instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The fundamental right

The primary purpose of thtat last paragraph of Evangelium Vitae 73 is, I think, to confirm what traditional moral reasoning would conclude: the objective moral character of voting for a law "aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions," "when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law," derives from the evil it limits rather than the evil it allows.

In other words, it rejects interpreting the encyclical's teaching that "[l]aws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are ... radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good" in a rigorist way. Voting for a law that restricts an existing abortion law but does not completely abrogate it is not necessarily immoral.

Note, though, that rejecting rigorism in a certain matter does not imply accepting laxism.

But note also that this paragraph discusses the application of principles to specific circumstances. Among the principles is this: "[C]ivil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being."

The first and fundamental right belonging to the person is the right to life. Abortion, murder, and euthanasia are all offenses against this same fundamental right to life. There is no innate "right to be born" distinct from an innate "right to remain alive after birth" or "right to remain alive while dying;" it's the same right to life whether the person has been born or not, whether he is healthy or not.

In terms of civil law, then, we must avoid the trap of saying every innocent human being has an inviolable right to life, but some innocent human beings' right to life is more inviolable than others.

And I think this is a trap people do fall into. You need to be very careful, for example, when you say, "Abortion is categorically evil, but the death penalty is a matter of prudential judgment." Yes, the death penalty is a matter of prudential judgment, but if you judge a particular capital punishment law violates the right to life of innocent human beings, you cannot say, "Oh well, that's just my judgment, and my judgment might be wrong, so I can still vote for the law."

Moreover, you can't say, "The death penalty is a matter of prudential judgment, so I don't need to determine whether a particular law under which capital punishment is legal violates the right to life of innocent human beings before I vote for it."

Finally, you can't simply say, "Evangelium Vitae says I can vote for a law aimed at restricting abortions in place of a more permissive law, so I can vote for any candidate who would restrict abortions in place of a more permissive candidate." That he would restrict abortions does not by itself ensure voting for a particular candidate is objectively moral.