A frame of Reference for Christians Who Disagree
Following are excerpts from my 10 page ethics paper.
Presently, the topic of abortion and embryonic research are highly divisive. In the broader discussion, issues in world view hamper our ability to communicate. Often decisions about women’s rights or politics cloud our ability to think clearly about the beginning of life. Among Christians, assumptions about theological perspectives and biblical exegesis make their way into our judgment haphazardly and with little reflection, but once adopted are nearly impossible to dislodge. What I would like to do is offer a way forward for those who may disagree about the legality of abortion, the ethics of it, and the ways the discussion should be framed, but who agree on some broad principles. Those who can in any small way agree with my apriori assumptions, I hope will find the following template useful.
Some of the quotes I made use of:
Stevens, Supreme Court Justice
The State’s interests in the protection of an embryo – even if that interest is defined as “protecting those who will be citizens” – increases progressively and dramatically as the organisms capacity to feel pain, to experience pleasure, to survive and to react to its surroundings increases day by day. The development of a fetus -- and pregnancy itself -- are not static conditions, and the assertion that the government's interest is static simply ignores this reality.1
It is apparent then that the main dispute in the abortion debate does not involve different values, but disagreement about both the application of these values and the truth of certain facts. The abortion rights advocate does not deny that human beings have a fundamental right to life. He just believes that this right to life does not extend to the unborn...and their existence demands that another is asked to make significant non-obligatory sacrifices. The pro-life advocate does not deny that human persons have the liberty to make choices… He believes this liberty does not entail the right to choose abortion since such a choice conflicts with the life, liberty and interests of another.2
Both full-personhood and potential-personhood views---and a variety of options that exist along a spectrum between them---demand that Christian disciples practice the welcoming and nurturing of human life. Likewise, a just society extends its respect and protection to the un-born, developing in complete vulnerability in their mothers’ womb. The fetus is certainly a form of life; it is a form of human life; it is (at least) developing into a human person. The burden of proof is certainly on anyone who would intervene it its life in order to destroy it. (italics mine)3
In our present state, the guardian has all the power. It is ultimately him or her that will make the decision regardless of what we say here. By putting the burden of proof on the guardian, I think I have better balanced the equation. It is not up to the being that has no voice, to prove their value or their worth. These things are inherent in their being. Having balanced the equation by putting the burden of proof for the destruction of fetal life on the guardian, I think we must be careful not to overbalance the equation, putting men and women in a place where they feel as if they can not make any decisions for fear of committing a grave and horrendous sin that no one would understand. We live in a sinful world. One in which we cannot depend too heavily on textbook ethics or theology to make our decisions for us in advance, nor on how we ‘feel’ at the moment, as if we lived in a vacuum. We must make our decisions prayerfully before an awesome God, weighing all factors.
I believe I have out lined a way for us to discuss our differences. I also hope that I have given us a template to lay over our real world decision making. By keeping this template in mind, we will all be able to make wiser, more ethical decisions, and we will be able to discuss our differences from a mutual frame of reference.
Though we do not agree on how one is to weigh the various competing rights, by keeping the interest’s of all relevant parties in mind, not just one side or another, we will live more graceful and peaceful lives.
1. Thornburgh, p. 778
2. Beckwith, p. 27
3. Stassen, p. 224
Baird, Robert M., and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, Ed. The Ethics of Abortion. Rev.. Buffalo NY: Prometheus Books,
Beckwith, Francis J. Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments For Abortion Rights. Grand Rapids MI:
Baker Books, 1993.
O'Rourke, Kevin D., and Philip Boyle. Medical Ethics: Sources of Catholic Teaching. 3rd ed. Washington D.C.:
Georgetown University Press, 1999.
Stassen, Glen H., and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers
Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, 476 U.S. 747 (1986)