Memorial Day serves as a holiday so that, we might hope, we pause to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We might take a holiday from thinking about things bioethical as well. But could this day hold a lesson for the field of bioethics?
To set aside a day to remember those who died in defense of freedom is not simply to make some gesture for the fallen; what we do today is of course meaningless to them. To think upon those who have passed away, especially those who died for our freedom, is to set aside time to wonder what that means for how we should live. There is no better incentive for a man to ponder what he ought to do with his life then to be reminded how easily it is lost. And if someone dies for us, then we must ask—was it worth it? What features of character and conduct must we have to merit such a sacrifice?
Perhaps the best-known modern portrayal of this idea is in the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” As he lay dying, Tom Hanks’ character utters the words to Matt Damon’s character, Private Ryan: “Earn it.” The movie then shows the older version of Private Ryan in sorrowful remembrance, asking if he had in fact done so.
If we think about various issues in the field of bioethics, we can recognize that there are those who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well. We could consider victims of medical experimentation, perhaps. We might also consider the nearly invisible—the human embryos also sacrificed for experimentation or convenience. But there is one group whose ultimate sacrifice comes foremost to mind this Memorial Day—the aborted. These millions are far more numerous than any other group of Americans that has lost their lives for our freedom. Of course, we could argue whether this is truly “freedom” that abortion has provided, but that is how it is justified to us.
So what features of character and conduct would render us worthy of that which has been sacrificed? It is impossible to come up with any that are consistent with nature of the act of abortion itself. For to be a people of such character to have earned the “freedom” that the aborted have given us would be to be a people who would not do the procedure at all.