Magazine   Sanctity of Life

Life and Liberty

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The following testimony was given to the First District of Pennsylvania’s Investigating Grand Jury XXIII, in 2010:

“Cross [the medical assistant] was not the only one surprised by the size and maturity of Baby Boy A. Adrienne Moton and Ashley Baldwin, along with Cross, took photographs because this was a baby that could and should have lived. Cross explained: 

Q. Why did you all take a photograph of this baby? 

A. Because it was big and it was wrong and we knew it.

Gosnell simply noted the baby boy’s size by joking, as he often did after delivering a large baby. According to Cross, the doctor said, “This baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop.”

Further testimony by the witness disclosed that after the abortion, the baby continued to breathe. Gosnell “just slit the [baby’s] neck” and threw him in a shoebox.

On May 13, 2013, Kermit Gosnell was convicted of one count of involuntary manslaughter for overdosing a patient in his abortion clinic, and three counts of first degree murder of two babies who survived abortions. Days later he was sentenced to two and a half to five years for involuntary manslaughter and three sentences of life without parole.

Gosnell’s actions horrified even the staunchest of pro-abortion advocates—but they should not have. Gosnell’s deeds are just a logical next step in the war on humanity that began at the turn of the 20th Century, a war many believe does not affect them.

But it does. The God-given inalienable right to life is the wellspring from which all freedom flows, including the right to liberty and the right to property. All hinge on the belief in the equality of man and his inherent right to live. As history has shown, a government that fails to protect the sanctity of human life is a government that, ultimately, will be unable to protect liberty. A government that refuses to protect life and liberty will eventually enslave its citizenry.

Inherent Rights: Essential for Freedom

To appreciate the significance of the right to life, one must understand the definition and origin of natural rights. A “right” is a legal entitlement to have something. Natural “rights” are rights inherent in man, which cannot be bestowed on or extinguished by man or by government.

In the 1600s, John Locke, an English philosopher, began writing about the natural rights of man rooted in nature. So controversial was the notion of natural rights, Locke never acknowledged its authorship while he was living. In his famous work, the Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke wrote extensively about man’s natural right to life, liberty, and property, and that government’s proper role is to serve the people by protecting these rights.

 Thomas Jefferson, an avid follower of John Locke, advocated natural rights as freedom’s foundation in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Jefferson’s words were “fighting words.” No people had ever claimed to be equal to their ruler or claimed rights separate and apart from those bestowed by government. Jefferson’s words and notions inspired a nation, ignited the American Revolution, and launched the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever known.

Sanctity of Human Life and Free Enterprise

Many times, discussions about free enterprise center on economic theories and systems, rather than on the underlying foundations of economic freedom—the inherent quality and dignity of the human person. As noted by James Robinson and Jay Richards in their book, Indivisible, “the case for free enterprise—private property, limited government and free markets—is not merely economic.” To support their argument, Robinson and Richards use the staunch atheist, pro-abortion libertarian, Ayn Rand’s quote, “Man—every man—is an end in himself.” Robinson and Richards assert that quote recognizes a commitment to the inherent dignity of the human person, and “that a human being is valuable because of what he or she is, apart from whether he or she is useful to anyone else.” That recognition, according to the authors, is the foundational principle of the pro-life position as well.

In an article entitled, “The Cause of Life Cannot Be Severed from the Cause of Freedom,” Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) argues that free market choice and the right to life are indivisible. According to Congressman Ryan, “One implicates the other.” The freedom to make economic choices, a natural right, requires one to identify who has that right and, in essence, requires us to define what is “human.” Ryan concludes, “The freedom to choose is pointless, for someone who does not have the freedom to live…. How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom—life—for the most vulnerable human beings?”

The Indivisibility of Life and Liberty

As the heart and lungs work together to keep a human’s physical heart beating, the God-given inherent rights to life and liberty operate together to keep the heartbeat of freedom alive. In 1774, Jefferson wrote to the Virginia Delegates of the First Continental Congress, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force can destroy but not disjoin them.” Jefferson understood that liberty means nothing without the inherent right to live. Jefferson further understood that a government that abandons its primary function of protecting life will eventually abandon the obligation to protect the right to liberty.

History abroad provides gruesome examples. Hitler came to power as Chancellor in 1933. According to Richard Evans’ book, The Third Reich at War, one of the first things Hitler did was to attack the sanctity of human life. The medical profession at the time favored the sterilization of the handicapped, and in 1933, Hitler authorized them to do so; in 1935, he allowed legalized abortion, and in 1939, euthanasia.

