How, by allowing early abortions, does compromise provide ammunition for euthanasia? J.S. Mississauga

Charles E. Rice, Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School points to this danger in No Exceptions: A Pro-Life Imperative.

The danger is a “functional definition of personhood,” according to which, “You will be treated as a person only to the extent that you can function satisfactorily to others.” Professor Rice quotes from cases heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), Justice Stevens wrote: “[T]here is an obvious difference between the state interest in protecting the freshly fertilized egg and the state interest in protecting a nine-month gestated fully sentient fetus on the eve of birth. There can be no interest in protecting the newly fertilized egg from physical pain or mental anguish, because the capacity for such suffering does not yet exist; respecting a developed fetus, however, that interest is valid … [U]ntil a seed has acquired the powers of sensation and movement, the life of a human beings has not yet begun.”

In his judgment on Webster, Justice Blackmun said: “I cannot improve upon what Justice Stevens has written: I should think it obvious that the state’s interest in the protection of an embryo … increases progressively and dramatically as the organism’s capacity to feel pain, to experience pleasure, to survive, and to reach to its surroundings increases day by day.”

Professor Rice says that the references to “powers of sensation and movement” and the “capacity to feel pain, to experience pleasure” etc., are relevant to euthanasia. “If human life does not being until one has ‘the powers of sensation and movement,’ has life ended for the adult comatose or vegetative patient who no longer has these powers?” He notes that” “Stevens’ view of the state’s interest in protecting life at its beginning raises the question whether the state’s interest decreases’’ progressively and dramatically’ at the other end of life as the capacity to experience pleasure and pain and to react decreases.”

In the case of Nancy Cruzan (who was incompetent following an automobile accident) Judge Stevens questioned whether, as she was in a vegetative state, she was even alive in “constitutional terms.” “Nancy Cruzan is obviously ‘alive’ in a physiological sense. But for patients like Nancy Cruzan, who have no consciousness and no chance of recovery, there is a serious question as to whether the mere persistence of their bodies is ‘life’ as that word is commonly understood, or as it is used in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The implication is chilling, and we are all at risk.