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Human Personhood

By Judie Brown

Human personhood remains the ONLY GOAL worthy of pro-life efforts because it is the single most definitive way to ensure protection for all innocent human beings—born and preborn. Whether these children come into being sexually or asexually, their value is undeniable. And there are no exceptions.

Yet every day we see exceptions, as indicated by the support of many pro-life groups for “heartbeat bills”—bills that propose to save the life of preborn babies once a heartbeat is detected. Such language suggests that the existence of a person prior to a detectable heartbeat might not be worthy of being acknowledged. But common sense indicates that without the development of the person prior to a detectable heartbeat, there would be no human being at all.

So what exactly are these bills about? Truth or politics? You decide. There is a clear discrepancy that occurs when groups argue that abortion should be abolished but then use a fallback political position directed at saving only those with a detectable heartbeat.

Truth does not depend on a particular political climate, nor do the biological facts of human development.

As the old game show Truth or Consequences suggested in its title, when you begin to back off or remold the truth, something always goes awry. In the case of preborn children, the consequence of bending the truth is that countless preborn children die as a result. The arbitrary timeline of 15 weeks or six weeks or any other such demarcation will have and has had deadly results.

In an article dealing with the existence of the whole person from the first cell formation, Professor Dianne Irving referred to Thomas Aquinas, whose teaching on the anthropology of the human being provides an insight that is very helpful at this juncture in the history of the pro-life movement. Paraphrasing Aquinas, she writes:

The name of “person” (and he uses that term) does not belong to the rational part of the soul, nor to the whole soul alone – but to the entire human substance (or, subsistens). This means that the whole soul, whole body and its act of existing constitute one substance entire – with no separate and troublesome independent “parts” each of which are claimed to be true and independent whole substances. And it is worth noting that Aquinas is one of the only philosophers who includes undesignated matter in his formal definitions of natural things – of which man is one.

For Thomas a human being is a human person, and the later characteristics which we will look at in these debates, such as “rational attributes”, autonomous willing or sentience, are only consequential and secondary or accidental actions which follow upon certain powers (not “parts”) which themselves follow upon the essential nature of the human being itself. That nature is defined as the single, whole, formal, material and existential human substance.

As Thomas states: “The soul must be in the whole body [and therefore not just in the brain], and in each part thereof . . . for to the nature of the species belongs what the definition signifies; and in natural things, the definition does not signify the form only, but the form and the matter . . . so it belongs to the notion of man [definition] to be composed of soul, flesh and bones.”

This explanation of the whole human being—the entire person—is fundamental to our quest to protect every individual in our society, and particularly in law, no matter how daunting the goal may seem. There is far too much at stake in the atheistic environment in which we work for anything less to be our focus.

We cannot teach truth in a political vacuum that sucks up truth and spits out sound bites.

No matter what your age as you read this, remember that when the human being is denigrated by man’s definitions, no matter how noble, bad things will result. Whether we are discussing the Australian woman who wanted to die on her terms or the preborn child who at 12 weeks’ gestational age would not be protected because her heartbeat could not be heard, killing is still killing.

As pro-life people, we stand with the single most profound commandment of God, Who said “Thou Shalt Not Kill!”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this commandment, teaching: “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”

Human Personhood Now!