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Fratelli Tutti: Who Lives? Who Decides?

In Fratelli Tutti, Paragraph 106 concerns “A UNIVERSAL LOVE THAT PROMOTES PERSONS.” The Holy Father writes,

Social friendship and universal fraternity necessarily call for an acknowledgment of the worth of every human person. If each individual is of such great worth, it must be stated clearly and firmly that “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” This is a basic principle of social life that tends to be ignored in a variety of ways by those who sense that it does not fit into their worldview or serve their purposes.

People have this right even if they are unproductive, or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.

Pope Francis is touching upon something germane in societies across the world. As I read this section of Fratelli Tutti, two topics, in particular, come to mind. Both reinforce the Holy Father’s concerns.

One topic involved a series of recent articles I saw from great Britain. They dealt with the current practice of assigning “do not resuscitate” orders. These orders were being applied to covid patients with learning disabilities. To quote one article from The Hill,

Mencap, a watchdog group aimed at helping those with learning disabilities, has said they received multiple reports from coronavirus patients with learning disabilities who were told they would not be resuscitated if their health deteriorated, according to a report from The Guardian.

“Throughout the pandemic, many people with a learning disability have faced shocking discrimination and obstacles to accessing healthcare, with inappropriate Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notices put on their files and cuts made to their social care support,” Edel Harris, Mencap’s chief executive, told The Guardian.

I was surprised that people were surprised. Pope Francis is not. This could be one of the reasons why he wrote the paragraphs above. St. Pope John Paul II warned about a “culture of death” during his papacy. The Pope from Poland not only lamented about the widespread acceptance of abortion. He expressed equal concern about euthanasia practices. He saw ever more governments considering this as a basic good. They were enacting legislation to widen the availability of euthanasia and other “death with dignity” practices.

Francis writes further,

Some societies accept this principle in part. They agree that opportunities should be available to everyone, but then go on to say that everything depends on the individual. From this skewed perspective, it would be pointless “to favor an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life”. Investments in assistance to the vulnerable could prove unprofitable; they might make things less efficient. No. What we need are states and civil institutions that are present and active, that look beyond the free and efficient working of certain economic, political, or ideological systems, and are primarily concerned with individuals and the common good.

Some months ago we saw articles that appeared in American media sources about Iceland. They dealt with alarming statistics that almost no babies were being born with down syndrome in Iceland. I saw one article reporting on this from CBS News. Another one appeared in the Washington Post.

The third article from Iceland Magazine tried to debunk what had been reported in the American press. They just took umbrage at the fact that American media had reported the statistics to be close to 100%. This is probably not surprising considering the article comes from Iceland. If you read the article, their fact-checking outlines how many women opt for prenatal testing. They mention the statistics of tests that reveal possible abnormalities (which are shared with the women). They listed how many women opt for a follow-up test. “If the tests conclude that the child will be born with down syndrome women are told they have two options: to end the pregnancy or carry it to term.”

Interestingly, the article does not provide the numbers for that first option. 

This is gruesome stuff. It is unpleasant to discuss. Still, throughout history, the Catholic Church has never shied away from using its prophetic voice. It considers the “truth speaking to power” part of the Gospel. Francis is saying that every human life is precious. The productivity of a particular person should not be the litmus test as to whether the person lives or dies. As Saint Mother Theresa once said, “One person should not have to die so that another person can live the way they choose.”

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