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Prolifer: Spare abortion doc's life

One of the many things that make the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell interesting is that if convicted of murdering any of seven newborns allegedly delivered live in his West Philadelphia clinic, he would face the death penalty. Indeed, capital punishment plays an important part in the case since the district attorney allowed cooperating witnesses-- those who admit killing their tiny victims with scissors -- to plead guilty to lesser charges that don't carry the death penalty.Would Dr. Gosnell's execution by lethal injection be a concern for those who call themselves prolife? It turns out that the answer is yes -- at least for one prominent anti-abortion advocate, Princeton University Professor Robert P. George. In a post at First Things, he writes:

Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brothera precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is no. There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

It will be interesting to see the reaction George gets, including from the substantial number of Catholic bishops who hold his conservative views in high esteem. A call to spare Gosnell's life would make a powerful prolife statement, steeped in gospel values. George's column anticipated resistance to that:

I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnells, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.I do not expect my request to be met with universal acclaim.

The comments on his post so far attest to that -- most are thumbs down for sparing Dr. Gosnell's life.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

It's ok Ken.

Theyre not morally equivalent. In the case of the death penalty, I believe distinctions and nuance are in order that mitigate against a simple, binary for/against stance.Jim,They may not be morally equivalent, but certainly they are morally related. I think Catholics who take John Paul II's position (as quoted in Claire's post) to be only his personal opinion are engaging in the kind of rationalizing that they brand "Cafeteria Catholicism" in others. John Paul II didn't articulate a simple "for/against" stance. I think the vast majority of those who oppose capital punishment (and I include myself) would not object to the execution of a dangerous person if there were truly no other way to protect society. We just don't feel the situation ever arises in the United States. It would be bizarre to maintain that our death-row inmates are so dangerous they must be executed, but nevertheless keep them alive for fifteen years while appeals drag on. I have no doubt that a significant percentage of people who call themselves pro-life are ardent supporters of the death penalty. For those who are Catholics, I think they are being inconsistent in following Church teaching.

. . . for purposes of defending society, whatever that means.Jim,The meaning seems clear to me. "Defending society" in this context is keeping a person who has committed a serious crime from continuing to commit additional crimes of the same nature. I do not think it can be stretched to cover such things as deterrence.

"It is about Robert George trying to influence the pro-life movement and to present a certain image of the pro-life movement to those not in it."I apologize, I was confused. You are making an ad hominem argument about Prof. George and the "pro-life movement". I mistakenly thought you were concerned about the execution of the now decaseed Mr. Threadgill or the 10 other criminals on the schedule to be executed thorugh July in Texas.

I fear that this discussion is circling back to comments that have been made many times before. To look for new ideas, let's see what Cdl Bergoglio said on the subject. He related the two subjects:http://www.lifenews.com/2013/03/13/new-pope-francis-called-abortion-the-...He once called abortion a death sentence for unborn children, during a 2007 speech and likening opposition to abortion to opposition to the death penalty.

I wrote, regarding abortion and the death penalty, "Theyre not morally equivalent." David replied, "They may not be morally equivalent, but certainly they are morally related."It seems to me the extent of their overlap is that a human being is killed in each case. At the risk of stating the obvious: that's an important commonality, and not one to lightly be set aside. At the same time, we shouldn't let this commonality overshadow the moral differences between the two, which seem substantial. Abortion always involves killing a human being who is innocent, who is being killed for reasons unrelated to his/her agency, and whose death has been decided for reasons that we deem personal and private (to the mom). It is never a just outcome.The death penalty, at least as it is practiced in the US, is thought to involve killing a human being who is guilty of a heinous crime, who is being killed for crimes that resulted from his/her agency, and is being killed in order to achieve justice, and after a process that is public and involves the extension of numerous rights to the convict and only after several layers of additional scrutiny. It is always a just outcome (to the extent that humans can reasonably ensure just outcomes).

Jim, what you say about the death penalty being just is your opinion, but it does not match JP2's encyclical - your reasons have nothing to do with his exception, namely, the defense of society when it has a dysfunctional penal system. But I'm not one to claim that you should follow an encyclical when it doesn't make sense to you. But, setting aside JP2 for the moment, I also think that, factually, it is incorrect to say that the death penalty is "always a just outcome". See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrongful_execution

You are making an ad hominem argument about Prof. George and the pro-life movement. MAT,I find Robert George to be a very political person, and to a certain extent, I think his call for mercy for Gosnell was political (in a broad sense). As I said above, I think it is a little disingenuous to appeal for mercy for Gosnell when he is not in fact in any danger. However, on balance, in this case I think George is doing a good thing. So I am not making an "ad hominem" argument against George, or an argument against the pro-life movement.

It is always a just outcome (to the extent that humans can reasonably ensure just outcomes).Jim, So you disagree with Pope John Paul II? In 2012 in the United States, 43 people were executed. Was there no other way to protect society from these people than to kill them? I simply don't believe that. You are disagreeing with Pope John Paul II, at least as I understand him. Of course, I disagree with the Church and the recent popes on any number of issues, and I also think that "orthodox" Catholics have a right to disagree, at least where no dogma is concerned. I do not think John Paul II is right on the death penalty because he is the pope and papal encyclicals are authoritative. I think he was right because he agrees with me!

I think abortion and the death penalty are morally equivalent.I think trying to make a distinction between an innocent life and a not-innocent one is bogus.The Ten Commandments say:Thou Shalt Not Kill". That is an absolute. I understand the idea of necessity; when taking a life is the only way to protect another life. I don't think it comes into play in any way in capital cases in the US.

