Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Pro-Life" and the Great Matter of Life and Death


The anniversary of Roe v. Wade has been seized on by conservative Christians as a day to muster support for the overturning of the decision that legalized abortion.

From a Buddhist perspective, the idea that a zygote is a human being - the reductio ad absurdum of this position of "human life begins at conception" that conservative Christians tend to take - is rather troubling, to say the least, on a number of grounds.

It is true there is the precept not to kill, and that precept is Number One on the Buddhist charts, so to speak.  But killing takes many forms.

Moreover, particularly within the Zen traditions...life and death are not so separated.

In fact, the more we learn, the more it seems that science has things to say on this as well in agreement with the premise that life and death are not so separated; historically it hasn't always been easy to tell - hence wakes.

But we've brought back people who've flatlined, as I understand it.  Not many. According to RadioLab, most people who get CPR aren't resuscitated, and many die with broken ribcages, to boot.

But the fact that we've brought a few back is enough to demonstrate the point.

From the Zen perspective, the important project is the resolution of The Great Matter of Life and Death.  It is this very project which - whether one's a Buddhist or not - gives our lives their raison d'être.   Or, if you don't like that, maybe Carl Sagan's "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself" might better suit you.

My point there is not religious sectarianism per se, but the fact that the pro-life movement, not only in equating born people with zygotes, but with the very premise of the pro-life movement trivializes life and death.  It trivializes life and death by the very reduction of life and death to a relatively small number of  phenomena.  Is the being's heart beating? Is there an EEG? Is the being "viable?" 

Those questions miss The Point by light years.  And the actions taken by some folks in the the anti-abortion, pro-women's death crowd, are, in a certain sense also violations of the First Precept, as is their reliance on those brain functions closer to the limbic system, um, to make their points. 

It is also a violation of the First Precept to cause or prolong another's suffering.  Much of what what we do to incarcerated people  could be considered a violation of the First Precept.

So to  reduce Life and Death to a set of rules to be followed No Matter What guarantees a morally repugnant solution.   I realize that many people sincerely adhere to positions that lead them to dictate what others should do with their bodies.   I would counsel such people to go more deeply into the question. 

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