The recent deaths of Terri Schiavo and of Pope John Paul II have brought into focus once again the debate over human life; when does it begin, and when should it end? It is a very difficult and complex subject and one that requires a thorough look into the soul of mankind. What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Does God exist?
These are all deeply personal questions and one that we each must answer not only for ourselves, but also for society as a whole. On the one hand, we want to reserve unto ourselves the right to make such decisions, at least when our own lives hinge upon the outcome. The Schiavo case makes that clear. On the other hand, we must together as a society arrive at consensus on these questions, especially as it relates to questions of capital punishment and abortion.
Abortion is perhaps the most important of these questions. In deciding the Roe v. Wade case, the US Supreme Court essentially held that there is an implied right to privacy in the US Constitution, and that the right of a woman to decide whether to abort her child is hers, and hers alone. However, those opposed to abortion the murder of an innocent baby. They believe that society has an obligation to protect that baby’s life while in the womb just as society would protect it after birth. Fortunately, almost everyone on both sides of the debate believe that abortion is should be a last resort.
The interesting thing about the Roe v. Wade decision is that if it is ever reversed, it would not make abortion illegal; it would simply return to the states the power to regulate, ban, or allow abortion. Some states would ban it altogether, while some would allow it.
As a libertarian-leaning Republican, I support the right of a woman to choose whether to abort a pregnancy. Since medical science has given us safe abortion procedures (for the mother), then the question becomes ‘who shall make the choice’? Shall it be the state, or the individual? That we have a choice is not in question. Science has given us the choice. The only relevant question is ‘who makes the choice’. The libertarian in me makes that an easy answer.
However, if the unborn is considered a person, as it is by those opposed to abortion, should not society step in to protect that person? If the unborn are, indeed, people with the same rights as those us outside the womb, then shouldn’t ALL abortions be banned, including those “cases of rape or incest” that many opposed to abortion cite as exceptions to abortion bans?
In the case of capital punishment, the question society must answer is whether to apply the death penalty to those among us who have been convicted of capital crimes. Does a society have the right to protect itself from these violent criminals? I think everyone would answer yes to that question, but do we also have the right to administer the death penalty? Nationwide polls consistently have shown that the American people support the death penalty for capital crimes. In fact, given the tragic Jessica Lunsford case, I believe that many Americans would support expanding the death penalty to include those convicted molesting children.
It is strangely ironic that those who typically support abortion rights usually also oppose war and capital punishment, and that those who are typically opposed to abortion also usually support capital punishment and war. To put it another way, there are people who believe it’s OK to kill unborn children, but wrong to kill murderers or our enemies in war. And there are people who believe it is wrong to kill unborn children, but OK to kill murderers and wartime enemies.
Another way to look at it, however, would be to say that most people agree that killing human beings under certain circumstances is OK, we just don’t agree on the circumstances in which killing is acceptable.
The 6th Commandment from the Bible’s Old Testament is most commonly translated as “Thou Shall Not Kill”, but many Biblical scholars say the correct translation should be, “Thou Shall Not Commit Murder”, based on the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Ratsach”. Given this translation, I believe that murder, especially premeditated murder is prohibited, but that capital punishment, killing in war, and other selected circumstances it is acceptable.
So the debate clearly comes down to one of morality, and more specifically who’s morality. Who gets to decide? Since we all live in society with one another, then we must come to concensus as a society on many of these questions. We might not all agree with the decisions, but we must, as a society be able to support the decision.
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