Saturday, February 27, 2010

Human Dignity

I like this quote on abortion from Gilbert Meilander's Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person (cited in Jewish Review of Books, Numer 1, Spring 2010):

"[E]ven bracketing entirely more general arguments about abortion—the ready acceptance of abortion of “defective” fetuses (or, now, assisted reproduction procedures in which “defective” embryos are selected against) violates the human dignity we share. It sets aside the fundamental bond of parents and children, inserting choice in the place of love and acceptance, and teaching us thereby that we must justify our continued existence, especially when we constitute a burden to others. That is inhumane in the most precise sense, for it drains moral significance from a relationship which deeply marks our human identity and which makes space in life for a love that need not be earned."

Note Meilander's reasoning: If we are a burden to others, we must justify our existence. Thus, this kind of "love" is something we must earn. That is precisely not the kind of love Jesus came to demonstrate. The earning of love on the basis of one's talents, abilities, situatedness, productivity, potential, and beauty is anti-Christ "love," the kind of thing Jesus came to overcome and defeat. Perhaps such "love" is better understood as hatred; i.e., a revulsion at having to live any part of one's life with another who is a burden.

Regarding Meilander's quote, Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva university comments: "The fact that many traditional rabbinic authorities would permit abortion of severely deformed fetuses does not diminish the profundity of this insight. There is a world of difference between the tragic recognition that parents may be unable to bear a burden, on the one hand, and the belief that such a fetus may be deemed unwanted and thus disposable, on the other."

Meilander's book has received some very positive reviews.