Peter Day. Life is sacred, but ….

The “other” is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort … In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference.  We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!      (Pope Francis)

I had the misfortune recently of watching the Four Corners investigation into live-baiting in the greyhound industry – trainers were filmed using live rabbits, piglets and possums to instil the blood lust in dogs in order to improve their chasing/racing skills.

I imagine there will be – it’s already started – an almighty avalanche of anger directed towards those who pursue cruelty in order to benefit financially – and justifiably so.

Life is sacred – even the lives of rabbits, possums, and piglets.

Similarly, there is an almighty howl of protest concerning the pending executions of drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran – and justifiably so.

Life is sacred – even the lives of drug traffickers.

And, what of those forgotten children in Australian immigration detention centres: again, much angst and chest beating – and justifiably so.

Life is sacred – even the lives of ‘illegals’ and strangers and ‘queue jumpers’.

Perhaps one day the mainstream media and the public might dare to pursue, also with moral courage, the plight of the unborn; tens of thousands of whom disappear without trace each year – I’m especially concerned for those victims of late-term abortions (i.e. 16 weeks and beyond).

Life is sacred – even the lives of the tiny and ‘unseen’.

In regards to the latter, a notoriously emotive and neuralgic issue, it is vital that we do not allow the bullying of religious nutters and moralists to justify a “we cannot afford to go there” approach – to justify shutting down debate.

Indeed, is it not the case that in order to counter this rigid and unattractive polemic, and to ensure I am not seen to be in their camp; we have, as a collective, tended to gravitate towards the more comfortable and acceptable narrative of the so called ‘social progressives’; the one that espouses tolerance and individual freedom; the one that encourages a polite acquiescence – but at what price and at whose expense?

Surely, in a world where whales and rabbits and old trees and heritage buildings are treated as precious, as of significant value – and rightly so, there is room for a mainstream and adult conversation about those other forgotten children.

I am not in any way suggesting yet another unseemly finger-pointing exercise, nor am I advocating criminalisation. Indeed, compassion compels one to want to walk alongside a woman confronting such a choice, even to cry with her.

Further, this issue cannot be reduced to simplistic labelling – i.e.  you’re either pro-abortion or anti-abortion, pro-life or pro-choice – left v right etc. It’s far more complex and layered than that.

What I am advocating is a robust and reasoned, if sometimes heated, public conversation like those we have around those other conservation issues alluded to above.

Perhaps such a conversation might begin with a question: “What does it mean to be human?”

For now, at least, we seem to be mired in more of that globalised indifference which insists upon silence.

Peter Day is a Catholic parish priest in Canberra.


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2 Responses to Peter Day. Life is sacred, but ….

  1. Edward Fido says:

    At last! A reasoned, moderate and yet still passionate article about late term abortions and the sacredness of human life. I believe many women who felt, for whatever reason, the need to have an abortion in later life feel terrible pain at having done so. I would imagine, in many circumstances, the decision is taken as a last resort. Toning down the inflammatory rhetoric and overly disturbing propaganda from the official Church spokespeople and religious based anti-abortion organizations might actually help more women make a different decision. Feminists are not “witches”. I think the Church could learn much from that appalling previous debacle in the treatment of women. Peter Day is to be highly commended. He proves, once again, like Pope Francis, you can be perfectly orthodox whilst being compassionate and understanding. Bravo!

  2. Kieran Tapsell says:

    Yes, life is sacred, and yes, the issue is complex. But the Church distinguishes between human and animal life. No one has any qualms about an abortion or even infanticide for a pet if that is deemed necessary. Likewise, we kill rats, mice, cockroaches and fleas without qualms, and we support the killing of sheep and cows so that we can eat them. We are required to “put down” a suffering animal or risk prosecution for cruelty if we do not. But we cannot assist a terminally ill human being to go out peacefully with an overdose of sedative because that is unethical. The Church’s attitude to life and death issues is, in my opinion, inconsistent. There is an absolute prohibition on the taking of life before birth and during the dying process, but in between those two stages, the Church says that we are free to take life deliberately and intentionally in just wars, self defence and capital punishment. In regard to the latter it has shifted its position a bit by saying that in modern conditions that is no longer necessary. The Church throughout its history has supported and even carried out executions, and still supports it in principle even if it now thinks it is no longer necessary. But it still says that self defence and just wars justify the deliberate taking of human life. This cannot be justified on the basis of Thomas Aquinas’s sophistry of the principle of double effect. When a sniper on the side of the “just” in a just war has a conscripted teenage sentry in his cross wires, he is morally allowed to shoot. To suggest that he really intends fighting a just war and does not intend to kill the sentry is pure sophistry. Nor can this killing be justified on the basis of self defence because the sniper’s life is not in danger. The real ethical basis for the Church’s exceptions to taking human life can only be the principle that when faced with two evils, the lesser should be chosen. And indeed this seems to be the basis upon which it has shifted its position on capital punishment. I have no problem with this principle, and with its application to just wars and self defence, and there are unfortunately times when such killing is necessary. It is a principle that the Church is willing to apply after birth and before the dying process but not before and during the dying process. Human life is human life no matter what stage it is in. I welcome Peter Day’s call for a reasoned debate about this, and particularly about the rational basis for the Church’s position on life and death issues involving human life.

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