How do we reply to the argument that, in a democracy, issues such as abortion and euthanasia should be decided by public opinion? J.S., Toronto, Ontario

The democratic legal system aims at justice for all people. Unfortunately, as history shows as in Nazi Germany and the oppression of black people in the U.S.A., public opinion can run counter to democracy. A basic principle of democracy is seeking to ensure the protection of the rights of minorities, as well as the majority, and that includes the rights of the pre-born child and the comatose elderly patient.

Many factors limit the value of the public’s opinion: lack of information or, worse, misinformation on the issues; self-interest (‘I don’t really approve of abortion, but keep it legal in case I or my daughter want on’); manipulation by the anti-life media in journalism, television, and films about hard-case stories; and the unreliability of opinion polls.

Parliament has the duty to formulate laws, which are based on fundamental principles, and which guarantee life, liberty and justice for all. The Family Law Council of Australia (1985) stated: “Governments have a primary responsibility to lead and not just to follow, to educate and inform and not just follow public polls or collect the opinions of the man in the street.

In my day in school we did not learn about such scientific terms as gamete, genes and chromosomes. We read these in pro-life articles. What exactly do they mean? O.J., St. Catharines, Ontario

A gamete is a reproductive cell. The male cell is a sperm; the female is an ovum. The penetration of the wall of an ovum (egg) by a sperm resulting in a new human being is called fertilization or conception.

A chromosome is a threadlike structure in the nucleus of the cell (ovum or sperm) along which the genes are arranged.

Genes are the units of heredity and they contain the information, which determine the development of an individual: the color of hair, skin and eyes; body shape and size; susceptibility to certain diseases, to name a few.

The normal human body cell has 46 chromosomes, half of which come from the sperm of the father, and the other 23 from the ovum of the mother. An exception occurs in Down’s Syndrome, where a person has an extra chromosome.

My M.P. claims he is really pro-life, but he must vote pro-abortion because he represents more pro-abortionists. J.S., Toronto, Ontario

He is wrong. His stand is not in keeping with the traditions of parliamentary democracy. The famous statesman, Edmund Burke, once told his electors; “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

That, of course, was said by a statesman and a scholar. But a politician could learn.