by Tony Masalonis and Rachel MacNair
This is an updated and expanded version of an article published in Peace and Life Connections on April 25, 2014.
Euthanasia and the death penalty can be connected by taking a stand against both in your personal life. Opponents of these forms of killing have developed documents that anyone can use to assert that they don’t want to be killed by “medical intervention” or medical neglect, nor have anyone be executed in the event they’re killed by criminal homicide.
The National Right to Life committee (NRLC) has put in the great amount of homework needed to create “Will to Live” documents for the United States. These are alternative versions of standard “living wills” that unlike most of those documents, explicitly indicate a desire not to be euthanized. NRLC presents reasons to take this approach, and downloadable documents for each state in the United States that take into account the differing state-by-state laws. People in other countries should also find this information useful in crafting their own documents that work with the laws of their own nation. The documents are designed to have legal status and to provide real protection to prevent anyone opposed to euthanasia, either in general or for him/herself, from falling victim to this form of homicide.
To stand against the death penalty in a personal way, you can sign the “Declaration of Life”. Originally drafted by the Cherish Life Circle (as shown in this New York Times article), a group founded by a member of the Sisters of Mercy, the Declaration says, “I hereby declare that should I die as a result of a violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much I may have suffered.”
A number of anti-death penalty groups are promoting the Declaration and have made it available for downloading or copying. These include Unitarian Universalists for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and the makers of the film Where There is Darkness, As can be seen on the last link, the filmmakers are also collecting names of folks who have signed the declaration. Their movie chronicles the true story of Fr. Rene Robert, who signed the Declaration and who years later was murdered. The document was instrumental in keeping the perpetrator from being sentenced to death. Although the Declaration document doesn’t have the same legal weight as Will to Live documents, Fr. Robert’s story shows that it can influence court decisions in a life-saving way.
Naturally, we encourage readers to download/copy and sign both documents. Both authors of this post have signed appropriate versions of both of them. For an added witness to the consistent life ethic, get them notarized at the same time, and keep them together with your will and other related documents as connected “wills for life.” It might give your friendly attorney and notary public something to think about!
Another way to promote these potentially life-saving documents in a consistent-life context would be to make them available as a set at houses of worship and other gatherings of action-minded groups. If possible, have your friendly notary handy.
Though all of us who “execute” these papers hope they’ll never have to be used, they represent a creative way to witness for life and against killing, educate others, and give yourself some comfort that you might someday prevent an unjust death – maybe even your own.
Excerpt from ProLife Feminism: Yesterday & Today. Introduction by Mary Krane Derr, condensed.
Dr. Charlotte Denman Lozier (1844-1870)
Charlotte Denman Lozier graduated from the homeopathic New York (City) Medical College for Women, which outraged conservatives because of its students’gender and its hygiene curriculum. As a student, Charlotte successfully protested Bellevue Hospital’s refusal of clinical privileges to women. After graduation, she joined her alma mater’s faculty, and held office in the Working Women’s Association.
by the Staff of the Revolution
Dr. Charlotte Lozier of 323 West 34th Street, of this city was applied to last week by a man pretending to be from South Carolina, by name, Moran, as he also pretended, to procure an abortion on a very pretty young girl apparently about eighteen years old. The Dr. assured him that he had come to the wrong place for any such shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose. She proffered to the young woman any assistance in her power to render, at the proper time, and cautioned and counseled her against the fearful act which she and her attendant (whom she called her cousin) proposed. The man becoming quite abusive, instead of appreciating and accepting the counsel in the spirit in which it was proffered, Dr. Lozier caused his arrest under the laws of New York for his inhuman proposition, and he was held to bail in a thousand dollars for appearance in court.
The [New York] World of last Sunday contained a most able and excellent letter from Dr. Lozier, in which she explains and most triumphantly vindicates her course in the very disagreeable position in which she was placed. It is certainly very gratifying and must be particularly so to Dr. Lozier, to know that her conduct in the affair is so generally approved by the press and the better portion of the public sentiment, so far as yet expressed. The following are only extracts from extended articles in the New York World and Springfield Republican relating to it:
The laws of New York make the procuring of a miscarriage a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not less than three months, nor more than a year; they define the committing of an abortion resulting in the death of either child or mother to be manslaughter in the second degree. It was this latter crime that Dr. Lozier was asked to commit, and she insists that as the commission of crime is not one of the functions of the medical profession, a person who asks a physician to commit the crime of ante-natal infanticide can be no more considered his patient than one who asks him to poison his wife. Thus Dr. Lozier makes out her case, and seems to prove conclusively that neither law nor professional honor forbids physicians handing over to the police persons who apply to them to commit murder; but that law, professional honor, moral obligation, and social duty all unite in compelling them to thus aid in the punishment of these attempts to procure the slaughter of the innocents. This being so, how does it happen that it has been left for this woman to be the first to perform this duty? The pulpit and the press for months have been ringing with declamations against the frequency of the offence of ante-natal infanticide among the most respectable classes of American society. Has there been no cause for these accusations; or do physicians generally hold opinions of their duty in this matter wholly different from those entertained and acted on by Mrs. Lozier?
And the Springfield Republican says:
A woman physician at New York, Mrs. Dr. Charlotte D. Lozier, took the very unusual step, on Saturday, of having a man and a woman, who had applied to her to assist in procuring an abortion upon the latter, arrested and committed to jail for trial, under the New York statute, which has long been practically a dead letter, but which makes the bare solicitation or advising to commit this crime a state prison offence.