We know the rest of the story. The German government’s abandonment of protecting the Godgiven inherent right to life for some turned into one of the most horrible atrocities of the 20th Century— the Holocaust, where millions of Jews and political opponents of Hitler, forced into concentration camps, lost their inherent right to liberty and the right to life.

Communism tells the same story. Marxism, like Nazism, rejects the belief that man possesses any inherent rights, including the right to life. Unlike Nazism, however, one need not look in the annals of history to discover this fact. Current day Communist China provides thousands of examples. Most egregious, Communist China has, for years, enforced a “One Child Policy,” where women are forced to abort their child if they do not get official permission to become pregnant. Many women are then sterilized. Websites reporting this atrocity have been shut down by the government. Those who dare to speak out against it, including Catholic priests, are arrested and imprisoned. The Chinese government’s refusal to protect the sanctity of human life has led to a loss of liberty, including forced sterilization of mothers, a denial of free speech, and imprisonment for those who dare to speak against it.

In other countries, the refusal to protect the sanctity of life at the end of life has led to a denial of liberty as well. The “right to die” movement has been transformed into the “right to exterminate.” The Netherlands, a country that has allowed voluntary euthanasia since 1984, has crossed the threshold into involuntary euthanasia. A 2010 report indicated that of the 3,136 reported euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands, there were over 500 deaths without request or consent.

In 2012, a professor in England, Patrick Pullicino, claimed that England’s state-run health care system “kills off ” an abundance of elderly patients each year. The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) was established to care for terminally ill patients. According to Pullicino, thousands of elderly are being placed on the LCP each year, and, too often, these patients are not terminally ill. This fact prompted Pullicino to characterize the LCP as “an assisted death pathway, rather than a care pathway.” A December 30, 2012 online news story reported that as many as 60,000 patients are put on the LCP each year without consent from them or their families.

America’s Sanctity of Human Life Ethic

Agreeing with Locke, America’s founders also recognized that rights impose duties on individuals. The duty accompanying the right to life became known as the “sanctity of life” ethic, an ethic that recognized the inherent value and equality of man, and society’s obligation to protect it.

With the exception of the slavery issue, from its inception, the U.S. Constitution and laws—both common law and statutory law—reflected the sanctity of life ethic. The ethic fueled the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment constitutionally restoring to African-Americans their God-given natural rights. Subsequent movements designed to guarantee equal rights for African-Americans have been championed using this same ethic.

This sanctity of life ethic has profoundly influenced the direction of common law (law coming from court decisions), statutory law, and public policy. It served as the foundation of our laws criminalizing intentional harm against persons, including rape, assault, neglect and abandonment of children, and murder. It served as the catalyst for laws providing civil causes of action for personal injury and has served as the leaven to insure economic choice.

Reflecting the sanctity of life ethic for almost 130 years, government protected innocent human life by criminalizing murder and banning abortion, first by common law and then by statute. By 1900, every state had statutorily banned abortion.

The Fall of the Right to Life

The Progressive Movement in the early 1900s brought with it the seedlings of an 18th Century theory that rejected the belief that man, because of his nature, possesses certain inherent rights. Jeremy Bentham, a 16th Century English philosopher, promoted the idea that man’s rights, including man’s right to life, should be based on usefulness to society, the greatest good and the greatest happiness. If man is not useful or is unwanted, his life can be extinguished with impunity. This theory became known as modern utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism’s influence in public policy laid dormant most of the 18th and 19th Centuries, both in Europe and the U.S. In the early 1900s, it gained popularity in the U.S. among the intellectual and political elite. Prompted by this new theory of rights, in 1906, the Ohio Legislature considered the legalization of euthanasia. The measure was defeated by a vote of 78-22. Down but not out, euthanasia advocates realized that they would need to win in the public square before they would win in courts or legislatures.

Forced Sterilization

These elites, sympathetic to the euthanasia movement, turned their attention and resources to other social movements linked in spirit to the euthanasia movement. The eugenics movement, which aimed at eliminating “undesireables” in society through forced sterilization, garnered enthusiastic support, both financial and political.

Initially tepid, support for forced sterilization heated up after the Supreme Court backed away from its long-held stance protecting the sanctity of human life. In 1927, writing for the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes quipped, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough,” and decided that forced sterilization was constitutionally permissible. With the Court on their side, state legislatures boldly enacted laws legalizing forced sterilization. State officials began hunting down and forcibly sterilizing the “unfit.”

