I’ve lately been an infrequent and rather unwelcome commentator on a web page called The Imperial Academy, which is run by academics on the left. It is supposed to be dedicated to the sharing of knowledge, but is actually dedicated to the usual daily political jitters. I’m not sure how I got enrolled, unless it was the doing of a very fine young conservative, a friend of my friend the excellent Robert P. George. Call it a minor ministry, my attempts to speak modest portions of truth to a mostly atheist and secular congregation.
I’d like to discuss here one thing I have noticed. It didn’t surprise me to find that Imperial Academy members have little respect for religious faith. What does surprise me is the open hostility and contempt, unrelieved by any effort to understand what we believe and why, and how we must act on our faith, or at least refrain from acting against it.
The issue the other day was abortion, and the members expressed the opinion that if you do not want to perform an abortion, you should not enter a field that would require it. In other words, if you don’t want to perform an abortion, stay out of medicine. Roman Catholics, Irish or otherwise, need not apply.
Eventually in such arguments, someone plays a card he believes to be the ace of trumps: the Jehovah’s Witness card. “Then I suppose,” he says, “that you would agree to have a Jehovah’s Witness be a surgeon or a hematologist,” which of course no Jehovah’s Witness would be, since the actions involve blood transfusion as a regular and necessary component of the job. So there!
It’s not the ace of trumps. Maybe a king in an off suit, proudly strutting on the table, about to lose the trick. Here’s why.
We Catholics do not appeal to Scripture to dictate to us the specifics of medical practice. We appeal in a general sense to the nature of things themselves, and to right reason. The medical by definition remediates. If you have a fever, the medical restores your body to normal temperature. If you have an infection, the medical clears it up and restores your body to healthy order. If you have a broken limb, the medical fixes it. If you are vulnerable to an easily communicable disease, the medical provides you with protection. If an organ is not working properly, the medical heals it. If the body can be saved only by the removal of a diseased organ or limb, the medical does in effect just what the body itself does in its autoimmune reactions.
Notice I have not appealed to anything extrinsic to medicine and the body. The Jehovah’s Witness does make that appeal, because there is nothing in the nature of blood to suggest that one man’s hemoglobin cannot or should not be used by another, no more than one man’s breath cannot or should not be used by another in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
But Belial’s Witness in such matters as abortion, sterilization, and sexual mutilation does make an extrinsic appeal. It is not to a warped reading of Scripture. It is to a warped view of the role of the individual will, or to political expediency, or to world demographics. In other words, Belial’s Witness has left the realm of medicine behind.
For there is nothing wrong with the child in the womb. That is just a fact. Nor, evidently, was there anything wrong with the reproductive systems of the child’s parents. They were, evidently, in good working order. Abortion does not restore health to a diseased limb or organ, it does not shield against a communicable disease, it does not cure, it does not save someone in danger of death.
Abortion does not remediate. It is therefore not medicine, even though it involves work upon and in a body, no more than lopping off a healthy limb is medicine.
The liberal will counter with the problem of the Jehovah’s Witness parents who try to prevent their child from receiving blood from a donor. Yet this too counts against the liberal, for two reasons. The first is that it is one thing, in order to save a life, to perform an action, which a third party believes, is morally impermissible. It is another thing to compel the conscience of the third party. The liberals wish not only to permit abortion, but to compel all medical professionals to participate in it. That would be like compelling a Quaker to bear arms in time of war. What is the reason for it? What kind of mind would desire to do that?
But the liberal has missed another terrible point of conjunction between himself and the Jehovah’s Witness. It is simply this: in both cases, we have a dead child. Both Belial’s Witness and Jehovah’s Witness define medicine by something extra-medical, and both Belial’s Witness and Jehovah’s Witness end up with the death of an innocent child.
If there is any distinction to be made between them, it is all in favor of the Jehovah’s Witness. After all, he is subject to an unfortunate theology, but he does not want his child to die. Belial’s Witness does. Jehovah’s Witness would unnecessarily limit the medical. Belial’s Witness in exceeding the medical undoes the medical. Jehovah’s Witness is afraid to do something that would save life. Belial’s Witness is unafraid to kill. Jehovah’s Witness wants to be left alone. Belial’s Witness will not leave you alone. Jehovah’s Witness does not want to violate his conscience, as mixed up as it may be. Belial’s Witness wants to force you to violate yours.
Jehovah’s Witness is thinking about God – wrongly. Belial’s Witness is thinking about ambition, career, money, and sex. That’s what it amounts to, in the end. Sexual liberation, state compulsion, and dead kids.
One last point. There’s a name for that twentieth-century form of government that would compel Quakers to bear arms. It is called “fascism.”
*Image: Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya, c. 1820 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]