The woman, whose name is Caroline Fuller, first went alone to the office of Doctress Lozier, and on stating her purpose was kindly warned of the sin and danger of such a course, and allowed to depart. But the next day she returned with her paramour, Andrew Moran of Anderson Court House, S.C., and he boldly demanded that the operation should be performed, offering to pay roundly and to shield Mrs. Lozier from any possible legal consequences, should there be a fatal termination. Upon this Mrs. Lozier promptly sent for a policeman, who arrested both Moran and Miss Fuller, though the latter was discharged when brought before the justice for examination. Moran is held for trial, having failed to bribe Mrs. Lozier not to appear against him by offering her $1,000. Moran and Miss Fuller came all the way from South Carolina to have the abortion performed, and Moran’s wife made a third in the party, though one would hardly suppose she would enjoy a trip to the metropolis under such circumstances.
May we not hope that the action of Mrs. Lozier in this case is an earnest of what may be the more general practice of physicians if called upon to commit this crime, when women have got a firmer foothold in the profession? Some bad women as well as bad men may possibly become doctors, who will do anything for money; but we are sure most women physicians will lend their influence and their aid to shield their sex from the foulest wrong committed against it. It will be a good thing for the community when more women like Mrs. Lozier belong to the profession.
—Revolution, 2 December 1869.
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From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1843)
Early in the novel, Ebenezer Scrooge is speaking to two men who are trying to solicit a donation to the poor. When he says he’ll donate “nothing,” they ask if he wishes to remain anonymous.
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned [prisons and workhouses]: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”’
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,”’ said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Much later, Ebenezer Scrooge is speaking to the ghost of Christmas Present concerning Tiny Tim.
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh no, kind Spirit! Say he will be spared!”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” said the Ghost, ” if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.”
From The Chimes, by Charles Dickens (1844)
Dickens wrote several Christmas novellas, not just the most famous one with Ebenezer Scrooge.
Context: Mr. Filer just heard a friend explaining how terrible marriage is to a young couple after they say they’re planning to marry. The young woman’s father is also present. “Such people as those” refers to people in poverty, three of whom are in front of him listening to him say this.
“A man may live to be as old as Methuselah,” said Mr. Filer, “and may labour all his life for the benefit of such people as those: and may heap up facts on figures, facts on figures, facts on figures, mountains high and dry; and he can no more hope to persuade ‘em that they have no right or business to be married, than he can hope to persuade ‘em that they have no earthly right or business to be born. And that we know they haven’t. We reduced it to a mathematical certainty long ago!”
Dickens’ Christmas Carol . . . is a polemical work: Dickens was sparring with the laissez-faire capitalists whose influence in industrializing Britain sought to limit concern for the poor to running poor houses and treadmills. . . His other target was Thomas Malthus. Malthus, the intellectual granddaddy of zero population growth, had argued that population increase would inevitably lead to disaster. . . Scrooge gives voice to the elite opinion of his day when, dismissing the businessmen who come to his office seeking charitable contributions, he opines that those who would rather die than go to a poorhouse “had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”
John M. Grondelski, National Catholic Register, December 17, 2011
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by John Whitehead
See Part 1: The Wages of War: How Abortion Came to Japan
World War II’s devastation of Japan, and the politics of the post-war American occupation, led to the Japanese Diet [parliament] passing the Eugenic Protection Law 70 years ago, in 1948. The law legalized abortion in Japan, with millions of Japanese children being killed in womb over subsequent decades.
The law also legalized a non-lethal but still violent and eugenicist practice: forced sterilization. This aspect of post-war Japanese life confirms the connections, so familiar to defenders of life, between ableism and violence.
Before the War
As she did with the history of abortion legalization, Tiana Norgren describes the history of forced sterilization in Japan in her work Abortion before Birth Control: The Politics of Reproduction in Postwar Japan. Legal forced sterilization largely didn’t exist in Japan before the war’s end. Official government ideology favored increasing the country’s population and discouraged measures that might prevent births. Contraception and abortion were severely restricted during the 1930s and much of the 1940s.
Eugenicists made multiple attempts to pass a sterilization law during this period, partly inspired by Nazi Germany’s policy. These efforts failed in the Diet, however, in the face of opposition from people of different ideological bents. Some opposed sterilization because they favored the state’s official “Give Birth and Multiply” stance, and others opposed it because they thought limiting population would distract from redistributing resources within the society.
The eugenicists came close to victory in 1940, when the Diet passed the National Eugenics Law. The law allowed sterilization for people who had various broadly defined illnesses or disabilities and whose children were likely to have these conditions. The law also allowed people judged not of sound mind to be sterilized on the consent of their parents or spouse—and contained a general clause allowing for sterilization without “the necessary consents” if such an operation was necessary “for the public good.”
Yet this general involuntary sterilization clause was never enforced during the remaining war years. Only about 500 voluntary sterilizations were carried out during the remaining war years and immediate post-war years.
Post-War Eugenic Law
The economic hardships of the post-war years increased Japanese politicians’ interest in population control. The Eugenic Protection Law of 1948 made forced sterilization fully a reality. The law allowed for voluntary sterilization under broader conditions than the wartime legislation, and also included crucial new provisions. Under the new law, applications for sterilization could be made not only by those desiring the procedure for themselves but by physicians who found someone has certain conditions and judge “that in order to prevent hereditary transmission of the disease it is necessary, for the public good, to perform a eugenic operation.”