In some states, including North Carolina, the practice survived the negative publicity of the German eugenics programs and continued into the 1960s and, at least in the case of North Carolina, into the 1970s. The North Carolina program performed its last forced sterilization in 1974, seven years after North Carolina became one of the first three states to enact a eugenics-style abortion law, and two years after the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Roe v. Wade decision, which (in conjunction with Doe v. Bolton) legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.


Although leaky, the sanctity of life ethic’s dike held back anti-life forces until the Court’s wholesale abandonment of the ethic in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. With the stroke of a pen, the Court nullified laws criminalizing abortion in all 50 states. The ruling not only opened the floodgates to the unbridled killing of the unborn through all nine months of pregnancy, it weakened or destroyed the sanctity of life ethic in all areas of law and medicine.

With no responsibility to protect all innocent human life, in 1976, state legislatures quickly turned their guns on the elderly and infirm.

Examples of NC’s Assault on the Sanctity of Human Life

  • 1919—North Carolina becomes one of the first southern states to enact a compulsory sterilization law. Due to the fear of its unconstitutionality, the law was not enforced.
  • 1929—North Carolina enacts a second forced sterilization law, just two years after the Supreme Court found Virginia’s forced sterilization law constitutional in Buck v. Bell, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously wrote, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
  • 1933—North Carolina enacts a third forced sterilization law after its 1929 law was found unconstitutional. This law established a Eugenics Board, which approved over 90 percent of those individuals recommended for sterilization by doctors and social workers.
  • 1933—The State Health Department allowed Dr. Clarence Gamble, of the Proctor and Gamble soap fortune, to fund state-run birth control clinics around the state targeting the poor. By 1939, the Health Department ran 62 state clinics. With only three percent of the nation’s population, North Carolina housed 13 percent of the nation’s birth control clinics.
  • 1947—Through the efforts of the newly established Human Betterment Society, North Carolina expanded its forced sterilization program at a time when many states were closing their programs in response to the media’s attention to sterilization programs in Germany.
  • 1963—North Carolina officials perform nearly one-half of the sterilizations nationwide.
  • 1967—North Carolina becomes one of the first states to enact a eugenics-style abortion law.
  • 1973—North Carolina General Assembly expands the N.C. abortion law to reflect the so-called “rights” created by Roe v. Wade.
  • 1991—North Carolina legalizes living wills, allowing the patient to be starved by the withdrawal of artificial food and water.Living wills were first invented in 1949 by the Euthanasia Society of America and the Euthanasia Educational Council, but shelved due to lack of support.
  • 2007—North Carolina becomes one of seven states to legalize MOST Documents, a two-page document that may supercede the rights of patients, and is promoted by an Oregon euthanasia organization.
  • 2013—North Carolina Senate fails to act on a law banning assisted suicide, leaving North Carolina as one of only three states with no law on the matter.

Involuntary Euthanasia

Amidst the swirl of passive voluntary euthanasia, an anti-life medical ethic began to gain traction. Known as the ‘futile care theory,’ this ethic promotes the idea that there is no inherent dignity to human life. Rather, personhood and the right to live should be determined by the cognitive ability of the patient. The severely mentally disabled, the newborn infant, the patient in a persistent vegetative state— all lack the requisite cognitive ability to warrant protection by the State. Introduced to medicine by Princeton Professor Peter Singer, this morality now holds a significant role in the practice of medicine.

Recently, the futile care theory has slithered its way into state laws. Two states, Virginia and Texas, allow doctors, after 14 and 10 days, respectively, to withdraw life-sustaining care over the objection of the patients or their loved ones, if the doctor believes the patient’s life is not worth saving.

This new ethic is also being used to trample parental rights. In 2004, in Houston, Texas, Wanda Hudson’s son was born with a type of dwarfism that affected his lung and chest cavity development. The doctors decided to shut off his ventilator. The mother sued. Citing the Texas futile care law, the doctors won, the ventilator was shut off, and Wanda Hudson’s son died. Reportedly, this is the first case of its kind where a child’s ventilator was shut off over the objection of a parent.

Although currently legal in only four states, several states are considering legalizing assisted suicide. Investigations are now showing that, at least in some cases, assisted suicides are no longer “voluntary” and no longer “assisted,” but rather are intentional takings of life by another person.

Oregon’s callous disregard for the sanctity of human life, at least arguably, seems to have had a chilling effect on the prosecutions of murder as well. Clarietta Day had made it clear to her doctors that she did not want extraordinary means taken to extend her life. At the age of 78 she suffered a severe stroke. The internist, Dr. James Gallant, took her off life support. She continued to live. So taking matters into his own hands, Gallant put a magnet over her pacemaker in an attempt to force Ms. Day into cardiac arrest. Her heart continued to beat. So, to finish the job, he injected her with a lethal drug and Ms. Day died within 15 minutes. Although suspended from practicing medicine for 60 days and reprimanded, the local prosecutor refused to prosecute the doctor for murder, claiming the effort would serve “no useful purpose.”

