Letter: Unconditional respect for life is the basis of a civilised society

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The Independent Online
Sir: Bryan Appleyard ("Abortion: why we must think again", 18 July) is right: abortion is the issue of the future, not the past. The double-think involved in condemning infanticide whilst permitting abortion is gruesomely revealed in the description he gives of a "partial birth abortion", which involves killing a baby whilst it is being born.

In 1994 there was controversy over the possible use of ova from aborted foetuses. It is ironic that a foetus can be regarded as human enough to become a biological parent and still be denied the right to be born alive. But the difficulty in identifying any point during gestation when such a right can first be recognised is highlighted by scientific advances which not only constantly push back the age at which prematurely born babies survive, but also the stage (now thought to be well within the first three months) at which a foetus shows signs of being able to feel.

Catholic teaching is that "from the time the ovum is fertilised a life has begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother. It is rather the life of a new human being ... it would never be made human if it were not human already". From the first moment of its existence the result of human procreation must be given that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has instructed clinics to begin after 31 July discarding embryos which have been frozen for five years and which are unclaimed or unwanted.

The bizarre prospect of so many surplus embryos being created and then destroyed betrays the moral bankruptcy of our society in denying the intrinsic value of all human life. It is of a piece with the appalling death toll from procured abortions. Bryan Appleyard says there are now 184,000 in this country per year, 98 per cent of them for social reasons.

We need to think again. The first and most fundamental duty of any society is to protect human life, and to have a special regard for the weak and vulnerable. By ignoring this duty, abortion on demand corrodes the foundations of the just society. Many people of all faiths and none sense this. The survival of our common human inheritance depends upon re-establishing the unconditional respect for innocent life as the basis of a civilised society.


Archbishop of Westminster

London SW1