Thursday, February 16, 2012

The definition of pro-life

According to the Macquarie Dictionary, here are some definitions of the word 'life':

1. the condition which distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic objects and dead organisms. The distinguishing manifestations of life are: growth through metabolism, reproduction, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally.
2. the animate existence, or the term of animate existence, of an individual:to risk one's life.
3. a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived as belonging to the soul: eternal life.
4. a state or condition of existence as a human being: life is not a bed of roses.
5. a period of existence from birth to death: in later life she became more placid.

The Macquarie Dictionary also defines as pro as:

1. in favour of a proposition, opinion, etc. (opposed to con): to argue pro and con.
noun (plural pros) 
2. a proponent of an issue; someone who upholds the affirmative in a debate.
3. an argument, consideration, vote, etc., for something.
4. in favour of: to argue pro the war.
5. the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages. [Latin (preposition): in favour of, for]

So you would think that the term 'pro-life' could mean anything that is in favour for or supports living organisms (including animals and plants) to any aspect of a person's existence.

Not so, according to the Cornwall Alliance. When the President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network called the reduction of mercury pollution a pro-life issue, the Cornwall Alliance replied, saying that the term pro-life 'denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies'. They also claimed that portrayal mercury poisoning as a pro-life issue was 'disingenuous and dangerous to our efforts to protect the lives of unborn children'. You can find the whole statement here:

The statement also claims that there are two fundamental principles which 'distinguish truly pro-life issues … from environmental issues'. First, pro-life issues 'are issues of actual life and death', rather than environmental issues which they say 'tend to be matters of health'. Second, 'truly pro-life issues address actual intent to kill innocent people'.

Mercury poisoning may well be a matter of health, especially when the concern is that it hurts unborn children. However, to say that all environmental issues tend to be matters of health is showing a complete ignorance of the ecological crises that we face.

Environmentalism is not only concerned with the health of human beings. For a start, it is not just people's health that is at risk. Environmental degradation and global warming will (and is) taking people's lives. For example, if the land is not healthy, then people do not have enough food. If people have no food, they starve. Is ensuring people have enough to eat an 'actual life and death' issue? Or is that just a health matter?

According to the World Health Organisation, here are some of the possible effects of climate change:
  • Extremes of both heat and cold can cause potentially fatal illnesses, e.g. heat stress or hypothermia, as well as increasing death rates from heart and respiratory diseases.
  • In cities, stagnant weather conditions can trap both warm air and air pollutants -- leading to smog episodes with significant health impacts.
  • These effects can be significant. Abnormally high temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003 were associated with at least 27,000 more deaths than the equivalent period in previous years.
(Taken from Climate Change and Human Health, World Health Organisation,

 Admittedly, they call them 'acute adverse health effects'. But I would say that when people die from illnesses like hypothermia and heart and respiratory diseases because of extreme heat and cold, and when 27,000 people die from abnormally high temperatures, that is not just a health matter. It's an issue relating to life and death, and anyone who is truly pro-life would want to do something about it.

Furthermore, as will be clear from the Macquarie Dictionary definition given above, life does not just refer to human life. We are not the only living species on the planet. And we never will be, for if all other living things died, humans would too. So a truly pro-life position really has to be one that values and seeks protect all life forms, not just homo sapiens.

Their second proposition almost make me laugh. '[T]ruly pro-life issues address actual intent to kill innocent people.' Right, as opposed to environmental issues which are just seeking to prevent the unintentional killing of innocent people. If we continue to degrade the land, ruin the planet and change the climate, we are killing people. That may sound harsh but it's true. And it is the poorest people, the people who are completely dependent on the land, who suffer the most.

Also, as mentioned before, life does not just mean human life. While the Cornwall Alliance may like 'pro-life' simply to refer to the killing of innocent people, the fact that it says 'life' should means it refers to all living things. As a society, we intentionally take innocent lives all the time. We chop down trees, we destroy vegetation, we slaughter animals, we contribute to the extinction of plant and animal species. A truly 'pro-life' position may not be able (or even wish to) prevent all this taking of innocent lives, but it should at least value and seek to protect all life where it can.

Pro-life is a very broad term. The same can be said of pro-choice. And I have nothing against using the term 'pro-life' to refer to the prevention of abortions. But I don't believe it's right to choose a very broad term and yet try to limit it to a narrow set of issues. While pro-life may immediately bring to mind issues related to abortion or euthanasia, I think it's about time we widened it to include everything that 'life' really is. And if the pro-life movement don't want to the term 'pro-life' to be associated with every aspect of life, then maybe they should choose a narrower term that can't be used for environmental issues.

Genesis 1:30, 6:17 and 7:15 all make mention of everything that has the breath of life in them - and the reference is to animals, not just humans. In Genesis 9:9-17, God establishes his covenant with every living creature (vv. 10, 12, 15, 16) and with the earth (v. 13). He says that 'Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life'.

I think it's quite appropriate to call that a pro-life statement. And if we want to take the bible literally, it was perhaps the first pro-life statement ever spoken. And yet abortions aren't mentioned at all.

I believe that God is pro-life - and so am I - in the real definition of that term. 

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