The “Society of the Strong” and the Fight for Human Dignity



Sometimes I feel that we live in an unthinkable world.

As the president of Notre Dame Right to Life, I spend a lot of my time thinking and praying about some of the most divisive and difficult social issues of our time. Just a year ago, I spent a semester and summer studying end-of-life healthcare practices in Europe, the most frightening bit being that in some countries, euthanasia and assisted suicide are routinely used to eliminate the poor, elderly, those struggling with mental illness, and the disabled.

Last week, America magazine published a fantastic article on the topic, and my heart broke all over again. The author studied many of the same phenomena, such as Denmark’s quest to eliminate Down Syndrome through prenatal testing and abortion by 2030. It brought back to the front of my mind the reality that Belgium recently extended its assisted suicide law to include children, and infants with disabilities are routinely euthanized in the Netherlands by means of the Groningen Protocol. The Pontifical Academy for Life’s Msgr. Elio Sgreccia directly condemned these euthanasia laws in 2004, stating that in the western world’s trend toward utilitarian ethics, “we are dominated by the society of the strong and the healthy and by the logic of the primacy of the economy.”

If we are being honest with ourselves, even if Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium are pretty forthright about how they feel about the dignity of these vulnerable persons, we aren’t far off. Monsignor Sgreccia’s statement could well be made about the United States, where around 90 percent of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome choose abortion, and assisted suicide has been legalized in several states. In a country that continually disposes of those who are inconvenient, a society that repeatedly denies the personhood of entire groups of vulnerable people, we are quite justly defined as Msgr. Sgreccia suggested.

Those of us who work in the pro-life movement understand that the main issue regarding abortion is not necessarily the women who seek them but the industry that provides them and the culture that justifies them. Fear due to lack of resources, the possibility or reality of financial instability, the risk to her career and livelihood, and the perceived burden are real challenges for a new mother to overcome, especially when she is constantly told that she is incapable of caring for the life inside of her.

Outside of our society’s collective responsibility to provide resources, health care, and support for women facing unplanned pregnancies, we as a country face several moral questions for the justification of abortion’s place in our world. Is the lack of resources, fear, or inconvenience an excuse not to care for an unborn life? Can we consider these lives outside of our responsibility because the situation is complicated or scary? Are we right to define these lives by the risk they pose to our current lifestyles or the burden they may place on our time and resources? Can we deny that these lives are gifts to the world?

I guess what it all comes down to is one question: is dependency a measure of worth?

I, alongside the Church, say no. Dependency, wantedness, risk, burden, cost—none of these are able indicators for the dignity of human life. And this is at the heart of why we, as pro-life peoples, must follow Pope Francis’ call to care for the refugees in our world today.

At the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace held in Rome earlier this February, Pope Francis preached that our duty of solidarity “is born precisely from the capacity to understand the needs of our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and to take responsibility for these needs.” This same truth that has broken my heart over and over again as I studied the loss of life due to abortion and euthanasia is present here in this current, global refugee crisis.

We, as a country, have some important moral questions to ask ourselves regarding our responsibility to care for these vulnerable peoples. We as individuals are all called to care for the vulnerable in different ways, and none of us can carry the weight of the dignity of man on our own shoulders alone. But we as the United States of America cannot deny our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether or not they are our brothers and sisters by creed, no matter the burden, the risk, the fear, the insecurity, or the dependent nature of the people in question. I share Pope Francis’ hope that “the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”

So let me ask these important moral questions to you again: is the lack of resources, fear, or inconvenience an excuse not to care for the refugees in our world today? Can we consider these lives outside of our responsibility because the situation is complicated or scary? Are we right to define these lives by the risk they pose to our current lifestyles or the burden they may place on our time and resources? Can we deny that these lives are gifts to the world?

Are we willing to use dependency as a measure of worth?

Aly Cox is a senior living off campus majoring in Biological Sciences and Theology and minoring in Catholic Social Tradition. She is currently a Sorin Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture. She hopes to attend law school and work in the field of human dignity issues. Contact her at acox8@nd.edu.

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