Claire and David - I don't know that I am disagreeing with JP II in the argument I've made here, but I am approaching the death penalty from a different point of view. JP II, in EV, refers to the death penalty as a "problem". By this term, I believe he refers to the conflict or contradiction that our conversation is bringing to the surface: from one point of view (the "culture of death" POV he advocates in EV), human life is sacred, and so there should be very few circumstances in which it can be taken. But from another point of view, some crimes are so horrible that no lesser punishment can adequately address the disorder and restore the disorder to communities and societies that the crimes have inflicted upon them. He solves the "problem" by favoring the culture-of-death approach. I don't really have an issue with that; but it's helpful to understand how he came to where he arrived, and where it may take us in the future.

But from another point of view, some crimes are so horrible that no lesser punishment can adequately address the disorder and restore the disorder to communities and societies that the crimes have inflicted upon them.Jim,It seems to me that is exactly what John Paul II is rejecting.

Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

Texas has executed Texas 495 people since 1976, 3 so far this year, 15 in 2012, 13 in 2011,and 17 in 2010. That is not "very rare, if not practically non-existent." I have heard people argue that with a population of 26 million, 10 or 15 executions a year can be considered "very rare." I am quite sure JPII would not agree with that reasoning. You certainly couldn't make that argument about something like lynching.

Jim, I don't think you can take a single word from JP2's encyclical, "problem", and comment on it alone. The context, I believe, (as quoted by David), shows that your POV is in disagreement with JP2. Why does it bother you so much to be in disagreement with him anyway? Plenty of people agree with you, and your reasoning is very natural for humans.

In fact let me quote the entirety of paragraphs 55 and 56 of Evangelium Vitae, so that it's crystal clear. (Again, I do not find it objectionable that you would disagree with it, but I wish you recognized that you are in disagreement with it!)http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_.... This should not cause surprise: to kill a human being, in whom the image of God is present, is a particularly serious sin. Only God is the master of life! Yet from the beginning, faced with the many and often tragic cases which occur in the life of individuals and society, Christian reflection has sought a fuller and deeper understanding of what God's commandment prohibits and prescribes. 43 There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God's Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself " (Mk 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself.Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the State".44 Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason. 45 56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 47It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48

Claire - I admit that it does bother me to disagree with JP II, just as I know, from talking with people who do hospital ministry, that it bothers them to disagree with another controversial thing he taught: that hydration and nutrition are always to be considered ordinary (rather than extraordinary) care. I see his view on the death penalty as propounded in EV as a parallel case: a rather unilateral exercise in his teaching office that reverses a long and generally-accepted tradition in Catholic moral thought and that has not been "received" by a substantial group of the faithful charged with living and breathing these teachings and actually making them "real" on the ground. In the case of the hydration-and-nutrition rule, those are the pastoral ministers in healthcare that counsel patients, families and healthcare workers; in the case of the death penalty, it is prosecutors, judges, law enforcement officials, legislators and citizens.In the case of this death-penalty teaching, my view is that it has been pretty carefully considered by those stakeholders, and they don't find the reasoning or the conclusion persuasive. That is not to say that JP II is wrong; but it does mean that the conversation continues.Let me add that I'm not a huge proponent of the death penalty. I accept to at least some extent the view that we have, if not a full-blown culture of death, at least a culture whose fabric is is marred by threads of death. (This description of contemporary culture as a "culture of death" is another statement by JP II that I know a number of pastoral workers disagree with, as it seems to gloss over the many life-giving things in our culture). I don't want to see Gosnell executed, and if the death penalty were abolished in all fifty states, I'd be ecstatic. I certainly agree that the risk of the death penalty being misapplied is too large to ignore. But as I've tried to explain here, I think the equivalence of abortion to the death penalty is a superficial and even false equivalence, and I don't think it's indefensible that a Catholic can simultaneously oppose abortion and support at least some applications of the death penalty - and in fact, I think it's a thoroughly respectable Catholic position that doesn't even contradict EV.And to push back just a bit to my liberal friends here: what I do find extremely problematic is to simultaneously *approve of* abortion and *oppose* the death penalty in all cases. And that's pretty much the views of large segments of the Democratic Party.

I stand 100% with Professor Robert George. Pro-life is as much (or more) about the right for every soul to have eternal life as it is about human life. God wishes every soul saved, period. To cut short the life of anyone, be it a person of great evil like Gosnell or an end-stage cancer patient, is to deny that person the full mercy and grace (often for repentance) willed by God. The reality is, abortionists like Gosnell get a lot of prayers said for them, and converting isn't as far fetched as some might think. One of the best articles IMO, ever written on that subject was also by Robert George, on the conversion of abortionist Bernard Nathinson, who went on to be one of the greatest defenders of life in America. Truly, this is a great read, regardless of anyone's politics on abortion or the death penalty.http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/02/2806/Paul Moses I wasn't aware of the Mother Teresa connection with the SCOTUS. Thank you the reference and the opportunity to have this much needed discussion.May we all have the grace to recognize the value of every human life, here and for all eternity.

I think the equivalence of abortion to the death penalty is a superficial and even false equivalenceI actually also think that those are not equivalent, because the death penalty is always applied to a person, while abortion, in the early stages, is applied to what I would call a potential person - not yet a person. But, like you, I also find it illogical to approve abortion even in egregious cases (say, at or near the limit of viability outside the womb) while opposing the death penalty in all cases.

while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.But if nothing concentrates the mind like the idea one will be hanged in a fortnight, isnt it possible the death penalty offers the offender the best incentive? Im not sure Blessed JPII fully considered that. What if the longer we live the more we have a chance to fall away?

while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.This is all well and good but it doesn't do a damned thing about the requirements of justice.

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