I asked Doerflinger, Is it immoral to end a dying life? Even if it is one’s own?
“If what?” he asked from a cell phone in Seattle.
“One’s own,” I repeated.
“It isn’t one’s own.”
(Richard Doerflinger is “the associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.”)
Now, I know where that idea comes from. St. Paul says, in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your body. [1 Cor 6.19-20]
So of course Richard Doerflinger thinks this, since he is (or at least purports to be) a Christian. But what weight should that belief have with other people? In what sense could it be said that my life is not my own, and your life is not your own? Doerflinger thinks that it is appropriate to say to someone who does not (or at least may not) share his beliefs that her life is not hers. On the strength of what evidence does he make this claim?
In the USCCB declaration itself the only candidate for evidence that our lives are not our own is the discussion of the idea of inalienable rights. The founders of the American republic named these as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in true Enlightenment terms. Life, the bishops say, is named before liberty and happiness, since liberty and happiness are premised upon having life. “Therefore,” they say, “the right to life is the most basic human right.” Other rights can only be enjoyed if we are alive, but these other rights “lose their foundation if life itself can be destroyed with impunity.”
Now, all this is doubtless true, although there is a sense in which even the dead have rights, the right not to have one’s body desecrated or disposed of without due regard, or the right not to be blamed for things which one did not do in life, as well as the right to have one’s testamentary will respected. But being alive, or having been alive, are certainly the basis for having rights of any kind. And while the bishops’ declaration goes on immediately to say that,
As Christians we go even further: Life is our first gift from an infinitely loving Creator. It is the most fundamental element of our God-given human dignity,
there is absolutely no reason for anyone to follow them in this, unless they accept the bishops’ religious premises, and indeed many good reasons not to.