The conditions that could qualify someone for sterilization fell into five categories:
1) “hereditary mental illnesses”;
2) “hereditary mental deficiency”;
3) “serious hereditary psychopathic disorders”;
4) “serious hereditary physical ailments”; and
5) “extreme hereditary deformities.”
Hereditary mental illnesses were defined as schizophrenia, manic-depression, and epilepsy. Hereditary mental deficiency was defined by vague concepts such as “seriously abnormal sexual desires” and “serious criminal tendencies.” Serious hereditary physical ailments included conditions such as progressive muscular dystrophy and hereditary deafness or hearing impairment.
The Eugenic Protection Law also had a general provision that a physician could apply to have someone with an unspecified mental illness or “deficiency” sterilized as long as the person’s spouse, parent, or other guardian consented.
A “Eugenic Protection Commission” with jurisdiction in a particular area would decide whether to grant the physician’s application to have someone sterilized. If the Commission granted the application, the person targeted for sterilization had two weeks after notification by the Commission to appeal the decision. However, an objection by the targeted person didn’t guarantee the sterilization wouldn’t be carried out.
The eugenic philosophy in the 1948 law bothered the American occupation authorities, several of whom voiced their concerns. Two years before the law’s passage, one occupation researcher expressed his alarm at eugenic ideas within Japan, which he claimed was “evidence of the profound hold that tribal racism still exerts over the Japanese people.”
The Americans could hardly throw stones, however: forced sterilization had been legally practiced in the United States for far longer than in Japan: in the 20th century, over 30 American states would allow forced sterilization. Over 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized in the United States between 1907 and 1964. People of color were overrepresented among the victims of this practice.
Whether because of the ambivalent American relationship with eugenics and sterilization, concern for population control, or a general desire not to interfere in Japanese politics, the American occupation authorities didn’t prevent the Eugenic Protection Law and its sterilization provisions from being adopted.
Thousands of forced sterilizations were carried out in Japan in the following decades, peaking in the mid-1950s. Roughly 16,500 people were subjected to such sterilizations during the years the law was in effect. Another 8,500 ill or disabled people were sterilized supposedly with their own consent, although subtle coercion may have played a role.
In one case, a 16-year-old woman working as a housekeeper was suspected of having a mental disability and was sterilized in 1963—not only without her consent, but even without her knowledge of what the operation was. When she discovered she had been sterilized, she recounts that “I went to Tokyo to see if I could get the operation reversed but I was told it wouldn’t be possible… They stole my life away.”
In another case, a 15-year-old woman, who may have suffered brain damage because of excessive anesthesia during surgery, was diagnosed with “hereditary feeble-mindedness” and forcibly sterilized in 1972. The woman’s sister-in-law commented that “When she was about 22 or 23 there was talk of marriage, but then when she said that she couldn’t have children then the person who had proposed to her said that they didn’t want to marry her.”
As draconian as the law was, doctors and officials occasionally went beyond it. Proper procedures for approving sterilizations weren’t always followed. The medical condition of the person being sterilized was sometimes falsified to fit the Eugenic Protection Law’s provisions. In an infamous 1965 case, a doctor castrated an institutionalized mentally ill boy without his parents’ permission.
Moreover, ableism could go beyond forced sterilization to forced abortion: about 60,000 disabled women might have been subjected to this practice because of the view that the disabled shouldn’t have children.
Disability Rights Victories
Over the post-war decades, eugenics and forced sterilization provoked organized opposition from Japanese disability rights activists. These activists and feminists spoke out against the Eugenic Protection Law at United Nations conferences such the 1994 Cairo population conference and 1995 Beijing women’s conference, generating international publicity and pressure on the Japanese government.
Lawmakers set about reforming the law, consulting disability rights activists about the reform. These activists saw their efforts prevail in 1996 when the eugenic, coercive elements were finally removed from the Eugenic Protection Law—which was renamed the Maternal Protection Law.
Under the reformed law, sterilization required the consent of the person undergoing the operation and that person’s spouse, if any. The acceptable grounds for sterilization now became a threat to the mother’s life from childbearing or, if she already had multiple children, a threat to her health from child bearing. (Sterilization was also permitted if the person to be sterilized or the spouse had leprosy and was likely to pass it on to children—stigma and persecution of those with leprosy being a long-standing problem in Japan.)
Disability rights activists won a further victory later in the 1990s. Nichibo, a professional association of ob-gyns, intended to lobby for reforming the law to allow abortion in cases of “incurable and fatal” prenatal illness. Protests from disability rights groups led Nichibo to drop this idea.
Although the Eugenic Protection Law is now gone, the Japanese still deal with its legacy. Whether the government owes compensation to victims of forced sterilization has been the subject of recent debates and lawsuits. The woman mentioned above who was sterilized in 1972 sued the government this year, arguing that the Eugenic Protection Law violated the Japanese constitution. Other lawsuits have followed, and the Diet is currently working on a compensation package for forced sterilization victims, to be considered next year.
Whether the Eugenic Protection law will ultimately be judged to have been unconstitutional from the start remains to be seen. We can hope, however, that survivors of this injustice and disability rights activists will continue to overcome the ableism that made these injustices possible.
