‘The culture of death is all-pervasive’
For nine years, The Interim and Niagara Region Right to Life have been co-sponsoring the Father Ted Colleton Scholarship program. The topics have varied over the years, but they have always challenged students to think more deeply about pro-life issues and to write about them cogently. The prizes are awarded following an evaluation process conducted by a committee that assesses the essay-writing component. (Letters of reference and a demonstrated commitment to pro-life are also elements of the contest.)
What has struck me over the years is not so much the formidable writing abilities of the candidates, but rather their remarkable personal profiles and references written on their behalf. These young people lead fascinating young lives, full of dedication to service, whether in school, church or community (often all three). They achieve and they are leaders. I feel privileged in being able to read not only their essays, but also these self-profiles that reveal so much about them as young pro-life Canadians. They make one proud of their families, schools and teachers.
This year’s recipients of the Father Ted Colleton Scholarship have met the high standards set by their predecessors. But you can judge for yourselves as you enjoy reading the three winning essays on the following topic: “The culture of death is all-pervasive, arising in one little corner and then engulfing the whole culture. Demonstrate whether there is a real link between contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia.”
Dan Di Rocco, The Interim’s circulation manager, is the co-ordinator of the Father Ted Colleton Scholarship Program.
The root lies in a moment
It flew out of the car window, bounced twice and rolled to a stop. It is a styrofoam cup. In our quest for convenience, we have created a lifestyle in which we use it once and throw it out. This way of living is the building block of our consumeristic culture. Sadly, this disposability in our society has spread from things to the human person. Then again, consumerism and disposability are not the problem, but merely symptoms of the problem, branches of a corrupt root. The root lies in a moment, a moment in which we choose self over sacrifice. This is the root; this is greed, this is the dictator of our culture of death and the antithesis of what it means to love.
To love is to die unto oneself. It is the death of self, but also the birth of true goodness and true life. To love is to serve and to sacrifice. Love wears a crown of thorns and washes people’s feet. Love lived a life of service and died a death of sacrifice. Christ is love. We are called to love, to follow in the footsteps of love, to serve and sacrifice in a world that speaks of comfort and consumerism. The cornerstone of Christianity is Christ, while the cornerstones of our culture are convenience and greed.
Greed is the death of service and the birth of self. Greed is the choice not to love. Society, in refusing to love, has refused to bring true life and has embraced the opposite, thus creating a culture of death. This culture of death is not overt, but rather very sly. It does not run out into the streets and stab people. Instead, it preys on the vulnerable. It seeks to quietly dispose of human lives, lives that cannot defend themselves.
Smiling sweetly, the culture of death pretends to care as it lies to the pregnant mother. It tells her that a child is a burden, that a child would destroy all her dreams and hopes. Why, it isn’t even a child, just some cells! It has put greed into the mind of a society that will not care for the child, into the mind of the man who does not want to be a father, into the minds of the would-be-grandparents who think the child would be a disgrace and into the mother’s heart, coaxing her into choosing death for the life within her.
The culture of death sneaks in to the couple’s bedroom and whispers in their ears that sex and reproduction are two different things. It pulls out a calculator and shows them how much a child will cost them and, from an envelope, takes a picture of a beach, of a new car, of a medical school. The couple, reasoning that these are pictures of very important things, are not willing to accept the gift of new life and so they ensure that no such gift will enter their union.
We find ourselves in a culture of death that even battles with our rational and emotional sides. It shows us the suffering that could be ended if one simply used some embryonic stem cells. “Is this not good?” How, in all its quests for equality, has society failed to see the preciousness of the smallest human being? We cannot violate a human life to save a human life. Life does not justify death. Greed becomes very dangerous here, for there is a good done in the use of embryonic stem cells, but there is also an unimaginable evil done. In isolation, the good done is desirable but, as a whole, the use of embryonic stem cells is a denial of the sacredness of life.
In this culture of death, comfort has become a beloved king. If one is comfortable, one must be happy. One’s life must be enjoyable; therefore, one’s life must have value. Society has gone so far as to say that if one’s life does not have a certain level of pleasure, it is not a life worth having in this world and that the suffering have nothing to offer. Christ is love; thus greed, being the antithesis of love, seeks to remove from our midst the presence of Christ.
It does this through silently disposing of the suffering and the pain-filled, explaining that it is too much. Greed takes them away, saying that they are burdens, that they deserve death. It is in brokenness that Christ is manifested, in suffering that Christ is made real to us. Our God is so great that He can use, and be present in, human suffering, in human weakness. The elderly and the infirm have value, for they convey a truth about Christ in a way that no one else can; they are love to the world. Society fails to see this, to see the value of pain, even agony. The greatest act on earth was one filled with suffering. The salvation of the human race is owed to the Passion of a man. But our culture of death will have none of that.
This invisibly bloody empire has outposts within every human heart. These posts, these fortifications of evil, float, suspended in a moment. A moment in which we choose death over life, greed over love. This empire can only fall if we walk a path of sacrifice and service, if we follow in love’s footsteps. Perhaps the day we allow ourselves to be nailed to a cross will be the day that we understand, from within our being, that no life is disposable.
