The National Right to Life Conference for 1985 was held in Washington, D.C., from June 19 to 22.  During these three days there were over 50 workshops, panel discussions and talks by eminent doctors, lawyers, politicians and philosophers.  The topics covered every possible aspect of the life issues; abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, legislation, embryo research, etc., as well as the bread and butter issues such as fund raising.  With such wonderful opportunities to learn it was a major problem deciding which workshops to attend.  It is an even greater problem to cover so much material in a short report.  We can only touch on some of the highlights for now, and leave other topics for another time.


Luckily there was no need to make a choice for the General Sessions.  With speakers like Mother Teresa, Cardinal O’Connor, Dr. Nathanson, the only problem was to ensure that one found a seat where one could see as well as hear and with 2,000 people packing the hall, that required some thought.  It is to be noted that the Canadian contingent was expert in “casing the joint,” discovering the strategic doors, and the shortest routes to good seats.


Mother Teresa


Mother Teresa was given a tumultuous welcome by the packed house at the first General Session.  Someone had realized that the lectern would completely obscure this tiny nun, and so when she spoke it was from a perch on top of a box.  As always she spoke simply and clearly, sharing with this multi-religious group her special love and concern for all God’s people, especially the unborn child.  In her own inimitable way she set the spiritual tone for the rest of the Conference.


The last major speaker was Dr. C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General of the United States.  Speaking at the Saturday banquet, Dr. Koop emphasized that he was speaking in his private capacity as a pediatric surgeon, not as Surgeon General.




Dr. Koop devoted the major part of his address to the threat of euthanasia.  He reminded his audience that he had been one of the first people to warn that abortion would inevitably lead to infanticide, and he referred to his well-known paper, The Slide to Auschwitz.  Tragically, his prophesy has proved true.  Today the greatest threat is coming from the proponents of euthanasia, and the potential number of victims is far greater than that from abortion.  He said that this will be a war which one side or the other is going to win, and he challenged the pro-life forces to profit from the lessons they have learned in fighting abortion.


Euthanasia forces are alive and strong in the world, and they are backed by the media which give great coverage to any hard cases.  Like the pro-abortionists they talk about ‘compassion,’ and they use euphemisms such as ‘Death with Dignity’ to cover the evil.  One state governor in the U.S.A. has said openly that the old have a ‘duty to die,’ and that point of view is in vogue in some circles.


All this discussion, said Dr. Koop, comes at a time when there is a decline in medical ethics on the one hand, and a rising concern for the cost of medical care on the other.  Many articles in medical journals discuss the “justification” for the practice of withdrawing fluids and nutritional support from the terminally ill, the permanently comatose and even what they term the “pleasantly senile.”


The greatest threat will come in the age pattern of the population.  In 1985 there were 40 million people in the U.S.A. over 65 years old, and of these 12 million were over 75 years.  By the year 2050 there will be 104 million over 65 years and of these 37 million will be over 75.  At the same time, because of losses by abortion and smaller families there will be a much smaller workforce to support the elderly and the children.


Dr. Koop called attention to the ratio between retired workers, children, handicapped, etc., on the one hand, and workers on the other.  In 1960 there were 5.1 workers to support one person.  By 1984 that ratio was reduced to 3.3, and by the year 2050 it will be down to 2.0.  Dr. Koop estimated that, by the year 2050 as a consequence of the resultant pressure on medical funds, for every Baby Doe today (variously given as 1500-5000 a year in the U.S.A.) there will be 15,000 to 20,000 “Granny Does” who will be left to starve to death or be “put to sleep.”


This is the challenge that Dr. Koop predicts, and he stressed that pro-life groups must avoid past mistakes.  Without blaming anyone or any groups, he said that lack of unified efforts, lack of an agenda of strategic policy, lack of a consensus as to the manner in which the agenda is addressed, and the “all or nothing” principle have handicapped the movement.


If pro-life people are to avoid the millions of Granny and Grandpa Doe deaths they should begin planning now.  They should build up a rapport with their co-belligerents, for example, they should begin monitoring doctors’ meetings to identify their allies, get supporters, too, from amongst groups catering for the retired, as well as specialists in geriatrics.  They should begin now to work on out-reach and other helps for the elderly.


Slippery Slope


Dr. Koop did not appear to have much faith in medical ethicists.  Indeed, he said, “We have too many ethicists and not enough people who know the difference between right and wrong.”  He cautioned that whenever a decision is made with ethical or moral implications we must always ask, “What is the next likely to be?”  To fail to do this is to find oneself on the slippery slope.  We must make certain we choose the life-giving option.  He added his own guideline – “How ought we to care for those who cannot in one way or another care for themselves?”