We should also, in studying this history, contemplate that Japan, which resisted eugenically motivated sterilization and abortion even when it was a militarist state allied with Nazi Germany, embraced it in the aftermath of wartime defeat and occupation by the United States.
See Part 1: The Wages of War: How Abortion Came to Japan
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This is an excerpt from ProLife Feminism: Yesterday and Today. The introduction was written by Mary Krane Derr.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Observing her father’s upstate New York legal practice, young Elizabeth Cady Stanton resolved to overturn the laws denying women control over their economic and family lives, even their bodies. The common-law doctrine of femme couvert defined a married woman’s personhood as incorporated into
her husband’s and thus civilly dead. Stanton married an abolitionist merchant. Like Lucretia Mott and others, she became inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft and disaffected by the anti-slavery movement’s hypocritical failure to include women as equals. Out of their discontent came the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Even while raising her seven children, Stanton fought for “the Cause”—as an editor of the Revolution, a traveling lecturer, a leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association, coeditor (with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage) of the History of Woman Suffrage (Volumes I-III), and author of the controversial Woman’s Bible.
Stanton decidedly rejected the notion that maternity was women’s only creative power and that every woman had to be a mother. She exulted in her subversive vitality throughout pregnancy and labor, particularly when she had her first daughter:
I have never felt such sacredness in carrying a child as I have in the case of this one. She is the largest and most vigorous baby I have ever had, weighing 12 lbs . . . And yet my labor was short and easy . . . What refined, delicate, genteel, civilized woman would get well in so indecently short a time? Dear me, how much cruel bondage of mind and suffering of body poor women will escape when she takes the liberty of being her own physician of both body and soul!
To women-only groups, she insisted, “We must educate our daughters that maternity is grand, and that God never cursed it, and the curse, if there be any, may be rolled off.” For this she was called a “savage,” a charge she found ridiculous; among Haudenosaunee [Iroquois], childbirth was not deemed impossibly painful and debilitating. In the hope of “rolling off the curse,” Stanton addressed many subjects considered unfit for public consideration: the unfair denial of child custody to divorced women, the limits of patriarchal religion, the desirability of family planning, the suffering that the disease model of pregnancy inflicted upon mothers, and the dire economic and social conditions that compelled so many women to resort to prostitution and to such equally “degrading” (her word) practices as abortion and infanticide. As early as 1854, Stanton publicly called for women’s right to a trial by jury of their own peers in such situations. . . .
She found it “appalling to the highest degree” that “infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable” not only in cities but rural areas like Androscoggin County, Maine, where “there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion alone . . . There must be a remedy for such a crying evil as this. But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?”
from the Revolution, January 29, 1868.
The remarkable mortality among natural or illegitimate children is a topic agitating the Press very largely just now . . . The system of boarding them out for slow murder . . . is alarmingly on the increase among the well-to-do….It is impossible to shut our eyes to these facts . . . Where lies the remedy?
In the independence of woman. “Give a man a right over my subsistence,” says Alexander Hamilton, “and he has right over my whole moral being.” When the world of work is open to woman, and it becomes as respectable as it is necessary to happiness for women of the higher classes, as well as others, to have some regular and profitable employment, then will woman take her true position . . .
The strongest feeling of a true woman’s nature is her love for her child; and the startling facts in the above extract, multiplying as they are on every side, warn us that all things are inverted. Objectors cry out to us who demand our rights, and the ballot to secure them, “Do not unsex yourselves.” It is against this wholesale unsexing we wage our war.
We are living to-day under a dynasty of force; the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing women and children alike beneath its feet. Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children. With centuries of degradation, we have so little of true womanhood, that the world has but the faintest glimmering of what a woman is or should be.
Infanticide and Prostitution
from the Revolution, February 5, 1868.
Social Evil Statistics
The annual inspection report of . . . New York City and Brooklyn, gives the number of houses of prostitution as 523 . . .
. . . The murder of children, either before or after birth, has become so frightfully prevalent that . . . were it not for immigration the white population of the United States would actually fall off . .
Scarce a day passes but some of our daily journals take note of the fearful ravages on the race, made through the crimes of Infanticide and Prostitution. For a quarter of a century, sober, thinking women have warned the nation of these thick coming dangers, and pointed to the only remedy, the education and enfranchisement of women; but men have laughed them to scorn. Let those who have made the “strong-minded” women of this generation the target for the jibes and jeers of a heedless world repent now in sackcloth and ashes, for already they suffer the retribution of their own folly at their own firesides, in their sad domestic relations. . . .
We ask our editors who pen those startling statistics to give us their views of the remedy. We believe the cause of all these abuses lies in the degradation of woman . . .
Wonder not that American women do everything in their power to avoid maternity; for, from false habits of life, dress, food, and generations of disease and abominations, it is to them a period of sickness, lassitude, disgust, agony and death.
What man would walk up to the gallows if he could avoid it? And the most hopeless aspect of this condition of things is that our Doctors of Divinity and medicine teach and believe that maternity and suffering are inseparable. So long as the Bible, through the ignorance of its expounders, makes maternity a curse, and women, through ignorance of the science of life and health find it so, we need not wonder at the multiplication of these fearful statistics. Let us no longer weep, and whine, and pray over all these abominations; but with an enlightened consciousness and religious earnestness, bring ourselves into line with God’s just, merciful, and wise laws . . .
