We live in a “throw away” civilization. Obsolescence is built into electric light bulbs, automobiles and washers, so they will be thrown away in a few years and a new one bought. Throw-away bottles, throw-away napkins, throw-away cans have produced our ecological problem of the pollution of land, air and sea. NOW there is danger that there may be thrown-away cells, throw-away tissue and throw-away fetuses, creating the greater problem of a moral pollution. Could it be that we live in the Peril of Over-kill?
When life first came to earth, Cain used the first Over-kill to attain it with his brother’s blood. Abel was “disposable life”. When Divine Life came to the world, He, too, was treated as “disposable life”.
The sacredness of life has nothing whatever to do with when life begins; it depends on who produced it. The time element has little to do with the value of life, otherwise, there could be fixed an age-limit for living. Life is sacred because it is produced by humans; tadpoles beget tadpoles, elephants generate elephants, humans beget humans. Life is sacred in itself: its value is not relative, i.e., not whether it is useful or non-useful to any other person or thing.
What other tests could possibly be applied to show that an insane man was human, that a sleeping woman is human, that a narcotic victim is human or an alcoholic? In none of these cases is there rational thought or action. But we know these are human because they came from the conjunctions of humans and had human potentiality. To say the human embryo is non-human, opens the door for Nazis to say Jews are not human, for the mugger who needs money for his “fix” to say the pedestrian is not human.
The assault on life is all the more demonic because it so often operates in the dark – the darkness of the womb. As long as there are no witnesses except willing cooperators, it claims that moral immunity of other crimes that are done in the dead of night.
But it may be objected that the embryo has a right to be destroyed because there is a chance that it may be defective. This assumes that life is relative to its quality. As Dr. John Noonan says: “Ask any person who is crippled or blinded or deaf: would you rather have not been born? How few would answer that they preferred nonexistence to the present hardship”. And if defects are a basis for the destruction of life, it is well to be remembered that for the first three centuries, Christians were “defective” in the eyes of the Roman law; the Jews had “defective traits” in the eyes of Hitler; property owners had a “defective trait” in the eyes of the Communists. We must also be careful if we give to mothers the right to destroy a child because it may have “defective traits”, that someday a child may claim the right to destroy the mother because she has the “defective trait” of poverty or senility.
In ancient Rome, there was a potestas patria or the right of the father to dispose of a child. In our modern day, there is the potesta matria or the right of the mother to dispose of a child. In between pagan Rome and pagan today there was, and still is, a group of God-loving people who will protect those who are incapable of independent existence because they sense in their own frailty the mercy of God and, therefore, resolve to extend it to others.
– Fulton J. Sheen: Bishop Sheen Writes, The Lewistown Daily Sun, January 25, 1975.