Matthew Hunt attends St. Mary’s College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He finished first in the Fr. Ted Colleton Essay contest.
The evolution of ignorance
Maria Samantha Navarro
“Death solves all problems – no man, no problem” (Stalin). It is unfortunate how a majority in modern society have adopted the murderous attitude of the late Joseph Stalin – purveyor of the above-mentioned statement and a dictator responsible for the slaughter of millions. The undeniable truth is that most people possess the same idle mentality: the act of killing is intended to produce a prompt, permanent solution to an otherwise self-evident problem.
If one is bothered by a common fly, what does one do? Kill it. If an opposing force wages war, what does a nation do? Kill its soldiers. If a child is conceived without consent or want, what does a woman do? She kills it. If a terminal patient seeks relief from pain, what does a doctor do? Kill the patient.
One can certainly argue that various situations may justify death. Interests of self-preservation and emotional or physical suffering may vindicate the cause for ending a life, but the fact of the matter remains: a life has been terminated. It is this utter disregard for human life that links the four most heinous and overlooked crimes against humanity today. People merely choose not to acknowledge the consequences of contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia for the sake of convenience, self-interest and even wealth. In witnessing such recurrent deaths, we must ask ourselves, “What is the value of human life?”
Since the dawn of human procreation, people have invented countless methods to abuse God’s gift of sexuality. Lemon juice, mercury and even hopping backwards seven times were among the alleged measures taken as contraception during ancient times. The worst forms include self-mutilation (tubal sterilization, vasectomy). According to Birth Control Canada, “Birth control, or contraception (contra-conception), is the prevention of conception or impregnation. There are a variety of methods of birth control available today. Many can be used in conjunction with other methods, providing a greater degree of protection” (LifeMD.com Inc.).
But protection from what? Pregnancy? Responsibility? Our current culture places a negative connotation on the act of creating life. Oftentimes, it is deemed a nuisance – an obstruction of pleasure. This disrespect for the generation of life incites aversion for the product, which gives rise to an immoral but widely accepted anti-life activity: abortion. Although both contraception and abortion are designed to impede birth, abortion commits a greater sin by deliberately destroying a conceived child (a life) pre-birth.
For as long as contraception has existed, so too have there been attacks on the unborn human. In Canada, the position of “choice” has unrestrictively sanctioned “the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes and placenta) from the uterus” (MedicineNet.com) as of Jan. 28, 1988. Such definitions of abortion dehumanize the life residing within a womb and further skew the cessation of life into the entitlement of a woman’s will. The pro-choice claim is motivated solely by irresponsibility and egotism.
If a woman aborts because she believes the child would be “inconvenient” for her, she lives purely for herself and has no regard for the child’s well-being or right to live. One can attest that particular circumstances (for example, a child resulting from a rape) may give reason for the premature termination of a child, but there are numerous alternatives that do not end in death. This constant self-concern brings about another inhumane procedure, guised under the pretence of medical innovation.
As the term suggests, embryonic stem cells are acquired from embryos (fertilized ovum). Donated embryos are experimented on and cultivated in laboratories for the purposes of curative research. Despite any potential advantages that such research proposes, it instils a violation of morality. Embryos are living entities, because they possess the potential to develop into fully formed human beings. Yet, the principles of embryonic stem cell research portray these early-staged humans as disposable resources, rather than existing individuals, in order to extract personal benefits. What happens when an ineffective embryo is no longer of use? The embryo (fundamentally human) is discarded, like ordinary garbage. Negligence for the sanctity of life not only occurs prior to birth, but before death as well.
No human retains the right to decide whether or not to end anyone’s life, including his or her own. The gift of life is a sacred bestowment from God and so it is not in our power to determine the fate of another human life. Euthanasia violates this notion by granting people the choice of death. When physicians take lives out of the will of their patients, or for the betterment of said patients, these incidents entail an ethical contradiction. Doctors are supposed to heal and save people, not kill them, or present to them the means by which to kill themselves.
The expression “assisted suicide” asserts that euthanasia is appropriate if it is to relieve a terminal patient from unbearable bodily pain. Although it may be perceived as an act of sympathy, both parties risk their moral consciences. Furthermore, to excuse the significance of one’s life is to engage in cowardice and selfishness, for one does not consider how one’s chosen death will negatively affect loved ones.
Contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia correlate from modern society’s sheer disregard for human life. Since the introduction of contraception, an evasion of pregnancy and its product has become the central focus in sexual behaviour. Thus, a disdain for the outcome of conception (a child) is established and the process of abortion ensues.
Self-centred motives spark the development of embryonic stem cell research at the cost of millions of premature humans. It is this disposal and abandonment of life that leads to euthanasia and its ethical problems. People measure the value of human life by the standards of convenience, intrapersonal benefits or the utility of a person, while discounting the consequences that will arise from such an outlook. Awareness and action are courses that we must pursue if we ever hope to combat the ignorance and apathy we have for the importance of human life.