On the preceding Friday evening Dr. Bernard Nathanson had devoted his address to the current stage of the war against abortion, and his tone was one of confidence, at times even of exuberance.  He said that the scientific evidence of the humanity of the pre-born baby has been clearly presented to the world in The Silent Scream, and of the reactions in various parts of the world.  He announced that he was going to make a new film which would again feature a victim of abortion.  This time, the real-life story would be that of a late-term baby that had survived a saline abortion and has lived to add her side to the debate.


In passing, he told of his meeting with “a quiet, unassuming young man” in British Columbia and of his exploit.  To the amazement and delight of the 2000 strong crowd, he recounted how Jim Demers had quietly and openly removed the trolley containing the abortion suction machine from the local hospital, taken it home, dismantled it, and returned it to the hospital as a book trolley.  This saga was greeted by a salvo of applause, and Dr. Nathanson added, “That to me is the lonely kind of courage to which monuments of nations should be reared.”


Once again he reiterated his belief that we are going to win and he quoted Abraham Lincoln’s words concerning the fight against slavery in the days before the Civil War.  “We will make converts day by day.  We will grow strong by the violence and the injustice of our adversaries…We will be in the majority after a while.  The battle for freedom will be fought out on principle.”


In an oblique reference to his own past history, Fr. Nathanson said, “This has been a long, and often painful intellectual odyssey for me.  My intellectual odyssey is over…my spiritual odyssey I fear has only begun, and I may need your help.”  For a couple of seconds, as the implication of this statement from a self-avowed atheist sank in, there was silence, and then as people stood and clapped and cheered the noise almost brought the roof down.


Dr. Nathanson finished his speech on an almost prophetic note.


“We must be united; we must be undaunted; we must be inflexible.  We shall prevail because we are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day. 






John Cardinal O’Connor was introduced by Dr. Willke as one of America’s strongest pro-lifers and the warmth of his reception testified to the love and respect he commands in the movement.  His was one of the longest and widest ranging of all the speeches, and he moved his audience to laughter, to tears and to prayer.


He described some of the work in carrying out the commitment of the diocese of New York to take care of “any pregnant woman or girl, of any religion or none, who needs help.”  He pleaded for more old-fashioned charity and he emphasized that the law must be altered.


He spoke of Catholics in public life and he said that they must make a decision as to whether they are truly Catholic or not.  If they are truly Catholic they “have an immediate and inescapable obligation to change the law…actively and aggressively.”


There is no possible way to cover his moving thought-provoking speech in any adequate way in this report.  We hope to publish most of the text of his address in later editions of The Interim.


A discussion of the Conference would be incomplete without reference to all the educational aids on display and available in the booths of regional and religious pro-life groups.  Nor must we fail to mention the many films which were shown continuously throughout the three days.  One Canadian has said that, over and above all else, her deepest impression (because it opened new horrors to threaten her) came from a BBC film Where have all the donors gone?


This particular film, which the BBC refused to allow to be copied, was only shown once.  It highlights the problems discussed in the workshops on Legal Definitions of Death.


The film itself illustrates the difficulties in defining the point of death, particularly when haste is needed to get lungs, kidneys, etc. for transplant.  In one case in the film a man was declared brain dead.  As the surgeon was about to remove his various organs and dispatch them in many directions he noted the man’s Adam’s apple move.  He removed the bandages from the man’s eyes (why bandages?” and the “dead” man blinked and stared at him.


Doubtless the surgeon was shaken, but his ague was nothing to that of thousands in Britain who left their T.V. sets to find and tear up their organ-donor cards.  Our Canadian has no donor card (working on the principle that her organs will be much too old and worn out to be worth the trouble of transplanting them second hand) but having seen the film she has issued firm instructions on all measures to ensure she is really and truly dead.


On looking back at the programme of talks one cannot help wondering what would have been the reaction of the MPs in 1969 had they been able to foresee the agenda for this 1985 Conference.  How would they have acted with the fore-knowledge of the tragedy of widespread abortion, the deliberate search-and-destroy attitude to the handicapped pre-born child, the hidden and not-so-hidden infanticide, experiments on living aborted babies, embryo research, the demand for euthanasia and all the other evils that have followed the loss of respect for the life of the unborn?


In truth Dr. Koops was stating a rule which politicians should have framed in their offices, “Whenever a decision is to be made with ethical or moral implications we must always ask, ‘What is the next step likely to be?’”  Failure to do this caused politicians to lead Canada down the slippery slope.  How many of those politicians now in or out of office are willing to try the long and difficult climb back?