Religion should have no place in political or medical decisions

By Rory McAlpine

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the American legal landscape concerning reproductive rights and healthcare has become a complicated stitching-together of laws that can change dramatically across state borders. A consequence of this momentous legal decision is that it has given individual states the ability to legislate independently on this topic. 

In February, the Supreme Court of Alabama heard a wrongful death suit. A woman argued that the destruction of her embryos which were being held in storage by accident qualified her to bring a suit for the wrongful death of a minor. To do so, an embryo would have to be considered an unborn child. The judges ruled that embryos constitute ‘unborn children’ despite them not being in a womb. This ruling extends Alabama’s legal view of an unborn child from a foetus to include embryos.

The ruling has sent shockwaves through pre-natal research and IVF facilities in Alabama. Asserting that an embryo is an ‘unborn child’ has a myriad of consequences when it comes to storing, researching, and implanting embryos. If embryos are considered unborn children, what happens to the ones stored in freezers throughout the state? If it is illegal to destroy them, must they be preserved in perpetuity or do they have to be implanted into a womb? Can research and experiments be conducted on embryos if they hold the rights and legal status of an unborn child? These questions have all but paralysed the any industry that works with embryos in Alabama. 

This ruling extends Alabama’s legal view of an unborn child from a foetus to include embryos

It is clear the ruling is not one based on science. An embryo that exists outside a womb cannot be considered an unborn child. With no action taken, that embryo would never become a child – it would take a conscious act by a person to implant that embryo into a womb for it to develop. Instead, the verdict is one driven by religion. The Christian view is that life begins at conception; that from conception, whether natural or artificial, a person has come into existence. Religion’s role in this verdict is perhaps most clear when examining how the ruling was presented. Justices on the bench referenced God and the sanctity of life, the Bible and biblical scholars such as Petrius Van Mastricht, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin throughout the judgement. Chief Justice Thomas Parker opined that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself … this is true of unborn human life no less than it is of all other human life – that even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

This verdict raises another question. Should religion have a place – as it so clearly has in this case – in deciding political and medical questions? What consideration, if any, should be given to religion? Personally, I find the notion absurd that religion should play a part in legal and medical decision-making absurd, and I think I can illustrate this. 

Religion should not and cannot be considered in political and medical decisions

Let us for a moment imagine that religion should be considered in political and medical questions; further, that religion should be one of the most important considerations on these questions. The Justices who sit on the United States of America’s Supreme Courts live in states and a country that has a huge degree of diversity when it comes to religion. People practise many different religions and some practise none. The American Constitution makes no mention of an official religion. In contrast, it expressly protects freedom of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In forming these verdicts, judges (if we are considering religious views) should therefore consider all religions viewpoints, of which there are many, that vary and even contradict each other. There is no logical way for a judge to choose the belief of one religion over another and no religion in the laws or Constitution that is considered more important. As such, religion should not and cannot be considered in political and medical decisions, because religion is not a large homogenous group. If a judge chooses to make a decision based on Christianity they will be enforcing the views of one religion onto many people who do not share that religion. Surely everyone can agree – as stated in the Constitution – that no one should be forced to follow a religion not of their choosing. Furthermore, surely considering every conflicting religion in medical and legal decisions is absurd. Our legal system must have a foundation in science, in shared morality and in protecting people and ensuring our society functions. You either consider every religion in a ruling, or none. As the former leads to absurdity, the latter is the only viable option.

Image: Michael Barera via Wikimedia Commons

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