The Unborn, the Elderly and the ‘Throwaway Culture’ (Part I)

January 5, 2014

We have begun a new year. This is a time for us to look back and reflect, as well as a time to look forward and wonder.

One of the responsibilities we are called to regularly reflect on and wonder concerns our protection of the vulnerable of our world. This month marks the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade; thus, it is fitting that as Catholics and Christians we keep ourselves informed on this important social justice issue. Recently I came across a great article by Russell Shaw that I would like to share with you over the next few bulletins. Mr. Shaw is a former Secretary for Public Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a renowned writer and journalist. Regardless of your views on the pro-life issue, I encourage you to open your minds and hearts to Mr. Shaw’s update.

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Update: Human Life

The unborn, the elderly and the ‘throwaway culture’

Embedded at the very heart of the secular humanist program for abortion and euthanasia lies an anthropology — a vision of the human person and the meaning of human life. It is powerfully expressed in two famous works of fiction by Catholic authors.

One of them is Robert Hugh Benson’s century old apocalyptic novel Lord of the World. Near the end of the story an idealistic and naïve young woman, disillusioned by the discovery that behind the benevolent mask of her profoundly secularized society lies a cruel and brutal reality, decides to end her life in one of the “Homes” established to provide this terminal service. She chooses one in England in preference to the continent of Europe for fear that continental euthanasia facilities may be practicing human vivisection on their clients. “There,” Benson writes, “where sentiment was weaker, and logic more imperious, materialism was more consistent. Since men were but animals — the conclusion was inevitable.”

Only Higher Animals

The other book is Evelyn Waugh’s caustic 1948 satire of American funeral customs, The Loved One. Disappointed in love, a young female mortuary technician commits suicide. Her erstwhile suitor, a cynical Englishman who works at a pet cemetery, arranges for the disposal of her remains in its crematorium. And why not? The message of Waugh’s grim tale is the same as Benson’s: if materialism has it right, human beings are only higher animals, and can be treated as their slightly lower cousins are.

A radically different anthropology underlies these words of Pope Francis: “Every unborn child, baby feet smcondemned unjustly to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who before being born, and then when he was just born, experienced the rejection of the world. And every elderly person, even if he is sick or at the end of his days, bears in himself the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded. The Pope’s stinging critique of today’s “throwaway culture” was contained in a message last September 20th to members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations. It came at a particularly timely moment, just after the release of his now-famous interview with several Jesuit journals. Some readers took his comments there, cautioning against placing near-exclusive emphasis on the Church’s teaching on the life issues, as signaling a retreat from those concerns. Not so. “The first right of the human person is his life,” the Holy Father told the Catholic doctors.

[Click here for Part II of Russell Shaw’s update.]