Judge Gorsuch and the Supremacy of Pro-Life Principles

[My February 16th "From the Chairman" blog for masscitizensforlife.org.]

We could not ask for a better nominee for the Supreme Court than Neil Gorsuch. His commitment to pro-life principles is profound and thorough, and his moral clarity benefits from the trenchant analytical power of an excellent jurist and philosopher.

I am basing this judgment on Gorsuch’s book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. I plan on devoting future posts to this exceptional book, especially as the fight against assisted suicide is still a pressing matter for Massachusetts.

At root, the arguments for or against euthanasia and abortion are isomorphic. That is why both issues belong to the “single issue” that provides the focal point of the pro-life political coalition, for though we may disagree on all kinds of policies (tax, immigration, health care, etc.), we agree that NO social progress can be purchased at the cost of relegating the cause of the legal protection of the most powerless human life to a secondary position. That would be the most direct violation of the preferential for the poor, which is the fundamental principle of social justice.

Therefore, the pro-life movement, as a political movement, is committed to one thing above all: the restoration of the right to life of the innocent in law.

The isomorphism between abortion and euthanasia is what allows Gorsuch to place before the whole world his pro-life commitment without disqualifying himself for a seat on the Supreme Court despite the Democratic Party’s litmus test against any anti-abortion jurist.

No litmus test has yet been formulated by that Party with regard to assisted suicide, so Gorsuch need not make a secret of his intensive reflections on the issue. But in sharing with us those reflections, he has told us everything we need to know about his existential and philosophical commitment to precisely the principles the pro-life movement is built around.

Gorsuch lays out these basic commitments in chapter 9, “An Argument against Legalization [of assisted suicide/euthanasia]”: “In this chapter, I seek to lay the groundwork for…an argument for retaining existing law on the basis that human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong. My argument, based on secular moral theory, is consistent with common law and long-standing medical ethics.”

He goes on to note that he will not be making an argument about the morality of capital punishment or war. Indeed, in a footnote, he says the same about abortion: “Nor do I seek here to engage the abortion debate. Abortion would be ruled out by the inviolability-of-life principle I intend to set forth if, but only if, a fetus is considered a human life. The Supreme Court in Roe, however, unequivocally held that a fetus is not a ‘person’ for purposes of constitutional law.”

That may dismay you, but of course, whether or not a fetus is a human life is not a function of positive law. It is a matter of basic science. And, again, what is this “inviolability-of-life principle” but the principle the pro-life movement is built upon?

He restates it right away: “I seek only to explain and defend an exceptionless moral norm against the intentional taking of human life by private persons. I begin by seeking to suggest that there are certain irreducible and non-instrumental human goods (and evils); I then proceed to argue that there is a moral imperative not to do intentional harm to such goods, and that such a rule would prohibit assisted suicide and euthanasia.”

What follows is a lovely (and properly philosophical) rendition of the brilliant legal and moral philosopher John Finnis’s ethical theory of basic human goods. To give you a sense of where we are on the intellectual map, our foremost public-intellectual promoter of the culture of life, Robert George, advances from the same principles.

Pro-lifers should not merely be pleased with this particular action of President Trump, his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court. We should be ecstatic.