Magazine article The Human Life Review

Resisting a Culture of Death

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Resisting a Culture of Death

Article excerpt

One of the city's finest writers, Nat Hentoff, has been at the Village Voice for more than 50 years. While one can label this publication as a left of center staple, the award-winning Mr. Hentoff is much harder to categorize. Earlier this month, the Human Life Foundation honored him with its Defender of Life Award and in his acceptance speech he identified himself as "a Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, pro-lifer."

There is a big distinction between being merely anti-abortion and being prolife. Mr. Hentoff has consistently been a defender of all human life, whether it be a Baby Doe or a Terry Schiavo, and while I can differ with him on subjects like the Patriot Act and the death penalty, I do not know of anyone more principled or morally pure on this particular issue.

How I wish the award ceremony had been televised on C-Span or elsewhere so that the nation could have heard the warning hurled by the man who introduced Mr. Hentoff, Wesley Smith. Mr. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in California who is a consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

He asked: "Does human life have ultimate intrinsic value, simply and merely because it is human?" Traditionally, the philosophy of America has been to answer this question in the affirmative. However, Mr. Smith said, a growing number of voices these days are responding in the negative: "They claim that being 'human' isn't what gives moral worth, it is being a 'person.'"

Mr. Smith continued: "The Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer has claimed there are two crucial characteristics that earn a human being or an animal the status of 'person,' and they are rationality and self-consciousness. Singer claims that some animals (whales, dogs, cats, pigs, etc.) can be considered persons; while other forms of life are not persons, including all unborn human life, newborn human infants, people with advanced Alzheimer's or other severe cognitive disabilities because they are not self conscious or rational."

I had been aware of Mr. Singer's theories, which justify infanticide and involuntary euthanasia of cognitively disabled people, but what I found highly disturbing in Mr. Smith's speech was the idea that Mr. Singer is being roundly applauded by other bioethicists for voicing pragmatism at the expense of human life.

More and more intellectuals and medical scientists are posing the question, "Do we have a duty to die? …

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