My Body, My Choice?
Does anybody today ever stop to examine the popular political slogans from a rational, logical point of view?
A political slogan is a blatant statement of opinion which the user assumes is a self-evident statement of fact.
“My Body. My Choice” is a perfect example of this sort of opinion stated as obvious, self-evident, indisputable fact. But is “My Body, My Choice” obvious? Is it indisputable? Is it a fact?
Stop to think it through: There are two statements here which we are supposed to accept as indisputable facts: 1. My Body. 2. My Choice.
Who Determines Ownership?
Firstly, is it “My body?” Who determines ownership? Why do we believe that anything at all is “mine?” There are three reasons why I might own something and have the right to determine what I do with it:
1. I might have bought that thing.
2. I might have worked to earn it.
3. It may have been given to me.
Did You Receive a Gift?
If I have bought or earned it, then that thing is rightly “mine” and I may do with it as I see fit. If it is a gift, then it must be one of two kinds of gift: conditional or unconditional. In other words the gift has strings attached or it does not.
So, for example, if I inherit a million dollars and the gift is unconditional, I may use the million dollars however I like. I can invest it, give it away, squander it on stupid trinkets, gamble it away — whatever. However, the million dollar inheritance may have conditions. It may have an executor who gives me the money only for wise expenditures that will guard the inheritance and benefit me and my heirs in the long run.
If the gift is conditional, then it will have two categories of condition: a) intrinsic and integral b) extrinsic and arbitrary. An intrinsic and integral condition is one that is inseparable from the gift itself. An extrinsic and arbitrary condition is imposed on the gift by some external rule that has nothing to do with the gift itself. So an intrinsic condition of, for example, a family bequest of a million dollars, may be that any expenditure must stay within and for the benefit of family members. An extrinsic condition would be a lawyer saying, “You can only spend this money on stock market investments that yield at least 15%.”
Life Itself is a Gift
When we apply these categories to the slogan “My Body” it becomes clear that we have not bought or earned our bodies. They are a gift. We inherited them from our parents — indeed from a long line of our ancestors. Our life is itself a gift. We did not earn it or buy it. Therefore we should ask whether this gift is conditional or unconditional.
It would seem that the gift is unconditional, but in fact it is conditional with intrinsic conditions. In other words, the gift of my body seems like it is unconditional because I really can do with it what I like, but in fact it is intrinsically conditional because there are some choices I can make which, in and of themselves, destroy or damage the very gift of my body. If I choose to smoke, drink, or do drugs to the addictive level, or make other choices that harm my body, then I have violated certain intrinsic conditions attached to the gift. Violation of the intrinsic conditions will actually destroy the gift of my body.
Is My Choice Absolute?
Which brings us to the second half of the slogan: “My Choice.” Is my choice absolute? Can I really do anything I want with my body? Suicide is a possible choice, but as it is the most extreme example of an intrinsic condition — it destroys the gift itself — it proves the underlying point that we cannot do absolutely anything to our bodies without paying the ultimate price of self-destruction.
When it comes to the question of abortion, the advocates of “My Body My Choice” may argue that the choice for abortion is not only a free choice, but it is beneficial to the individual making the choice…no worse than say, having a tooth pulled. However, a tooth is pulled or a limb amputated because the tooth is rotten or the limb infected or damaged beyond repair. The intentional destruction of an otherwise healthy human being in the early stages of life is not comparable.
Choices Have Consequences
Our bodies are indeed our own. They were given to us as a precious inheritance. We may do with them as we like, but there are built-in consequences to our choices. These intrinsic conditions help to guard us from harm and lead to our flourishing. In the long run the conditions, because they are intrinsic, will win. The choices I make along the way may seem small and insignificant, but once acted upon they cannot be undone. When we violate the intrinsic conditions through a negative use of our choice we will inevitably pay the price.
Finally, we remember the wisdom of the poet John Donne who wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” We are all part of humanity. None of us are solitary individuals. The choices I make with my body affect others. When I harm my body, the body of humanity is harmed for I am not my own. I am a cell in the larger body of humanity. This is why, if I choose with my own body to harm or destroy another human being (born or unborn) I not only harm them, I harm myself.
Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is Beheading Hydra — A Radical Plan for Christians in an Atheistic Age. Visit Dwight Longenecker’s blog, browse his books and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.