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by John Whitehead
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided earlier this year to adjust the “Doomsday Clock,” the organization’s index of probable nuclear and other dangers facing humanity. Tensions between the United States and nations such as North Korea, Russia, and China, among other factors, prompted the Bulletin to move the Doomsday Clock’s hands to two minutes to midnight—“midnight” representing apocalypse. The current status is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, during one of the coldest periods of the Cold War.
The Doomsday Clock’s status, and the underlying threat of nuclear war it reflects, provided the title and motivation for the day-long conference “Two Minutes to Midnight: What We Can Do to Prevent Nuclear War,” co-sponsored by the Consistent Life Network. Held at Goucher College in Baltimore on November 17th, the conference had an array of co-sponsors (including Consistent Life member group Rehumanize International). The organizations Prevent Nuclear War-Maryland, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Maryland Peace Action Network, as well as the Peace Studies program at Goucher, played the central role in organizing the event. The conference’s talks and workshop examined the current nuclear danger and various strategies for countering it.
I found the event a sobering experience. Conference speakers made clear how dangerous the current world situation is. Many different international flashpoints could ignite a nuclear exchange. Current political trends are towards worsening international relations and fewer controls on nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, peace activists can focus their energies on some specific steps to lessen nuclear weapons’ threat. Speakers and workshop leaders identified several initiatives for activists to pursue.
The morning plenary speakers were Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, and Dr. Ira Helfand, the co-chair of the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Committee of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Their talks provided an overview of how nuclear weapons might be used and what the consequences would be. The most obvious sources of danger are the United States’ hostile relationships with Russia and North Korea.
Kimball noted that the United States and Russia are on the verge of a major nuclear arms race. The Trump administration has threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which abolished a whole category of nuclear weapons. Although the United States hasn’t yet formally withdrawn from the treaty, Kimball predicted (in a later workshop) that it soon would and that the INF Treaty is now probably unsalvageable. Activists should instead focus on saving the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that limits American and Russian nuclear arsenals. START needs to be renewed by 2021, but Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, may oppose renewal. If START lapses, then American and Russian nuclear weapons will be almost entirely unregulated and an uncontrolled arms race could result. Current US plans to spend upwards of $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next 30 years only add to the risk of an arms race.
The situation with North Korea is somewhat better, with fears of nuclear war having slightly lessened following the Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un. Kimball commented, though, that progress has stalled as both sides wait for the other to take the next step.
Helfand’s talk identified other, less-publicized threats. US-China relations are now the worst they have been in 40 years, with the two countries sparring over trade and their militaries veering toward confrontation in the South China Sea.
Further, another conflict that doesn’t directly involve the United States threatens nuclear war. India and Pakistan, which have around 300 nuclear weapons between them, have fought four wars with each other and continue to have a very tense relationship.
More general dangers, not limited to specific countries, also exist. Global climate change could stir up conflict as people compete for stressed natural resources. Nuclear terrorism is also a possibility—especially the danger of terrorists hacking into nuclear-armed nations’ command and control systems to trigger a nuclear exchange.
Helfand also described a nuclear exchange’s consequences. Despite the vivid testimonies and records from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, he emphasized that these don’t prepare us for the destructive power of contemporary nuclear weapons. Using even a relatively few nuclear weapons—in an India-Pakistan war, say—would cause worldwide climate disruption and a famine affecting 2 billion people. Such a “limited” nuclear war would still mean the end of civilization as we know it. A full-scale nuclear world war would be beyond imagining, with 300-350 million killed in the first day and climate effects causing a new ice age.
That we have avoided such catastrophes for over 70 years is largely a matter of luck—hardly a reliable basis of humanity’s long-term survival. (The same day as the conference, Dr. Helfand published an op-ed for CNN that covered some of these same issues.)
The current dire situation requires action. Several different practical steps for lessening nuclear threats came up during the conference. These steps fall into three broad categories:
The US Congress can take several positive actions, some of which have already been proposed as legislation. As already noted, renewing the START Treaty is one. Others are changing US nuclear policy to reject ever initiating a nuclear exchange (“no first use”), preventing the president from using nuclear weapons without congressional authorization, prohibiting the development of new nuclear weapons that are more likely to be used, or generally limiting spending on these weapons. The status of these measures will be updated when the new Congress, which offers some hope for constructive action, convenes in 2019. Peace activists and organizations can focus their energies on advocacy for them, through emails, phone calls, and—most effective of all—face-to-face meetings with their representatives and senators.
Defunding nuclear weapons.
During her plenary talk, Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), described the Don’t Bank on the Bomb project. Don’t Bank on the Bomb provides information on which financial institutions do or do not invest in companies involved in nuclear weapons production. Activists can use this information to campaign for banks and pension funds to divest from nuclear weapons production. Such campaigns not only deprive nuclear weapons companies of funds but also create stigma against producing these weapons.
Despite growing dangers, anti-nuclear activism hasn’t yet achieved the necessary popular urgency and visibility. Activists need to inform people, whether through talks, movie screenings, op-eds, letters to the editor, or sharing facts through social media. A specific law, treaty, or policy proposal can serve not only as a focus for action but a springboard for talking about the larger issues involved. The new United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which ICAN played a crucial role in creating, is one example: Consistent Life has frequently held vigils outside the White House on behalf of the treaty. The policy program of the Back from the Brink campaign, to which Consistent Life and other conference co-sponsors belong, is another. Back from the Brink had a notable success in Maryland when the Baltimore city council passed a resolution endorsing its program. Peace-minded organizations can also join the Back from the Brink campaign as endorsers.