The intersection between the right to life and the right to liberty became blatant several years ago when two Oregon citizens on the State Health Plan, Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, were denied coverage for their cancer drugs. Both received letters from the state denying payment for the cancer drugs, but saying that the state would cover the cost of their physician assisted suicide. In other words, the state was not interested in helping them live, but was very interested in helping them die, and would use taxpayer funds to do so.

“Passive Infanticide”

As horrific as Gosnell’s acts described at the outset of this article, no one should be surprised. Gosnell simply went one step further than what occurs in U.S. hospitals today. The right to abortion in many states, including North Carolina, has been extended outside the womb to include babies who survive abortion. In these states, if the baby is intended to die in utero, it has no right to live, period.

The federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act was enacted, amidst much fanfare, to end this travesty. Due to defects in the legislation, however, the law’s effect was dead on arrival the moment it was signed. Nothing, to date, has been done to resurrect it. Twenty-eight states, however, have done something about it, and have laws requiring medical assistance for babies who survive abortion. Twenty-two states, including North Carolina, do not.

The fact that babies survive abortion and are then left to die seems almost like a routine matter. The North Carolina Women’s Hospital at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has produced and published a fact sheet for their patients entitled, “Pregnancy Termination Using Induction of Labor.” One of the questions listed is “Will my baby be born alive?” The fact sheet, readily available on the Internet, nonchalantly states, “If your baby is born alive he/she can be kept warm and given comfort until breathing stops. A nurse can do this if you and your family are not able.”

Many proponents of abortion argue that the numbers of babies who survive abortion are so small that it is an insignificant issue. A 2007 UK study, however, indicates otherwise. That study found that 1 in 30 babies survive abortion. These babies were aborted due to fetal abnormality, which begs the question, “What if the babies were perfectly healthy at the time of the abortion. How many of them survive?” No one knows.

“Creation of Life” Issues

Arguably, the most visceral attack on human life occurs before the child even reaches the womb. Known as Artificial Reproductive Technology, it includes both In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Intraceytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). Both techniques involve fertilizing a human ovum with a human sperm outside the womb and the transfer of one or more of the produced embryos into the womb of a woman.

While media attention has focused on the end result—the birth of a child—very little is ever reported on the human lives abandoned and left in clinic freezers, or destroyed by researchers attempting to advance embryonic stem cell research.

Of late, pro-life ethicists have become alarmed at the ever-increasing use of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). According to the Center for Genetics and Society, three-quarters of U.S. IVF clinics offer the service. Prior to implantation, embryos can be screened for genetic dispositions for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, polycystic kidney diseases, and certain types of cancers. Embryos that are “pure” are allowed to live. “Defective” embryos are destroyed outright or used for research. This science is not being used to find a cure for diseases, but simply being used to “weed out” undesirables, a goal eerily similar to the eugenics movement of the 20th Century.

Most recently, the technique has been used to advance the absurd desire for designer babies. A Los Angeles clinic, the Fertility Institute, uses PGD to provide parents with the opportunity to choose desired traits of their child, including sex and eye color. According to a 2012 ABC report, the clinic draws patients from around the world.

“Who We Are”

In a speech given in 1995 at Notre Dame, the late Pennsylvania Governor, Robert Casey said the following:

Human life cannot be measured. It is the measure itself. The value of everything else is weighed against it. The abortion debate is not about how we shall live, but who should live. And more than that, it’s about who we are.

Casey’s comments call individuals to question not only who we are as individuals, but who we are as a nation. Do Americans still believe, as the forefathers did, that all men are created equal and that every man has a right to liberty, including economic liberty? Or is America now a nation that believes man is no longer equal, the powerful should hold sway over the powerless, and the weak should serve at the mercy of the strong?

Hundreds of thousands of men and women have died fighting to save liberty. The answers to these questions will determine whether such liberty enjoyed today will survive tomorrow. For the millions around the world who yearn to breathe the air of freedom here in America, they are waiting for an answer. America’s children wait as well.

True liberty and equality must be returned back to this nation’s shores. That cause can begin by renewing the fight for the wellspring of all freedom, which is the inherent right to life for each and every human being from the moment of their natural conception to the moment of their natural death.

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Mary Summa, J.D., is an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, who served as Chief Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Jesse Helms during the 1980s.




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