Do Pro-Life Principles Require a Sustained Shutdown of the Economy? Who Decides?

From author Scott Klusendorf, April 2020

Pro-life advocates argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings, and policies permitting it are scandalous. That core principle is non-negotiable, even when suspending it might profit us in a pandemic. To cite an example, when congressional Democrats called on the Trump administration to lift federal funding restrictions on destructive fetal tissue research on grounds it might cure COVID-19, pro-life advocates — acting on their core principle — universally opposed the Democratic proposal.31 Their argument was clear and to the point: We must never intentionally kill innocent human beings so others can profit. We must pursue the cure of disease in morally acceptable ways.

While we must never intentionally kill innocent human beings, in practice we allow for tradeoffs where the risk of death is foreseen but not intended. These tradeoffs are unavoidable in the pursuit of other intrinsic goods. For example, electricity saves lives and powers our appliances, but each year 400 people die from electrocution and thousands more are injured. 32 Worldwide, car wrecks kill 1.5 million people a year, many of them in poor countries. That’s 3,700 deaths each day!33We could save hundreds of thousands of lives if we enforced a 25-mph speed limit, but we don’t. Is that because we’re playing a game of “Lifeboat” where we arbitrarily decide who lives and dies based on economic worth? No, we recognize that speedy and efficient transportation leads to a higher standard of living for everyone. We accept these tradeoffs all the time.

“Pro-life” means we will never sanction the intentional killing of innocent human beings. It does not mean that the preservation of life is the only intrinsic good we should pursue. If it were, our decisions would be much simpler: just do what contributes to length of life and eschew anything that doesn’t. But that may not lead to the best, or even a good, outcome.

Suppose I’m an impoverished 35-year-old farmer with six kids and a wife living in rural Georgia. My kids are poorly educated and will never attend college or travel. We scrape by selling peanuts and sweet corn. On the plus side, life expectancy in our county is 83 years. There is almost no crime and we are healthy, thanks to remarkably clean air and the non-processed foods we produce. Then, out of the blue, Morgan Stanley offers me a consulting job in Manhattan. It seems the company wants to reach farmers with investment strategies and needs insider help. My starting salary will be $250,000 annually and the company will secure housing in a nice Long Island neighborhood with excellent schools. My family will flourish in a local church with excellent Bible teaching and a large youth group. On weekends, I can take my wife out to dinner, something I haven’t done for years. We can travel! And my kids can go to college! There’s only one problem: physicians report that life expectancy on Long Island averages two years less than rural Georgia due to air quality. All other things being equal, if I move my family, have I wrongly traded lives for profits? No. Although I foresee shorter life spans, I do not intend them. I accept the potential tradeoff on my life expectancy for the sake of other intrinsic goods, such as educating my kids, providing for my family, and Christian fellowship.

Absent important qualifiers, “life over profits” is moralistic reductionism masquerading as biblical ethics. Seen holistically, “profits” are not just about money. Rather, wrapped up in our economic considerations are clusters of intrinsic goods, such as educating our children, providing for our families, giving to charity, building up our marriages, and pursuing Christian fellowship — all of which contribute to the common good.

Read the full article here.

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