Sobering yet Encouraging
As I said, the conference was sobering, given both the extreme danger from nuclear weapons and the amount of work still to be done. Yet I also left encouraged. The urgency and clarity of the cause motivates me to do more. The present situation requires us to act on behalf of a just and noble cause: to save humanity.
Note: Video of the Two Minutes to Midnight plenary talks and some workshops are available for viewing on YouTube.
For more of our posts on nuclear weapons, see:
Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons / Karen Swallow Prior
Rejecting Mass Murder: Looking Back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki / John Whitehead
The Reynolds Family, the Nuclear Age and a Brave Wooden Boat / Jessica Renshaw
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The Gendercide Awareness Project held an art exhibit at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 1-7, 2018. Here are photos taken on site by the Consistent Life Network’s vice president, Rachel MacNair.
The description is “a floor-to-ceiling maze that fills almost 2,000 square feet. As visitors pass through, the density increases and the passage narrows, blocking visibility and creating an uncomfortable claustrophobic effect. . . . Arguably, gendercide is the largest atrocity the world has seen, yet few people have any idea of its scale.”
Rachel confirms that she was in tears after going through the exhibit. She’s pictured here in a somber mood before she started to walk the maze.
These charts come from the Gendercide Awareness Project website:
by Frank Lane
I’ve been an ethical vegan for about 28 years and a vegetarian for 16 years before that. My passionate conviction came from a profound sense of the sacredness and wonder of my existence, the natural world, especially the unborn, animals, and trees.
I was a registered conscientious objector to war and refused to kill when asked by my country. But on the flip side of that principle, I am a black belt in martial arts, where I learned how to severely protect by force for those that could not protect themselves.
This may sound like a dichotomy of principles, but I think not. A soldier will give his/her life or take life, for the greater good based on principle. It is our principles that determine our ethics.
When I am fighting for the greater good, I become my principles.
At 16, I broke away from the whole of the war machine and became part of the whole of the peace movement. I became an individual part of bringing peace to a warring world. This is when my principles started to fall into place, especially the first time I was told, “Meat is Murder.” I was stunned by the inference that one could be thought of as a murderer for killing animals.
I had to consider deeply how my act of contributing to the slaughter of millions of animals a day was affecting peace on the planet and in my soul.
When I was called for military service, it turned my world upside down, because I was being asked to kill my unknown brothers and sisters.
The killing of babies or veal calves or the Holocaust of Jews and the disabled demonstrate a lack of reverence for life. When we lose our respect for the sacredness of life, as in the case of viewing those with disabilities as having less value than other life, we break the link with the holiness of life. Living this honoring of the sacredness of life makes us spiritual beings.
In a public demonstration, activists gathered thousands of baby dolls, poked holes in them and painted them blood red to mimic an aborted baby. They then threw them like garbage onto the lawn of the White House to depict only one hour’s worth of aborted babies.
To add insult to injury, the activists demanded in jest that at least the abortion industry should organize a system to gather the aborted and process the carnage for animal food! This was done to draw a parallel to using the body parts of Holocaust victims for other purposes, such as using their bones for bone china or needles.
When anyone becomes aware of the suffering, it is an opportunity for personal growth. But at the same time we can close our eyes in denial. This is especially true when we experience a level of awareness and compassion for the bloodbath horrors of torture, agony, and suffering of animals, babies in the womb, or those in concentration camps. Our participation, however removed from these acts of abject torment, makes us cogs in the machine of mass murder.
I found solace in the notion that “All Life is Sacred,” bringing me to peace with a respect for all life. So when I was asked to take another person’s life by my country, I knew this was the most significant demand ever placed on me. My answers come from the highest respect for life, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
So, with that notion in mind, I took a college ecology class to learn how to save the world. I was shocked when the professor told us to go out and kill an overpopulated species to balance out the “ecology.”
Here was the hard and determining test for abortion; when the life of the mother was at peril and an abortion became a medical necessity. This gives perspective on how to decide on the issue of taking life for the greater good.
The underlying guiding morality became clear: all life is sacred, and worthy of respect, even when killing is required. The American Indians honored the animals they killed for survival with great reverence. The word “survival” is the operative word that we must consider in these moral decisions.
We must ask: does our existence depend on the killing and suffering of animals? A soldier, doctor, politician, and butcher, all kill with a level of discernment. There are rules and regulations to our moral ethics of killing that appease our conscience.
One only needs to watch the horrific terror animals go through in a slaughterhouse to see unspeakable horror. Babies are stolen from their mothers, raped to become pregnant, left shaking with fear from the smell of blood and by hearing the cry of other animals. There is nothing more frightening than this holocaust of torture, pain, and suffering. If this living hell had to have glass walls, it would never exist.
Abortion has become as common and acceptable as destroying the environment for hamburgers.
Abortion is the original “Inconvenient Truth.” Without compassion for all life, we limit our spiritual convictions. Just as all things are connected, so is our compassion to every creation of life.
