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Human Beings Are Not Things

Saturday Book Pick: Father Spitzer lays out a guide to a pro-life society.


| Posted 3/3/12 at 3:30 AM


It is hard to believe that abortion would have been legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1973 if Father Spitzer had been around to argue the pro-life position before the high court.
Roe v. Wade, the court case that legalized abortion, could well be known as the case that protected human life in the womb, and not the opposite, if the content of Spitzer’s well-written book had been cogently presented to the justices.
Back in 1973, though, Father Spitzer was a young man just beginning his long trek through Jesuit formation. That process culminated in his receiving a doctorate in philosophy. He has spent the years since teaching, writing, speaking and thinking about the principles that should undergird the pro-life movement.
This book is a distillation of that process and one which takes particular aim at the erroneous thinking underlying legal abortion in America, as outlined in Roe v. Wade.
Father Spitzer calls the book a pro-life “curriculum,” and it is not hard to imagine the book being a useful tool in the hands of legislators, justices, governors and presidents, as well as those on the front lines of the pro-life movement.
Father Spitzer presents 10 principles drawn from three subsets of philosophical study: reasoning, ethics and justice/natural rights. He then juxtaposes their proper interpretation with their wrong application or complete omission in Roe v. Wade. The 10 principles are:

1. Complete explanation
2. Non-contradiction
3. Objective evidence
4. Doing no harm
5. Consistent ends and means
6. Full human potential
7 & 8. Natural rights and the fundamentality of those rights
9. Limits to freedom
10. Beneficence

Father Spitzer argues that these principles, which rational human beings all agree upon, should form the basis for a new evaluation of the question of legalized abortion that will result in a decision that protects innocent human life in the mother’s womb. He concludes:

This reasoning of the majority is logically fallacious (violating Principles 1-3), completely ignores the natural rights of prenatal human beings (violating Principle 7), does not assess human life according to its full potential (violating Principle 6), and, as a consequence, sanctions a serious violation of the principle of non-maleficence (Principle 4, the bedrock of all ethics). In short, it abrogates just about every principle of humanness and civility and cannot be considered anything better than a disaster in the history of civilization.

The chapter on justice and natural rights is the longest and offers a masterful comparison of the 20th-century pro-life movement with the 19th-century anti-slavery movement in the United States, and, in doing so, offers hope that Supreme Court decisions can be overturned.
The book is not a legal brief or a philosophy text book, though, but more of a humane and quite personal summons to all in the pro-life movement to truly educate and form themselves as intelligent persons who can defend their position in the public square. When these 10 principles are not properly employed or ignored, the result is frequently a dehumanized culture where humans are viewed as things and not people, according to Spitzer:

If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification.”

It’s not a book to bring to the beach or to peruse before bed. It would be a terrific study guide, however, for small groups willing to do the hard thinking and communicating that will help bring about a culture of life where human persons, especially the unborn, are never treated as things.

Register correspondent Father Matthew Gamber writes from Chicago.


A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues

By Father Robert J. Spitzer, SJ, Ph.D.

Ignatius, 2011

155 pages, $16.95

To order: Ignatius Press

(800) 651-1531