Consistent life ethic

Consistent life ethic

The Consistent Life Ethic is an ethical, religious, and political ideology based on the premise that all life is sacred. The ethic's adherents are opposed to abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, economic injustice, and euthanasia. Adherents are opposed, at the very least, to unjust war, while some adherents also profess pacifism, or opposition to all war. Some also extend the concept of a "consistent ethic of life" to encompass animal rights and vegetarianism.

An important early proponent of the Consistent Life Ethic was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, though he did not coin the term. Bernardin and other advocates of this ethic sought to form a consistent policy that would link abortion, capital punishment, economic injustice, euthanasia, and unjust war. Bernardin sought to unify conservative Catholics (e.g., who opposed abortion) and liberal Catholics (e.g., who opposed capital punishment) in the United States. By relying on fundamental principles, Bernardin also sought to coordinate work on several different spheres of Catholic moral theology. In addition, Bernardin argued that since the 1950s the church moved against its own historical, casuistic exceptions to the protection of life. "To summarize the shift succinctly, the presumption against taking human life has been strengthened and the exceptions made ever more restrictive.

In the United States, several organizations have promoted the "consistent ethic of life" approach, including both Catholic groups (e.g., the National Conference of Catholic Bishops), and broader coalitions, such as Consistent Life, founded in 1987 as the Seamless Garment Network. The ethic and its organizational expressions are difficult to define in terms of the conventional U.S. political spectrum, since those who subscribe to the ethic are often at odds with both the right wing over capital punishment, war, and economic issues, as well as the left wing over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia.

Notable exponents, according to the Consistent Life organisation, include actor Martin Sheen, novelist Wendell Berry, the current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, and Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff.

In 1971, Roman Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan used St. John the Apostle's phrase the seamless garment, referring to to describe a holistic reverence for life. "The protection of life," said Egan, "is a seamless garment. You can't protect some life and not others." Her words were meant to challenge members of the pro-life movement, as well as those who are in favor of capital punishment, to adopt a consistent life ethic. Egan's view was that there is a unity of Catholic teaching when it comes to human life.

See also


  • Byrnes. "The Politics of the American Catholic Hierarchy" Political Science Quarterly, 1993
  • J. T. McHugh. Building a Culture of Life: A Catholic Perspective Christian Bioethics, 2001 (Taylor & Francis)
  • Jim Wallis God's Politics, 2004

External links

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