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Moral consistency on the issue of life

Anthony Matthew Durkin | Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I first want to congratulate The Observer for allowing me the opportunity to juxtapose the Conservative ranting that goes on in this paper with some fresh ideas from the liberal perspective. Now, let’s get down to business.

The University’s Right to Life group purports to be in charge of promoting its stance on issues where the sanctity of life is in question. For this group, the issue of what life is to be sanctified appears rather clear cut; once you are conceived, you are a human being and, thus, cannot be killed under any circumstances. The Right to Life group is one of the larger groups at Notre Dame and it makes its voice felt in various ways, most visibly through the “Cemetery of the Innocents” on South Quad. The group also makes an annual trip to Washington to walk in the “March for Life” protest where their goal is political. They hope to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision of Row v. Wade by endorsing and campaigning for congressional members that are pro-life.

The University, in response to the controversy surrounding the Commencement invitation to President Obama, also took the initiative this fall to convene a “Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life.” This Task Force, co-chaired by Professors Margaret Brinig and John Cavadini, submitted a list of recommendations in response to the charge of University President Fr. John Jenkins “to consider and recommend to [him] ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life.” The Task Force then formally recommended that the University “formulate and adopt a policy statement” on issues such as abortion and torture, and to continue to promote Catholic “pro-life” teachings across the campus.

Noticeably absent from the Task Force’s recommendation, and all of the rhetoric of the Right to Life group, is any recognition of one major injustice in our country that likewise breaches the sanctity of the life question, the death penalty. “Right to Life” to its credit states on its Web site that in addition to abortion, it “also work[s] for legislation that bans embryo-killing stem-cell research, assisted suicide and capital punishment.” Yet, in my four years, I have yet to see or hear this group do anything to oppose capital punishment, especially in the state of Indiana where two men have been executed in Michigan City (a 40-minute drive) since I began here as a freshman. Worse yet, the University’s Task Force utterly fails to address the death penalty whatsoever. Rather, it blandly states only that the University should consider “the spectrum of life issues,” a vague and ambiguous statement that uncourageously avoids the issue of capital punishment, notwithstanding crystal clear Church teaching in opposition.

It does not take one long to find support for the inclusion of the death penalty as a “life” issue in statements and encyclicals by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II stated in 1999 that “a sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” (Pope John Paul II, St. Louis, Mo., January 1999) Pope Benedict XVI announced in 2009 that “The right to life must be recognized in all its fullness. In this context, I joyfully greet the initiative by which Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2005.” (Pope Benedict XVI, July 2009) Further support can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the campaign of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) against the death penalty. Surely the task force could not have missed these profound and unambiguous statements.

This University, of all places, is in a unique position to join other Catholic leaders in opposition to this archaic, inhumane, and morally unacceptable practice. The execution of a criminal defendant by lethal injection or electrocution is not a “natural death,” and equally violates the sanctity of human life. If you believe in the right to life, you ought to favor the abolition of capital punishment in the thirty-eight states in this country in which it remains lawful. Too many people at Notre Dame turn their backs on this sanctity of life issue because it seems lost in the constant debate over the lawfulness of abortion. I call upon Right to Life and the Task Force to be morally consistent by addressing this issue and taking the right stance in the name of Catholic teaching.

Anthony Matthew Durkin is a senior  living off campus and double majoring in political science and history.  He can be reached at adurkin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.