Thursday, July 1, 2021
This is the fourth and final reflection on the ‘four streams’ of Sallux. Johannes de Jong
The controversial Matić report that was voted through in the European Parliament at the end of last June, highlighted once again that issues of life & ethics are being debated at EU level. It is crystal clear that the Matić report goes in a direction that is wholly insensitive to national competences, cultural values and fundamental freedoms (such as the freedom of conscience).
The Matić report has only increased divisions in Europe and has not helped to create a more positive image of the EU. Reports like this that override the deep convictions of so many people do not contribute to make the EU the place where all can feel that they have a place in it. In that sense it is the opposite of what should happen to build a common future of the EU.
It is however not helpful to repeat all that has already been stated elsewhere with regard to this particular report. There is one aspect in the response from ECPM MEP’s on this report that deserves to be highlighted here.
The ECPM MEP’s stated (among others): ‘ECPM believes in the protection of life from conception to natural death. We underscore Articles 1 & 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which clearly state that human dignity and the right to life are the foundation of all our rights and freedoms. Therefore, while we respect the sensitivity of specific situations, we believe that the notion of self-determination cannot simply replace the principle of the right to life. An ideologically driven EP report is the wrong way to deal with such sensitive and personal issues.’
The main problem with this Matić report and similar reports is that they confuse self-determination and human dignity. This is the core of the debates on abortion and euthanasia as they take place in all EU Member States and even at the EU level. While self-determination is a given that cannot be disputed (otherwise we end up in oppression), it is not the same as human dignity. Rather the reverse, human dignity is the foundation for self-determination.
The problem is that self-determination is only possible for those who have the capacity to act independently. It is possible for people who have the mental and physical ability to do so. But where does self-determination end and how far does it go? There are no legal or otherwise clear definitions on these questions. Nobody will claim that a baby is capable of self-determination so it is clear that this is something in which any human grows into. The question of self-determination gets more difficult when people have some form of disability or are suffering from Alzheimer or simply in need of care because of old age. The dependence on others is then obvious and necessary. However, during the pandemic we may have learned that we all are dependent on someone else. Nobody is a fully autonomous being. So our self-determination is never absolute and never constant during our whole life. If our self-worth would depend on our self-determination, our value as human being would increase and decrease. We would end up in thinking that the most valuable humans are those of between (roughly) 18 and 68 without any handicap or other impediment. So your value as human being would decrease immediately if you got a car accident at 40 and became handicapped as a result. We all can see that this would be very problematic thinking and very threatening for anyone in any vulnerable situation. In fact it would scare everyone as we all can be hit in life with something (as we have seen in the pandemic).
The only logical conclusion can be that our self-worth cannot be based on our degree of self-determination. That is why self-determination cannot replace human dignity. Moreover it shows that human dignity and human reality exists in relation to others and is not autonomous. Bishop Desmond Tutu said it as follows: ,,my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours for we can only be human together.” The idea that humans are autonomous beings is harming the notion of our shared human dignity. If autonomous independency becomes the measurement, we separate those who are more dependent from those who are less dependent and start to consider the latter as ‘better’. Few people will consciously really want to go in that direction.
However we can see how our economy and society is acting as if the degree of autonomy is determining our value. The economic and governing systems are sending the message that those who are ‘strong and independent’ are more valuable and should be listened to more than those who are dependent in some way. Those who are ‘strong and independent’ have often not only most economic power but also more influence on government and policies tend strongly to favor them. A magazine I read described the life-story of someone who had wrestled with her own and her families health all her life. She said: ,,our society is only fit for Young Urban Professionals with high incomes’’. This whole fixation on autonomy is pushing more and more people to the edge of society, certainly in western Europe. However, for example in The Netherlands, we can see the negative backlash against this already. The Dutch government fell over a scandal in which many people with low income and of non-western origin were unjustly pushed into poverty by the Tax authorities. They had no chance of fighting back as the whole system assumed a level of autonomy and self-determination and self-empowerment that they simply could not get access to. Those who could express themselves clearly and could afford a good lawyer got a settlement on the exact similar cases that others pushed in abject and unjust poverty. In this example we can see that once you take ‘autonomy’ as guiding principle, more and more people will ultimately be pushed aside. Those who have all the advantages (in health and background) get more and more preferential treatment and those who have not get pushed aside. It has an accumulative effect on both ends.
The only way to break that cycle is to turn back to human dignity and the right to life as expressed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU as foundational for all our rights and freedoms and our society and economy. Otherwise we create a huge inequality in our societies if the value of life depends on self-determination.
That is why we are against abortion and euthanasia as they are now being pushed through in many countries in Europe as well as being propagated in EP reports like the Matić report. Human Dignity and the connected right to life cannot simply be abolished at the beginning and end of life in favor of self-determination. That does not mean that there are no questions left open and all situations answered. But we should not approach the debate over these sensitive and personal issues as a clash between self-determination vs human dignity. Human dignity should be the common ground on which we try to answer these difficult questions together.
Human dignity expresses the intrinsic value of every human being in every stage of existence. In Christianity, this universal principle rests on the human being as created in the image and likeness of God. This defines the human being as a relational being. The Christian understanding of God is Trinitarian and therefore relational, so this is reflected in human existence. Human dignity is not fully realised as long as the value of committed relationships is not appreciated and cherished. This includes valuing relationships and striving for right and just relationships our society, international relations and the economy. That is why considering life and ethics is and remains essential for the future of Europe.
With sincere Christian greetings,
This is the fourth and final reflection on the ‘four streams’ of Sallux.
Johannes de Jong