October 11, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Catholics must be pro-life

John F. FinkCatholics are—I insist that they must be—pro-life. Unfortunately, there are people who identify themselves as Catholics and call themselves pro-choice when it comes to abortion, but they have to know that they are in opposition to the teachings of the Church.

We believe that all human life is sacred because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (#2258).

The Church has condemned abortion ever since the Didache (The Teaching of the Apostles) was written toward the end of the first century. It includes the commandment, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion” (#2).

The admonition not to destroy an innocent human being also means euthanasia, the killing of people who are sick, disabled or dying. Even if it might seem to be merciful to put someone out of his or her misery, it is always wrong to take direct action to cause someone’s death or to discontinue procedures that are keeping someone alive.

However, the catechism instructs us, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (#2278).

It’s also legitimate to give patients heavy doses of narcotics to relieve pain even if those narcotics have the risk of hastening death.

There has been much talk in recent years about embryonic stem-cell research. The Church condemns any research on the human embryo that causes its death. Biology, not religious doctrine, tells us that human life begins at conception—when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg. After that happens, religious belief and natural law tell us that we may not kill the new life.

No matter how much good scientists think they might be able to do by experimenting on embryos, the willful destruction of that embryo is the killing of human life. Every successful experiment so far has been done with adult stem cells anyway, which doesn’t involve the killing of embryos.

Advocates of embryo experimentation like to point out that there are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos that were produced by in vitro fertilization, and there is no possibility that they will ever grow to become a viable baby. Nevertheless, to discard or kill those embryos is the taking of human life.

The Catholic Church also opposes capital punishment in most cases, although this prohibition is a bit different from other acts of killing because it doesn’t involve the killing of an innocent human being. This teaching has developed because the Church hasn’t always opposed the death penalty.

However, taking the lead of Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life, the teaching now is that non-lethal means are nearly always available to protect society. Therefore, capital punishment is not necessary. We must not kill someone to teach that it’s wrong to kill someone. †

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