Commentary: It's better to err on the side of life

I would like to be pro-choice; really, I would. I would like to believe that abortion-on-demand is a morally desirable, or at least acceptable, option and thus be free of the burden of believing that more than 50 million babies have had their lives legally terminated in the USA by abortion since its nationwide legalization in 1973.

But the truth is, I can't be pro-choice. The protests surrounding Hoag's decision to stop performing elective abortions have reminded me of how poorly defensible the pro-choice position is.

"Life has a very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning; the moment of conception. To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being is no longer a matter of opinion."

These are not the words of the Pope or a pro-life lobbyist; this is a direct quote by Dr. Jerome Lejeune, renowned French geneticist. The assertion as scientific fact that life begins at conception is widespread in authoritative textbooks of biology and embryology used in prestigious universities and medical schools throughout the world. It is upon this that the pro-life position is based, i.e. elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being.

The pro-choice arguments generally fall into two familiar camps. The first is to simply deny that an unborn baby, which has cardiac activity ("heartbeat") and brain waves at very early developmental stages, is a human being. A declaration of "it's not a human being" is trumpeted, but no supporting scientific evidence is offered.

Exactly where these pro-choice individuals believe that the science to support the pro-life position is erroneous goes unstated. The second strategy is to argue against the humanity of the unborn, using an argument which already assumes the unborn is not human. For example, "I have to have an abortion because I can't afford another baby." Would this argument justify terminating the life a toddler who was creating a financial burden on the family? The answer is "no," and therefore this argument assumes the unborn are not human and therefore does not address the pro-life argument.

Pro-choicers, which of the four general differences between the unborn and other human beings (size or physical appearance, environment, degree of development, level of dependency) diminish the moral value of the unborn?

Do larger people have more worth than smaller? Women are generally smaller than men; do they therefore have less worth? Physical appearance? Ethnic cleansing has been based upon the notion that people who look different have less worth. Environment? Can you name a place where one could reside that would make them unworthy of legal protection of their life?

Degree of development? Does your adolescent have more worth than your 2-year-old? Degree of dependency? If so, those dependent on insulin to manage their diabetes, those dependent upon the anesthesiologist during general surgery, and conjoined twins who are dependent upon each other for survival have less worth.

If, at the very least, you can see any merit to the pro-life argument, you are morally compelled to support the pro-life position in your personal life, political choices, etc., because the morally responsible pathway is to err on the side of life.

Consider the following analogy. A large building is tented, ready to be fumigated for termites. Seconds before poisonous gas is to be pumped into the building, the supervisor is informed that a heated debate is underway.

One camp believes strongly that the building has been completely evacuated. Another group believes just as passionately there are still living people inside, provides very good evidence for their belief, and has several expert witnesses in their support. Should the supervisor flip the switch and pump the gas? The only morally responsible answer is "no," because you always err on the side of life.

Physician KEITH ENGLAND lives in Newport Coast.

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