The Consistent Ethic of Life: Breaking Down Barriers (Speech)


The following is the text of a presentation given by Aimee Murphy, our Executive Director and Editor, at the Students for Life of America (SFLA) Western New York Regional Conference. Please find the video of this presentation on our Vimeo page (www.vimeo.com/LifeMattersJournal).

Hello, and welcome to “The Consistent Ethic of Life: Breaking Down Barriers." My name is Aimee Murphy and I am the founder and executive director of Life Matters Journal, a non-partisan, non-sectarian publication dedicated to education and discourse on all matters of human life and dignity. I’m here to talk to you today about the Consistent Life Ethic, and how adopting such a philosophy can help to break down barriers and tear down walls, to build up a culture of life across existing politics and religions; and how this can help your organization grow and foster true change in the world.

Now, just a tidge of history on the Consistent Life Ethic (or CLE, as it’s called in some circles) . . . In 1971, the “Seamless Garment” philosophy, which is very similar to the Consistent Life Ethic but is particularly Christian in nature, originated with Eileen Egan; the name is a reference to Jesus Christ’s untorn robe at his crucifixion. The Consistent Ethic of Life (a very similar ideal expounded in a comprehensive ethical framework) originated with Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in 1983, where he was pushing for a pro-life, pro-peace movement. This eventually grew to encompass a whole litany of life issues, and has been promulgated as an honest philosophy seeking true cooperation and respect, for peace and all life amidst our human family.

To explain further, the Consistent Life Ethic is an ethical framework, in which the equal value of human life and dignity is seen as the foundation [upon which] all ethical questions of life and death can be weighed. As such, the life of every human being is viewed as inherently and ultimately valuable and worthy of protection. The many issues encompassed herein include (but may not be limited to) abortion, unjust war and capital punishment, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human trafficking, torture, suicide and abuse. The Consistent Ethic of Life holds that all of these issues are linked as life matters, and those who subscribe to the CLE do not selectively promote the preservation of only the lives of the wanted, the innocent, the able-bodied, or the free.

You may wonder what the CLE looks like in practice -- but it differs depending on the person, their state in life, and the resources at their disposal. As an adherent to the Consistent Life Ethic myself, I work against all of the issues I mentioned earlier as the editor of Life Matters Journal. But for most people, it means choosing one, two, or a small handful of causes that you find to be most urgent and working tirelessly to fight for the respect for life. In college, I mostly worked against abortion -- but our group also has held events discussing human trafficking in our own city, capital punishment and its consequences, and peaceful and diplomatic solutions to war and civil unrest. As a Consistent Life adherent, you don’t need to have your hand in everything, but rather let the philosophy guide the work that you do, the organizations in which you choose to work, and the mindset that you take with you in your daily life.

Having this mindset that supports all human life and dignity means that we cannot decide that [one issue amongst them] does not matter at all, or attempt to throw it out of the ethic altogether. There have been some who claim to be Consistent Life Ethic supporters, but in the end will say that “abortion is a woman’s choice,” or “war is the prerogative of the government.” We cannot accept these claims as true if we are honest Consistent Life Ethicists; we cannot accept that any one of these issues can be simply thrown out on a whim -- each issue that we work against in the Consistent Life Ethic is an offense to human life and dignity and all are interconnected as such. We submit instead that we have an obligation to condemn all acts of aggressive violence -- and that in doing so, we are allowed the freedom to compare the weight of different acts of aggressive violence in our own voice, but that in the end we must condemn them all. I would posit, even, that abortion is the gravest evil of our time and as such must be brought to the forefront of our work; but in doing so, I do not give my support for other instances of aggressive violence, and I retain my voice against all disrespect of human life. But that’s why I’m glad I have you all here today -- you’re already on the same page with me on that one.

So who exactly is attracted to the CLE?

Well, perhaps you are, because you’re here. You understand that human life is valuable and worthy of protection. You, my friends, can work from the seed of the pro-life cause to full comprehension of the worth of the human person in all instances.

The Consistent Life Ethic isn’t for one particular political belief or one faith background -- it belongs to humanity, because human flourishing and the life and dignity of [each human being] is the Consistent Life Ethic’s ultimate end. At least in our country, typical conservative politics lines up with opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, while typical liberal politics lines up with opposition to torture, unjust war and the death penalty. We can see that both sides are attracted to some of the causes that we work for, and building upon that initial desire to work for some of these causes, we are able to draw connections and show how all issues are connected.

And despite the fact that the Consistent Ethic of Life began its journey in Catholic circles, it is now widely loved and expounded by people of many faiths or no faith at all. For Life Matters Journal alone, we have had submissions from Catholic, Evangelical, Atheist and Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, and Quaker authors. Because the CLE itself is an ethical framework and not a theological doctrine, it is approachable from all angles.

As we can see, the Consistent Life Ethic is attractive to people of many political persuasions and numerous faith backgrounds. As such, it is not seen as mere conservative propaganda or Christian evangelization, which is rather unlike how our pro-life work is portrayed in the modern media. But the Consistent Life Ethic has the accessibility of reason and the unbiased frame of non-partisan philosophy. The Consistent Ethic of Life can be used, then, to bridge political and faith backgrounds and pave a new way which respects all human life and dignity, and does not exclude any human life.

For all of you students in campus organizations, I would ask that you and the leadership of your pro-life group have a sincere discussion about widening the realm of your work, and opening the doors to more productive discourse and discussion on your campus. Adhering to the Consistent Life Ethic as an organization, helps your peers and colleagues to realize that you are truly pro-life in every case, and as you stand by your convictions, they will more respect you for your consistency and your dedication to all human life, than heckle you with claims that you only want to preserve the lives of the pre-born.

I firmly believe that if we are truly pro-life, we cannot stand idly by while our human brethren are slaughtered, tortured, aborted, abused, and written off as “collateral damage.” I believe we have the responsibility to take a stand against all aggressive violence towards humanity. And you might be surprised how, when you take that position, walls will drop, people will listen to what you have to say, and how much more effectively you can change hearts and minds.

For example, in my time at Carnegie Mellon University, we changed the Constitution and the name of our student group to reflect a Consistent Ethic of Life. And though many of our posters about anti-abortion events were still torn down, in conversation at our events, opponents would leave changed -- with a seed planted. They would listen to what arguments we and our speakers presented, and though they might engage in a somewhat heated civil discourse with us, they always understood our foundation and usually came away questioning their own framework.

All of this isn’t even to mention my time in working with Life Matters Journal. I have a friend who has read every issue of our magazine, but he has stated before that he is pro-choice. Yet lately, he told me, he has found himself defending the Consistent Ethic of Life. You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that the work I do in connecting these issues [in hopes of bringing about a culture of life and peace] was actually bringing forth fruit.

You would be surprised, I think, if you took the opportunity to change the discourse on your campus, and engage the world with the Consistent Ethic of Life. Because all the walls that stand between us, all of the barriers that prevent peace in the world -- I believe they can be torn down if only we work together, and build bridges to the culture of life and peace we all truly desire.

The things I hope you can take away from this are threefold:

1. The Consistent Life Ethic encompasses all issues of human life and dignity in such a way that we condemn all acts of aggressive violence. The Consistent Life Ethic’s ultimate end is the preservation and flourishing of all human life. It is the fullness of the pro-life cause.

2. The Consistent Life Ethic belongs to all of humanity: it is the property of no one faith or political persuasion. It is attractive to people from all walks of life.

3. Take action in your own organization to expand your constitution and your reach and break down barriers and build bridges to a culture of life. Remember: you don’t need to do everything, but let the Consistent Life Ethic guide your work.


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