The Magazine

Life vs. Death

The religion of the 'Right to Choose.'

Jul 3, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 40 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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He does, however, identify the right question to ask about this and other comparable issues: Does human life have intrinsic value simply because it is human? Answering in the affirmative is crucial to achieving universal human rights. Otherwise, who matters more and who matters less--who lives and who dies--depends on who has the power to decide. Moreover, Ponnuru demonstrates that the wrong answer is the key that opens the door to various killing practices beyond abortion. These include euthanasia, treating nascent and cognitively disabled humans as mere natural resources (embryonic stem cell research, cloned fetal farming, organ harvesting from patients in a persistent vegetative state, etc.), and resurrecting eugenics policies that would not only wipe out people with Down Syndrome, which is already happening, but also potentially lead to genetic engineering aimed at creating a "post-human" race of superbeings.

Ponnuru shows that the national Democratic party is either enthusiastically supportive of these other agendas, or at least more likely to be friendly to them. Indeed, while embryonic stem cell research divides Republicans, supporting embryonic stem cell research and human therapeutic cloning are now almost as much a litmus test for national Democrats as is supporting abortion. Ponnuru illustrates this point by ridiculing Ron Reagan's hyping of the curative potential of human cloning in his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. He also names some Republican supporters of cloning and embryonic stem cell research as adjunct members of the party of death. Anti-abortion senator Orrin Hatch of Utah apparently believes that the location of an embryo determines whether it is human, while Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, who once said that he would never support creating embryos for research, now supports therapeutic cloning that would do just that.

Democrats are also more likely to support legalizing assisted suicide, although it must be said that the great sorting-out between the parties on this issue is not nearly as sharp as it was with abortion. Perhaps this is because one of the Democrats' primary constituencies is the disability rights movement, which also happens to implacably oppose assisted suicide.

Ponnuru closes by ruminating on the potential political impact of the demise of Roe v. Wade. While some believe it would hurt the Republican party, he is not so sure: In the end, he hopes, allowing the people actually to decide the extent to which abortion should be legal may eventually result in the demise of the cultural party of death:

If abortion had not become the law of the land, we might not now be debating euthanasia or the killing of human embryos for research purposes. The same process might work in reverse. The more we reject abortion, the more we might come to reject other choices for death, too. . . . Most Americans already know that abortion is wrong. If Roe falls--when it falls--pro lifers will be able to demonstrate another truth about abortion: We can live without it.

Agree or disagree with Ramesh Ponnuru's measured, yet passionate, defense of the pro-life cause, The Party of Death is a book worthy of being read and pondered.

Wesley J. Smith is the author, most recently, of a revised and updated Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die.