Your level of awareness will dictate your behavior. Your spiritual awareness will dictate your spirituality. It was this awakening that led me to honor the sacredness of life and a non-violent diet. That same awakening from ego, selfishness, lack, and fear turned my heart to the sanctity of the unborn.
There is a time to live and a time to die. As an ethical vegan and person of faith in the sacredness of all life, I find this awareness trumps all other conditions, leading my soul to seek a congruency for the honoring of creation for myself, others, the animals and planet.
For more of our blog posts that include veganism as a concern, see:
Suffering and Injustice Concern Us All / Vasu Murti
Parallels of Veganism and Prolife-ism / Kristin Monahan
Abortion and War are the Karma for Killing Animals / Vasu Murti
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
by Rachel MacNair
A note at the beginning of the movie Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer lets us know it’s based entirely on court transcripts and eyewitness accounts, being as true to events as a movie can attempt. The Hate U Give, on the other hand, is fiction. Yet it’s clearly based on actual events currently in the news – U.S. police killings of unarmed African Americans. Both show the nuances and complexities of real life, and of racism.
The title of The Hate U Give has an acronym: T.H.U.G. The full phrase is: the hate you give infants fouls everyone up (non-swear-word version). The movie is an excellent illustration of the point, which comes up frequently.
The theme of racism appears early in Gosnell, because in addition to all the sensitivities of investigating an abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell is black. So is there a racist component in picking on him?
Yet it’s made clear in the movie (in a point we reported when this case became a major news story) that Gosnell put white women upstairs under more pleasant and professional circumstances. It was black and brown women who were selected to be in the most horrifying conditions of his facility.
The revolting state of his abortion practice, as well as his house where the basement was flea-infested, may puzzle many. But my own studies in psychology give a possible explanation: he was emotionally numb and detached from other people as symptoms of being severely traumatized. Killing people is traumatizing, and I’ve found this across all different forms of killing (including abortion, war, executions, police shootings, and criminal homicide). Gosnell’s behavior while being investigated shows these particular symptoms in abundance.
His behavior also portrays a difference between Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS), a form of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and a more recent concept: Moral Injury (MI). MI has the advantage of covering much more by way of symptoms, since it includes substance abuse and spiritual struggles. But it has a major restriction, one that helps explain why it arose in military veteran therapist circles and is primarily applied there. It requires, in the case of an act of killing, that the killing is seen by the person doing the killing as something he or she did wrong. Most violence, including what soldiers are expected to do, is done by people quite sure that what they’re doing is right. That keeps the MI label from applying. That label certainly didn’t apply here, as Gosnell declared he wouldn’t take a plea deal because he had done nothing wrong.
Thinking the violence is justified also applies in the case of police shootings. The racism in The Hate U Give is obvious, since it’s the reason why a young man reaching for his hairbrush was mistaken for someone reaching for a gun and shot dead. The idea of justifying the shooting on the idea it could have been a gun was exposed as racist: another cop confirmed that had he been a white man, the same behavior would have brought a yelled instruction to move away from the car, rather than a shooting.
The subtlety that racism can have was also on display: among the white students who walked out of school in a Black Lives Matter protest were those gleeful that they could now miss a chemistry test. This naturally distressed the black heroine of the movie, who’s also a student at the primarily white school. She was in the passenger seat at the time of the shooting, and the victim was a childhood friend of hers, so of course her sense of trauma was intense. But when one of her white friends expresses sympathy for the white officer having to go through family and job troubles and stigma because of the shooting, the underlying racist assumptions become clear to the audience. The white student herself can’t see them.
So both movies offer insights on the current problems of racism in U.S. society, and they both end positively with the immediate problem dealt with. Yet neither one addresses the far more permanent and society-wide solutions. For Gosnell, that’s making abortion unthinkable. For The Hate U Give, community policing is a major alternative. If police officers and the communities they serve have frequent friendly interaction, the officer is far less likely to say the racist things that, in this case, made the interaction far more tense than there was any reason for – the stop was only for failing to signal when changing lanes. Nor would the officer be so freaked out about a fellow reaching into his car if he’d conversed with the same fellow just last week.
Among those who favor abortion availability, their proposed solution is to have upstanding places such as Planned Parenthood available as an alternative to such back-alley practices. This ignores the fact that PP was quite available all through the years that Kermit Gosnell operated and didn’t seem to have stopped him; it was the court case that stopped him. And he would have been stopped earlier if the state of Pennsylvania weren’t deliberately ignoring health code violations inflicted on his non-white clients. Also, another movie is on the way to address this proposed solution: on March 22, 2019, the movie Unplanned, based on Abby Johnson’s book of the same name, is due out. It tells Abby Johnson’s story of having been Planned Parenthood facility manager who left and joined the pro-life movement. Abby showed us some clips at the Sidewalk Advocates for Life conference, and it promises to be an excellent follow-up to the Gosnell movie in showing that “reputable” abortion centers aren’t the solution to unreputable ones.
The Hate U Give is a movie that came out around the same time as Gosnell, which is why it was chosen for comparison. There are many excellent movies on themes of lethal aspects of racism (for this year, BlacKkKlansman also deserves a mention). There have been many throughout the years and will undoubtedly be many more.
I think Gosnell should also be in that category. It was ranked #10 in audience size on the weekend it came out, but I had to travel way across town to find a theater showing it. I normally walk to the movies I want to see. So it didn’t get the kind of coverage most other movies do. But it shows a case where abortion is one of the lethal impacts of racism.
