Sanctity of Life, Pro-Life and Capital Punishment

If someone you loved was assaulted and murdered, wouldn’t you demand justice?

Wouldn’t you want to protect your family, friends and others from such a brutal event ever happening again?

Wouldn’t you want the murderer permanently removed from society?

To ensure a murderer never kills again, wouldn’t the surest and quickest way be to end the murderer’s life?

Throughout history, many cultures have supported the “eye for an eye” justice system, whereby an offender is granted an equal punishment to match their wrong-doing. In the case of killing another person, this often meant death.

Surprisingly, most pro-life organizations do not take a position on the death penalty. While sanctity of life is often discussed in those circles, the tendency is to focus on right to life for unborn babies, the elderly or the infirmed. This may be for several reasons.

  1. The notion that life is sacred and worth protecting is an easier pitch when showing pictures of cooing babies or regal elderly than it is to argue a convicted serial murderer’s life has intrinsic value and should be spared.
  2. To be most effective, many organizations targeting cultural change opt to pick a single goal and focus on achieving it with laser-fine intensity. The idea is to achieve more with focused effort on a single cause than to thin your efforts over the herculean task of social change using a scattershot approach. In furthering the sanctity of human life movement, pro-life organizations predominately target protecting unborn babies. They do this through a number of activities, including lobbying, traditional marketing, educating and assisting community groups such as churches, pregnancy service centers and student organizations.
  3. Still, why not simply state a position on capital punishment and then let it rest at the sidelines? Why maintain a stance of “no stance” on the death penalty at all? There may be a feeling that addressing capital punishment—even at a surface level—gives the pro-choice opposition more ammunition. Think about it. If you are a pro-abortion leader who is trying to do your part to undermine the pro-life argument, which would you rather bring to your audience’s attention?

    1. The pro-life movement supports the right of the unborn to continue living; a right they say supersedes any desire the mother has to be free of the pregnancy.
    2. Or

    3. The pro-life movement wants to protect the murderer who slaughtered someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father.

Right. Option B would be much harder to defend. In the United States, up until the late 1960’s, people were still being mob-lynched for race, religious beliefs and criminal activity. Other places across the globe are still seeing terminal mob-justice today. For example, following the earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, suspected looters were lynched by angry mobs. In South Africa, drug dealers and gang members have recently been hanged by vigilante groups.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Sanctity of Life and Suicide

When I first heard the term “suicide” as a child, I thought it was one of the coolest sounding words I had heard. The news broadcast that carried the word from the car radio to my young ears that evening was about some girl who had done the deed. I must have been around five years old at the time and I remember using the word with all the lust for dramatic big-bang endings only a five year old boy can have. At that age, I still had no real concept of death.

I was quickly admonished by my mother who illuminated me on the serious and finality of the word “suicide”. We were Catholic, so she began my lesson by giving me the Catholic reasons suicide was wrong. This involved

  • the notion that God gave us life, so it is not within our rights to take it away,
  • a quick mention of Limbo,
    (Note: The ethereal plane no longer exists, apparently. The Catholic church decided it didn’t want to use that as a story anymore because it caused undue stress on new parents, so Pope Benedict XVI did away with it in 2007.)
  • a name-by-name account of all the people who would be sad if I ever died.

Now, it wasn’t until years later–after I would have children of my own–when I would hear about the universal law that all children want to do right. A behavioral psychologist my wife and I worked with told us all children crave the approval of the adults around them. “They just don’t always have the tools or reasoning capabilities to do the right thing,” he said.

Indeed, at the ripe old age of five, my relationship with God (an invisible, all-powerful adult, in my young mind) was only just starting to bud, but my earnest interest in pleasing the adults in my life was operating on overdrive. With my new awareness attained, I categorized suicide as “bad to do” and put any future notions of suicide out of my mind.

It wouldn’t be until many years later when I would finally realize my own reasons for concluding suicide was fundamentally wrong.

Respect.

In the case of suicide, it is better stated as a lack of respect; lack of respect for oneself and a lack of respect for the loved one’s who depend on you, emotionally or materially.

Sanctity of Life and the Hippocratic Oath

Notice how the Hippocratic Oath has changed since inception.

Original Hippocratic Oath, translated into English

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:

To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.

I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.

But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.

I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Modern Hippocratic Oath, most used today

In 1964, Dr. Louis Lasagna, former Principal of the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences and Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, drafted a modernized version of the Hippocratic Oath. Notice the references to abortion have been removed. This is the version of the Hippocratic Oath that is commonly used today.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”, nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Sanctity of Life in the Prolife Movement

Popular in prolife circles, the term “sanctity of life” describes the belief that all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception (even science has proven this is the instant the spark of new life begins) leading until an individual’s natural death.

Unfortunately, there are often other messages that accompany and serve to dilute the prolife delivery of a sanctity of life message. Many times a prolife delivery of a sanctity of life message carries spiritual, political, religious or patriotic undercurrents through its choice of words and imagery. This is fine, so long as the one experiencing the message subscribes to those additional views. The inherent problem is the potential alienation of anyone who stands outside those secondary belief systems.

Introduction

The sanctity of life. It’s a term used to describe a deeply-held reverence for life, often used in regard to human life.

Regardless of a person’s health, age, socioeconomic status, race, creed, political alignment, religion, sex or nationality—regardless of any factors we use to separate ourselves from one another—when a deep inner reverence for human life can be achieved, the realization that all life has intrinsic value must inevitably follow. This manifesto seeks to:

  • Address the concept that all life—herein, human life—is sacred, worth honoring and worth protecting.
  • Analyze the way sanctity of life messages have traditionally been delivered.
  • Discuss and implement ways to expand the idea that all life is sacred until a global awakening is achieved.