Our country just experienced a kumbaya week with Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. Some of his most powerful words dealt with the respect for the sanctity of life. I argue that our legislators and by extension, our public health care policy, to put it kindly, suffers from dissociative personality disorder, formerly called multiple personality disorder. Being less than kind, I would call it blatant hypocrisy.
We have a public policy that suffers from two distinct identities when it comes to the sanctity of life. Our politicians support terminating life while also expending extraordinary efforts to salvage life at both ends of life’s spectrum.
We are only one of seven countries that legalize abortion 20 weeks post-fertilization (equal to 22 weeks from last menstrual period). New York allows abortions through 24 weeks from the start of pregnancy or when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health as determined by a licensed physician.
But we then use the best of our technology and talent to save live births at 22 weeks in our neonatal intensive care units. The only difference between aborting an unborn baby and valiantly saving a birthed baby at the same stage of gestation is the location of the baby: One is within the womb and the other is outside the womb. Each practice is perfectly legal and, depending upon the state in which one lives, supported by a variety of federal or state funding mechanisms.
The same policymakers also deal with life that is ending from age or terminal illness. Four states, along with recently passed legislation in California awaiting the governor’s signature, have legalized physician-assisted suicide for someone who has six months or less to live. New York is deliberating similar legislation. Essentially, physicians are being asked to accept a legislatively sanctioned path that is directly opposed to the oath that frames their profession: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”
Again, as in the case of NICUs, we expend extraordinary efforts to prolong life for those at the other end of life. These struggles are visible in intensive care units and oncology units in hospitals across the country as well as with the search for pharmacotherapies that offer extended lives for those with once untreatable conditions. Much of the funding comes from public programs, such as Medicare.
Our public health care policy supports our physicians and health care professionals in taking a life while we beg them to call upon all available resources to save a life. How can we ask them to treat, to possibly heal, but alternatively help to kill a patient?
I question whether our legislators rigorously defend the sanctity of life. How do we save one baby, one elderly, one terminally ill and allow the other life to be terminated? Is this a sign of a personality disorder or pure hypocrisy? Does our public policy define these lives differently? Do lives have different value?
Pope Francis repeatedly called upon our responsibility to “protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.” New York is considering the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. When our great-grandchildren look back on the history of our nation and its laws, how will our culture be defined? I pray that the sanctity of life will stand above all.