The credo of the culture of death

“I’m in agreement with Deval Patrick on being pro-choice and protecting stem-cell research...” Perhaps you’ve heard that opening line from one of Kerry Healey’s radio spots and found it disturbing.

What’s puzzling is that these issues make no practical difference for the governor of Massachusetts. The U.S. Supreme Court has imposed on us abortion on demand, in all nine months of pregnancy, and state governments are powerless to oppose it. And no one is even remotely trying to criminalize embryonic stem-cell research. (Some people think that President Bush banned it. He didn’t: he simply banned the use of Federal funds to pay for it.)

Why, then, does Healey lead off her advertisement in this way, if it has no practical point?

Of course, there is an obvious political strategy. She wants to distance herself from Romney, who says he is pro-life and against research on human embryos. She probably also wants to distance herself from the Bush administration, and those annoying red-state “fundamentalist Christians” and “neo-cons.” But it’s disturbing that she calculates, correctly, that her profession is the best way to accomplish this in Massachusetts.

The right way to view her statement, I think, is not as a policy platform at all, but rather as something like a profession of belief. It is a credo for the Culture of Death. “I believe in abortion. I believe in killing human embryos for research. I believe in the morning- after pill.” You have to profess it around here to be a member in good standing. Deval Patrick is certainly in good standing, and Healey wants to make it clear that she belongs to the same club. It’s a declaration about the kind of person she is, her character and outlook. What matters is the kind of person you show yourself to be.

And what kind of person is that? Cut through all the rhetoric, and what is at issue is killing human beings. We all know that abortion is an act of killing. The “fetus” or offspring of the mother and father has to be killed, to stop it from developing any further and being born. Abortion has no medical purpose; it contributes nothing to the woman’s health (pregnancy is a healthy state). In an abortion a doctor uses medical technique to kill a human being, not for medical reasons, but to advance the interests of others—whether this be the mother’s career, the boyfriend’s freedom, or the doctor’s wallet.

Many times in history we see that one class of human beings has advanced its own interests by preying on the weakness of some other class, using structures of law and power to do so. It’s happening again, here and now: legal abortion is simply the destruction of one class of human beings, to advance the interests of another class —the born oppressing the unborn. And Patrick and Healey are all in favor of it.

Research on embryos, although slightly different in appearance, is substantially the same sort of thing. This time it’s the sacrifice of immature human beings to the twin gods of Science and My Health.

It doesn’t matter for our politicians that adult stem-cell research has shown itself to be fruitful, whereas no important results have come from embryonic stem-cell research. Personally, I wouldn’t want to kill another human being so that I could be cured of a disease or live longer. I suspect you wouldn’t also. Life wouldn’t be worth living at that price. But now our politicians are competing strenuously with each other to see who can insist most vocally that it’s superstitious to place ethical limits on research.

“I’m the sort of person, just like Deval Patrick,” Healey wants to tell us, “who won’t flinch at sacrificing babies if that accomplishes your goals — and mine. Don’t worry that any squishy sentimentalism or devotion to principle will hold me back from doing just as much as Deval Patrick will do for you in these areas. Actually, don’t think too carefully about any of these things. Just elect me and have confidence that I won’t stand in your way.”

A standard technique for a gang of thugs is that new members have to go out and commit some horrible crime—usually a murder—to show that they place nothing higher than the demands of the gang. I wonder if politics in Massachusetts hasn’t become like that. Not that the politicians always commit the horrible acts. But they have to use euphemisms to refer to them, as if these horrible actions weren’t occurring, and then pledge that they’ll do nothing to stop them. Even if it’s not the crime itself, this is a serious form of complicity.

I wonder, too, whether “I’m for abortion. I’m for research that kills human beings.” isn’t meant to function as kind of a “reductio ad absurdum” of morality, so that politicians, after saying such things, presume they are free from any basic requirements of moral seriousness. Imagine a mathematician who begins a lecture saying “2 + 2 = 5.” From that point on, anything follows. If you buy that, you’ll buy anything else.

Set down, as a fundamental premise, that mothers have a basic right to do away with their own offspring, and who knows but that it follows that two men can marry each other, or two women, or that a child can have two fathers or two mothers—or any other manner of absurdity.

Michael Pakaluk, a professor of philosophy at Clark University, lives in Cambridge, Mass.