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Two Americas: The Culture of Death v. The Culture of Life

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America and Culture of Life Foundation Contributor

April 4, was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To commemorate this notable date in our nation’s history the Washington Post published an interesting op-ed essay by Eugene Robinson contrasting two Black Americas, the one existing in 1968 when King was killed, and the one existing today. His focus was on the economic situation of Black families. He neglected, however, to note that unfortunately 70 percent of Black children under the age of 18 live in a household headed by a single parent, most usually a woman, and that a significant number of such children do not even know who their fathers are (25 percent of White children live in a similar situation).
Socioeconomic studies (e.g. Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences. 2nd ed. New York: Institute of American Values, 2007) show conclusively that children raised in a family headed by a husband and wife and in which the father plays a key role in the education of his children, particularly in their teens, fare far, far better than children headed by a single parent, despite the at times heroic efforts of many single parents to care properly for their offspring.
Remarkably, W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and a major contributor to Why Marriage Matters, in a mind-opening study showed how contemporary evidence from socioeconomic studies, showed the truth of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage (see his “Social Science and the Verification of Catholic Moral Teaching,” The Church, Marriage, & The Family: Proceedings from the 27th Annual Convention of the Fellowship of  Catholic Scholars, ed. Kenneth Whitehead, South Bend: St. Augustine’s  Press, 2007).
Single parent families were rare in 1968 but not today. What, in addition to the sexual revolution and widespread acceptance of contraception (which is gravely immoral precisely because it is an anti-life kind of act), has brought this tragedy about?
The short answer is the acceptance of abortion as a way of life. The more intelligent of those who defend abortion recognize that the entity killed in abortion is indeed a human being, a member of the human species. But they deny that human embryos and fetuses are persons. Their champions (Peter Singer and many others) claim that membership in the human species has no moral significance.
That this is so is dramatically revealed in current debates over human embryonic stem cell research. Those championing killing human embryos to obtain their pluripotent stem cells frankly acknowledge that the entities they are willing to destroy are human embryos, i.e., living human beings. Were they to propose killing embryonic dolphins or pandas or chimpanzees,  moral outrage would greet them and PETA and other animal rights’ groups would immediately condemn such a barbaric proposal.
Today, scientists have discovered several ways of obtaining pluripotent stem cells from sources other the living human embryos who must be killed to get them, e.g., from adult skin cells, from mice etc. Thus Zenit at http://www.zenit.org/article-21058?l=english [1] published an interview with Father Thomas Berg, L.C., discussing two studies released in November 2007 showing that pluripotent stem cells can be generated by “reprogramming” adult skin cells that produce induced pluripotent state cells (iPSCs) having the properties of human embryonic stem cells.
Despite such discoveries, enthusiasts for human embryonic stem cell research still clamor for the right to kill human embryos for their stem cells and are unfortunately gaining more and more public support for public funding of such research, with several states (e.g. California) already offering such support and Congress certain to authorize such funding if either Obama and Clinton, ardent champions of abortion, should be elected. Obama, in fact, just a week ago in a talk to Planned Parenthood spoke of a baby as “punishment.” Such is the culture of death.
This culture, I am convinced, is rooted in the dualism that divides the human person from his or her body, regarding the latter as a “privileged” instrument of the person. This dualism looks on the person as a conscious subject aware of itself as a self and capable of relating to other selves. On this view lack of cognitive abilities in even some rudimentary form means that the entity in question is not a person. This claim, as John Paul II stated in no,. 19 of Evangelium vitae, is one of the roots of the culture of death. A superb critique of this dualism, rampant in our culture and at the heart of the culture of death, has just been made by Robert George and Patrick Lee in their magnificent study, Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
A major slogan of the Culture of Death is “no unwanted baby ought to be born,” and the way to avoid this tragedy is to make use of contraception and, should this fail, abortion. The truth at the heart of the Culture of Life is “no person ought to be unwanted, i.e., unloved.”