On the need for a global “culture of life”

This past summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern in Rome at the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican’s bioethics advisory committee.  While I was exposed to countless unique experiences that working for the Vatican and living in Rome offered, none had a more profound impact than what I learned about the necessity of living out a culture of life.  

The summer of 2017 featured a number of international cases, some of which I worked on at the Pontifical Academy, that highlighted the widespread lack of respect for a culture of life—what Saint John Paul II termed “the culture of death”—around the globe.  But these tragic incidents also provide material for Catholics to reflect upon as they consider how to best move forward and promote a culture of life and love.

Pope Francis has long critiqued what he calls the “throwaway culture” of the world, similar to John Paul II’s term “culture of death”. Both can clearly be seen in today’s world of nuclear threats,countries ravaged by war and cultural imperialism which forces abortion and contraception upon third-world countries. Pope John Paul II’s papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae proposed a new path forward to live out the respect for human dignity and human worth through love for all in the human race. The key word is all. All includes the marginalized, forgotten, and oppressed, an interest which Pope Francis has now made his most prominent focus.

The international Charlie Gard case exploded in the late spring and early summer. Charlie, a British baby with a terminal illness, was ordered to be taken off life support by U.K. courts given that his condition was worsening and there was no hope of improving his life.  Charlie’s parents fought an incredibly publicized legal battle to save his life and try experimental treatment. Sadly, their efforts were to no avail.  While the courts were technically within their rights under U.K. law to determine the “child’s best interests”, their decision was based on their assessment of Charlie’s “quality of life”.  The courts declared his life essentially worthless—Charlie could not move, eat, or breathe on his own and had significant brain damage—and therefore not worth living.  They would not even allow experimental treatment.  Charlie’s “best interests” were simply to die.  What a tragedy, valuing Charlie’s life based on how brain damaged he was, rather than on his intrinsic worth as a human being.

A similar case cropped up in August, when a CBS report announced how Iceland was eliminating Down syndrome.  A more truthful headline would be to say Iceland is eliminating people with Down syndrome—through selective abortion, 99 percent of Icelandic Down’s kids are aborted.  Fearing the difficulties of raising a disabled child, mothers are completely missing the unlimited and unique love that only a disabled child can bring to a family.  “It is a poverty to decide a child must die”, said Saint Teresa of Calcutta, “so that you may live as you wish”, a fitting description of these acts of eugenic killing.

The global culture of death exhibited itself once again during the heated exchange between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump in August over nuclear missile threats. Each threatened the other with nuclear warfare and mass retaliation, something that would inevitably end in the genocide of millions. Self-defense is obviously necessary in the face of a psychotic North Korean tyrant. However, imagine if both countries stopped spending billions of dollars on weaponry and military research, and instead devoted those resources to aiding the poor, welcoming immigrants, serving the elderly and infirm, and promoting universal education and economic development. The number of lives that would be saved and improved is nearly unthinkable.

“Lord, teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of creation and reawaken our gratitude and sense of responsibility,” wrote Pope Francis on Twitter a few days ago. The beauty of creation is nowhere more shiningly obvious than the human person, an entity we have a duty to protect.  For Catholics, living out a culture of life and fighting a culture of death is how we can, and must, act in order to fulfill our identity as those following Christ.

John Paul Ferguson is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, with a minor in Constitutional Studies, and living in Fisher Hall. He misses the pace of life in Italy as well as the food. He can be reached at jfergus8@nd.edu.