Samantha Navarro attends Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ont. She finished second in the contest.
The culture of false thought
Today’s society is dominated by a culture, which Pope John Paul II described in Evangelium Vitae, as the culture of death. Within this culture, many practices are occurring, which only decades ago would not only have been seen as immoral, but also unthinkable. The fact is that morals are immutable, yet people’s moral standards have changed. This is a true testament to how the culture of death is pervading society.
It is a culture that is individualistic in nature, looking at the quality of life rather than the value in determining the importance of that life. This mentality can be recognized in the practises of contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia. Furthermore, a link that is common to these practices can be seen in the anthropological mistake and moral methodology behind them and their root in personal autonomy.
The culture of death has its primary basis in a mistaken anthropological view of a human being. This view strongly resembles that of utilitarianism, where the only good things are those that are useful, except in this case, the only good humans are those who are useful. This anthropological view states that the body is a means of achieving good, but if achieving this good is not possible, then the usefulness of the body disappears and the right to use that body appears.
At its heart is the idea that only those members of the human species who enjoy full, or at least “incipient autonomy” (that is, individuals with exercisable capacities for reasoning and will), are truly persons with rights that ought to be recognized by society.
Another thing that is important to take notice of is that this anthropological view is dualistic; it separates the person from his or her physical existence. The dualistic nature of this argument is exactly what makes it invalid, because the definition of a human includes the fact that both the conscious being and physical being are intrinsic. This mistaken view also forms the basis for the acts of the culture of death. If the body and conscious being of a human are separated, then technically, a biological human may not, in some cases, be considered a person. When applied to the culture of death, it becomes acceptable to create a human in a lab, abort an unborn child, prevent conception or voluntarily end one’s life, because in each case, the person is not being affected, solely the body.
In tandem with the moral relativism in society, the denial of such acts of the culture of death as being intrinsically evil acts has occurred. Primarily, this is due to the moral methodology of proportionalism. The principle of proportionate good is the exact principle behind the culture of death, as it does not determine an act to be evil in part by the act itself. Rather, this principle allows the practice of normally immoral acts if a proportionately related good will follow from it.
Since proportionalists do not think sterilization, masturbation and contraception are intrinsically evil, when they justify such acts, they do not believe they are justifying morally wrong actions; they only permit premoral evil for proportionate goods.
In traditional morality, three parts are considered in determining whether or not something is immoral – the act, intention and circumstance – while in proportionalism, no actions are considered intrinsically evil. It is only the intention and circumstance that can determine that. For example, in traditional morality, murder is generally accepted as being an immoral act, but by the proportionalist view, murder itself is not immoral. It is the intention and circumstance that can make it immoral.
From this very point, it is easy to see how this moral methodology supports the culture of death. In terms of contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research and euthanasia, killing and the prevention of life occurs. A proportionalist would not see killing and preventing life as evil acts, because he can rationalize some form of good as coming from them; for example, embryonic stem cell research will better the existing human race. Through this moral methodology, the acceptance of such acts has occurred, leading to the culture of death.
The acts of the culture of death are universally immoral acts and, despite this, people have become passive to the practise of them. A major factor in how these acts have become acceptable is the growing idea that morality cannot be imposed and everyone has a right to choice. This idea is more commonly known as the concept of personal autonomy. As well, the increasingly popular idea of “respecting people’s autonomy” has led to the confusion of what it truly means to be free.
Respect for the autonomy of individuals disallows the prohibition of practices previously thought morally objectionable — even were there to be a widespread consensus that such practices are wrong.
The problem with this right to choice is that people use it independently of morals and in doing so, do whatever they want, whether it is an ethical choice or not. To be free does not mean to have the ability to do whatever one wants; it means to do what one ought to do. Licence is being equivocated with freedom.
Due to the state of current society, being tolerant, pluralistic and individualistic, moral subjectivism has arisen and this has assisted the increase of personal autonomy, for if morality is relative, then people can do things without moral obligation. As one can obviously see, personal autonomy is at the root of the culture of death and the fact that many are respecting people’s rights to make autonomous choices has only helped further the establishment of this culture.
The common acts of the culture of death have a clear link between them that is due to many philosophical mistakes. Of these mistakes, there is the anthropological, moral and autonomous, with each acting as a justification and acceptance of the acts of the culture of death. Whether it is mistaking a human for a duality, mistaking the criteria of a moral act or mistaking freedom with licence, one can clearly see how each one has been used to justify contraception, abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.
As well, a link can also be made between these three mistakes, in that all three deny the existence of universals – the universal human nature, the universal evil and universal of a moral standard. Perhaps through the reassertion of universals, society can cite the culture of death for what it truly is, disrespect for human life. It is time for humanity to enter what Pope John Paul II described in Evangelium Vitae as the culture of life.
Roman Belli attends St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic H.S. in Richmond Hill, Ont. He finished third in the contest.