For more of our posts on movie and television reviews, see:
Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March) / Rachel MacNair
Mothers and Daughters / Mary Bennett
Three Nonviolent Lessons from Dr. Who / Andrew Hocking
The Darkest Hour: “Glorifying” War? / Rachel MacNair
For more on lethal racism, see:
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.
by John Whitehead
Let’s say you’ve succeeded in winning someone over to the consistent life ethic. This person now wants to defend human life against abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, war, and the myriad other threats to life. Now the question arises, “What should I do to promote the consistent life ethic?” A valuable new resource is now available for such a budding activist: A Consistent Life: The Young Advocate’s Guide to Living Peace & Justice Daily by Mary Grace Coltharp and Aimee Murphy, published by Consistent Life Network member group Rehumanize International.
The authors, an intern for Rehumanize and the group’s executive director, respectively, carefully lay out a full year’s worth of study and activities to deepen someone’s commitment to advancing the consistent life ethic. Although aimed at students and other young people, the guide is useful for anyone trying to do consistent-life-ethic work in their community.
The book has 52 chapters, for each week in a year, with each week dedicated to exploring a different aspect of the consistent life ethic. The authors write about these different aspects of the ethic in an admirably positive way. Rather than presenting the week’s theme as opposition to a particular injustice, each theme is presented as recognizing the humanity of a different vulnerable or oppressed group—“re-humanizing” those who are too often dehumanized. Each week’s theme begins with the introductory phrase “Who you will rehumanize:” with the focus of this rehumanization including groups such as “human beings at the embryonic stage of development,” “human beings who are or have been incarcerated,” “human beings victimized by human trafficking,” or “elderly human beings and those living with terminal illnesses.”
For almost every week, the authors have identified five different activities by which guide users can deepen their commitment to the relevant group. These activities are nicely balanced, combining direct service to those at risk from violence, lobbying for laws and public policy, learning more about these issues, and raising awareness. The guide also frequently encourages artistic expression. In the section “Who you will rehumanize: human beings living with mental illnesses,” for example, the week’s recommended activities are:
- Look into organizations to see where you can volunteer and how you can help. Some organizations to look at are: National Alliance on Mental Illness, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
- Write a song. Be creative and express yourself and the issues of mental health stigma or something else related.
- Find a song, share, discuss. Try to find something with a positive message, maybe about getting help if you need it.
- Look into how the government, state or federal, funds mental health care. Is it enough? Can it be improved? How?
- Call or write a government official about improvements. Maybe the Department of Health and Human Services could be doing more. You don’t have to know everything about an issue, just demonstrate that this issue matters to your representative’s constituents.
Activities under rehumanizing “human beings victimized by racism” include “Re-evaluate yourself and your thinking. Think seriously and don’t write off racism as not affecting you” and “Research influential court cases within the topic of America’s long battle with and fight for equal rights.” Activities under rehumanizing “preborn human beings and their parents” include “Invite your pro-life friends over to create handmade signs for a march for life” and “Volunteer with a [pregnancy resource center.]” Each week’s activities are also carefully structured, with the most challenging activity coming at the end of the week.
An aspect of the recommended activities that is particularly thoughtful and welcome is the frequent inclusion of self-care activities such as “Today take a bath or nap to rejuvenate” or “Rehumanize yourself. You could read a heartwarming story that will lift your spirits.” Quotations from notable people such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the anti-death penalty activist (and Consistent Life Network endorser) Sister Helen Prejean are also interspersed throughout the book. A list of recommended reading and viewing appears at the end, with the Consistent Life Network’s book Consistently Opposing Killing included among them.
The guide will be a valuable resource for student organizations, faith communities, and other groups that want to promote the consistent life ethic in their communities. The diverse array of topics covered and the broadly defined activities allow different groups to develop their own unique activism that emphases the issues most relevant to them and their communities. The guide allows for such flexibility to the extent of leaving the book’s final week of activities blank: activists can decide for themselves which theme and activities to pursue that week.
I would offer a couple minor criticisms of the guide’s treatment of war. In keeping with Rehumanize International’s mission statement opposing “unjust war,” the guide refers to rehumanizing “human beings impacted by unjust wars.” The term “unjust war” is a controversial one within the consistent life ethic movement, as pacifists would reject the qualification “unjust” as implying war ever could be justified. Acknowledging and addressing this philosophical diversity within the movement would have been helpful.
Further, even if one accepts the concept of “just and unjust” wars, the book offers little information or guidance on how an activist should determine whether a particular war is unjust. A quoted passage reviewing two Just War Theory principles is certainly welcome (not least because it is a quotation from something I wrote!) but a full account of Just War Theory is lacking. Should the guide have a future edition, a summary of Just War Theory principles or a reference to resources that provide such a summary would be worth including.
These are quibbles, however. A Consistent Life is generally an excellent resource for consistent life ethic activists wishing to translate their convictions into practice. It deserves a wide distribution and readership.
For more book reviews on our blog, see:
A Way Beyond the Abortion Wars? / reviewed by Bill Samuel, book by Charles C. Camosy
Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-life Movement Before Roe v. Wade / reviewed by Carol Crossed, book by Daniel K. Williams
The Tragedy of Carrie Buck: A Review of Imbeciles / reviewed by Mary Lou Bennett, book by Adam Cohen
See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.