes unacceptable. We are atomised individuals now, each with his own view of right and wrong.

This inevitably creates morally troubled waters in which any tyrannical, which is to say modern, state can then fish by turning itself into the unifying moral authority.

Rather than referring to an appropriate scriptural verse, as the erstwhile moral authorities used to do, the state can impose its own laws that seem moral but are in fact self-serving.

The state’s principal objective is not to enforce immutable moral laws but to self-perpetuate by putting forth regulations aimed at destroying the laws that have for ages been considered immutable. Any surrogate will do, provided the state can throw the might of its formidable propaganda machine behind it.

Hence Western states one by one abolished the death penalty, and hence also they’ve allowed abortion on demand. This somehow is no longer seen as the arbitrary taking of a human life.

Forgetting for a second any moral or, God forbid, religious considerations, the logic of it has always defeated me, as if to serve a reminder that modernity, allegedly devoted to the triumph of reason, ends up stamping reason into the muck.

The only way not to regard abortion as killing is not to regard a foetus as human. But, having written this sentence, the state refuses to put a full stop at the end of it.

It acknowledges that a foetus is indeed human, which is why it’s wrong to kill it when it’s close to climbing out of the womb. Until that moment, however, it’s just a part of the mother’s body, like an appendix.

The logical chaos begins when the state attempts to pin down the beginning of life to a specific point during pregnancy. Generally speaking, most states agree that a foetus is already human during the second and third trimester.

One has to infer that, when the clock strikes midnight on the ninety-third day of pregnancy, a miracle occurs. A magic wand is waved and an appendix becomes a person.

Since those who operate our states tend not to believe in miracles, they must have a more rational explanation for this transformation, though so far they have modestly refrained from offering it for public consumption.

One can understand their reticence, for no logical explanation exists. If a foetus is human at 93 days, it has to be just as human at 92, 62 or 22.

Logically speaking, only one indisputable moment can be accepted as the beginning of a human life, that of conception. Therefore abortion constitutes a killing at any time during pregnancy, be it at 150 days or 15.

Being a reasonable sort, I’m willing to accept – strictly for the sake of argument – that the issue is in doubt.

But surely any doubt must be treated as a certainty: it’s the sacred human life we are talking about here. If it’s even remotely possible that life already exists, then it must be assumed to exist for sure.

Yet we can no longer be rational about such things. The state has trained us to be sanctimonious instead, because it can use our sanctimony against us.

All similar considerations apply to euthanasia. Since sentiment has been replaced by sentimentality, we are supposed to jump up and salute at the state’s supposedly humane permission to kill those whose lives are so full of suffering that they are no longer worth living.

Again logic interferes. Exactly who decides that a life is no longer worth living? Who establishes the point at which suffering becomes intolerable?

It could be the sufferer himself, which is usually the case. But people in pain will often do or say anything to get relief, which incidentally is used as an argument against torture.

The poor chap may feel that death is his only salvation, but we’ve all heard of many miraculous recoveries. If he indeed recovers, don’t you think the patient will be glad he didn’t opt for euthanasia, or that the option didn’t exist in the first place?

Sometimes the death-defining moment is established by doctors, who thanks to their training are more likely to decide correctly that the suffering is irreversible.

Yet more likely doesn’t mean guaranteed, and we have all heard of doctors making horrendous mistakes in writing patients off prematurely.

The only rational solution to the problem is the same as in abortion. Because we can’t know for sure one way or the other, we must err on the side of the sanctity of human life. Only he who gives life can take it, and neither doctors nor patients themselves fall into that category.

Yet, just as with abortion, sanctimony rules. And, just as with abortion, the goalposts are pushed all the way towards the corner flags.

At first abortion was seen as allowable only when the mother’s life was in danger. Then, as diagnostic techniques became more sophisticated, when the foetus couldn’t be expected to grow up at least as modestly intelligent as Ed Miliband. And then – whenever the woman felt like it.

Euthanasia, and its close relation assisted suicide, was first deemed appropriate only when a clearly terminal patient suffered intolerable and unrelievable pain. Eventually it got to be considered not just allowable but desirable for anyone who no longer felt like living.

When modern sanctimony comes in, reason walks out. Witness the latest bout of madness, in Belgium.

Some 30 years ago a 22-year-old man went on a rampage of rape and murder, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Last week the villain complained he could no longer stand prison life and demanded that doctors kill him.

And – are you ready for this? – Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Commission agreed. The man was to be put to death next Sunday.

Only yesterday’s last-minute intercession by psychiatrists put this egregious act on hold for the time being. Yet again I feel baffled.

Belgium, along with most formerly civilised countries, has banned capital punishment. In spite of that a criminal was to be judicially killed in a grotesque fusion of euthanasia, assisted suicide and the death penalty.

Modernity has abandoned God in the name of reason, and God’s morality in the name of the secular kind. But an odd thing happened: it turns out that without God there is no reason and no morality.

We ignore the evidence showing that God’s laws aren’t just more righteous but also infinitely more rational than man’s laws. One only hopes it won’t take an apocalyptic calamity to drive this point home.

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