Valuing and Devaluing Human Life

God alone has the right to bestow life, and God alone has the right to take it away.

Francis Montague Holl, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life”, 1872
Francis Montague Holl, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life”, 1872 (photo: Public Domain)

Before I get to the crux of this editorial, allow me to give a little background.

For a too brief year and a half—before circumstances compelled my return to Pennsylvania—I had the joy of serving as the Communications director for the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California.

Like many “flacks,” my duties varied. My main responsibility, however, was editing North Coast Catholic, the diocesan newspaper.

One of the features I instituted was a “This month in history” column. To compile this material, I would travel to the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s archives and scour back issues of The Monitor, the former archdiocesan newspaper. (Santa Rosa had split off from the archdiocese in 1962, and until about 1980, San Francisco’s newspaper doubled as its own.)

While I mostly concentrated on diocese-specific articles, I would occasionally find an unrelated piece so compelling, I recorded it just in case I could someday use it for background information.

Such was the case with an item from the winter of 1971.

I remembered it this past week when I saw a Los Angeles Times article titled, “The latest battlefront in the abortion wars: Some states want to require burial or cremation for fetuses.”

This current piece said pro-life forces want the law to treat the remains of aborted babies just as the remains of, say, a stillborn child would be treated: As human remains, worthy of a dignified burial.

Proponents of the abortion license say rubbish. Since abortion is a surgical procedure, and since (in their thinking) the fetus isn’t a human, the remnants of abortion ought to be treated like the remnants of any other surgical procedure: As medical waste. After all, no one keeps a tumor that’s been removed. Why treat an aborted fetus any differently?

The article begins by noting that many aborted fetuses were buried in an LA cemetery in 1985, and states the remains of these unborn persons “had been found in a metal storage container … of a former medical laboratory owner who had kept them after testing.”

Which returns me to the above background. What the article doesn’t mention is that this was not the first time something like this had happened in the LA area.

As reported by The Monitor, in 1971, bulldozer operator James Huff had been doing his job in a Rolling Hills, CA, garbage dump “when he saw [12] unborn infant bodies beside the track of his machine. They had burst out of plastic bags.”

Sheriffs traced the bodies back to Clinical Laboratories, a company located in Inglewood across the street from a major cemetery.

“They said they were told the human fetuses were disposed of as ‘surgical pathological specimens.’ Other laboratory specimens were also found at the dump.

“Sheriff’s spokesmen said they learned the dumping of the fetuses [which were between two to five months old] was normal disposal procedure.”

Pathology is “the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue.”

So it seems the babies were aborted and transferred to Clinical, whose personnel studied and then discarded them when they had served their purpose.

The article notes then-Archbishop “Timothy Manning of Los Angeles ... petitioned County Coroner Thomas Nogachi [sic] for” the babies’ remains.

“The Archbishop hopes to provide them with proper Christian burial,” the article states. Whether that happened is hard to determine.

Not much has changed in the last 46 years. Babies still get aborted. Their remains still get used for medical research. The detritus of that research still gets tossed like trash. Maybe it is incinerated, but the results end up in the same place: a dump.

More important is what does not happen with them, not in 1971, not in 1985, not today: They do not get a proper, dignified burial. They were shown no dignity while blood coursed through their developing hearts. Once discarded as inconvenient and useless, they get shown no dignity in what happens with their remains.

But as the recent Times article notes, that is beginning to change. Some states have begun to question why these babies shouldn’t be decently laid to rest.

These states have enacted legislation requiring the burial or cremation of children whose lives ended before birth, just like they would have received had they been stillborn or drawn even a single breath. As Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Americans United for Life put it, “A civil society does not throw the bodies of human beings into a landfill.”

Of the five states that have passed these laws, the rules “already have taken effect” in two. The three others are seeing their laws challenged in the courts.

It is easy to see why abortion defenders oppose this legislation.

First, if abortion facilities are responsible for the cremation or burial of over 1 million aborted babies each year, many will close. Yes, the cost will be passed along to customers. Many mothers, however, will be unable to afford the extra cost on top of an already very expensive procedure. That means less revenue for a threatened industry.

Second, if such laws get national traction, it will reinforce that what is growing inside a woman is not an “unviable mass of tissue” but a human person.

This is hugely important. On the eve of Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents were very confident the Supreme Court of the United States would agree with their contention that the unborn child is a person with inalienable rights. They had won battle after battle with this argument and were fully confident it would prevail again. It obviously did not.

We have spent the last 44 years trying to recover that lost ground. Laws requiring burial of fetal remains would go a long way in that respect. You can see why they threaten those invested in keeping abortion legal.

Finally, many supporters of legalized abortion have convinced themselves the fetus is not really a child. Thus the results of abortion are merely “medical waste” and the “tissue from certain medical procedures.” In that case, why would you treat aborted babies differently than you would, say, a tumor?

That is, of course, an argument of moral convenience that holds no philosophical weight.

The unborn human is merely at a particular place on the continuum of life. By nature, it will gestate, emerge through the birth canal into infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, the teen and young adult years, middle and old age, and then natural death. The fact that it hasn’t yet been born means nothing.

Furthermore if the fetus is not a person from the time of its conception, nothing can make it so. “Ensoulment” does not make it so. The ability to think, act, laugh, cry, talk, or even move does not make someone a person.

What bestows “personhood” on someone is merely their being human. Additionally their humanity means they are created in the image and likeness of God. Lest it need saying, He alone has the right to bestow life, and He alone has the right to take it away.

These dead children deserve better than they currently receive. Until we can make their in utero killing illegal, let us resolve to make the burial movement a national one. This year—instead of just doing the March for Life or participating in 40 Days for Life or praying outside an abortion clinic—contact your legislators. Ask them to introduce the model legislation crafted by Americans United for Life so that in all 50 states, we will see the respect of a proper, dignified burial afforded these little ones.

This would be a fitting memorial for the 50 million-plus babies lost over the last 44 years, and a step in the right direction toward restoring the uniform respect for life our nation once had. 

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy