To summarize: we individually must come to grips with when life begins, and the value we place on that life. The state (in this sense I use state as the term for institutionalized government, whether it be at the local, regional, national or international level) cannot determine for us when life begins. It may try, but it does so without the moral authority necessary to justify it. This brings us to what I think is a central question.
What is the meaning of life, or what makes life meaningful?
How can you place a value on something if you don’t understand its meaning or its purpose? I suspect this is why so many struggle with the question of abortion and choice and why there is a divide between the traditional religions, non-traditional practices, and the non-religious. Even within the traditional religions we see disagreement over the rights of the woman and the rights of the fetus.
What is the meaning of life is a central question in philosophy and religion. Why are we here? What are we meant to do, or be, or achieve? If I was to even attempt to enter into the philosophical discussion I would move quickly in the academic and perhaps arcane world of people who debate the meaning of words, or as William Jefferson Clinton once said, “it depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is.” I think this link lays out the discussion much better than I could; The Meaning of Life, written by Thaddeus Metz, and included in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He does a very nice job outlining in understandable terms the major principles and underlying basis for definition as well as the weakness in the several major philosophies.
So again we come, as I said in the beginning, to a question with no clear right or wrong answer, at least as far as we humans are able to discern. We are left to form our own answers based on our life experiences, our education and our belief system. But if we believe life is important and special there must be purpose and direction in that life. Can life have meaning if we are not perfect? I think a simple to look around us and we see so many examples that lead me to believe it can be. There is example, after example of those who inspire us beyond the ordinary. Should we value life less if we know that life will be filled with pain from physical defect? Should we assign a reduced value to someone whose mental capacity is not as high as someone else? In historical times some societies have taken the weakest and left them to die. We know in China female children are valued less and may be left to die if a couple is seeking a male heir. Is this natural and acceptable? How do we explain segments of society where the very same people who believe abortion is acceptable condemn cruelty to animals?
Were we to kill those with physical defects we never would have known Helen Keller. Steven Hawking has inspired the world with his battle with ALS while continuing to expand our understanding of the universe. Beethoven, when learning he was going deaf voiced his desire not to live through this tragedy. Thankfully for the world he did carry on for another 25 years. Now that we know all about genetic disorders should we prevent life for those who will suffer them? We would lose the art of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa if we had done that in 1864. This does not even begin to touch on the stories of those who have over come their physical limits to achieve greatly. If we believe we should kill those with limitations what will we lose in the future?
When the Nazi’s attempted to create a pure Aryan race at the cost of millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others why didn’t the world cry out? It was only after the war, when we saw the scale of horror that we condemned the inhumanity. Even today there are those who would have us rewrite the history to mask this evil.
For us, as individuals, how we find meaning in life and fulfillment seems to be a critical outcome from how we view our self-worth and the relationships with society around us. If we look to those who have set before us wonderful examples of how a purposeful life can change the world what do we find? Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, Steven Hawking, Randy Pausch, and hundreds of others show us that self awareness, confidence, love of mankind and joy in the giving back are truly central to finding the practical meanings of life. Dr. Kevorkian does not rate high on my list of inspirational lives.
Can impoverished lives have meaning?
On the face of it this is a stupid question, but it seems to me to be one of the underlying premises for the liberal position the state must pay for abortions for the poor. Clearly the poor have the same potential for fulfillment and self-determination as any of us. Our history is rife with examples of the poor growing to be the next generation of wealthy. But somewhere along the line we have decided we need to treat today’s poor minorities as victims and provide them with the rational it is better to end life before birth, reduce the burden of responsibility and let them continue as they were than it is to seek to change their status. Some have the wisdom to see this trap for what it is and grow beyond the status quo.
Unfortunately far too many don’t and they repeat the same mistakes time and time again. They are always the victims, and always the state is there to clean up after them. This provides for the proponents of abortion the perfect cliental and rationale why the government needs to fund it.