Was Olivia Garcia a Person?

(January 16, 2000)

We live in a strange, almost surreal society - especially in our attitude toward the pre-born child. Parents and doctors speak enthusiastically about the baby whose development they can monitor by ultrasound pictures and who can even be treated as a patient.* But as far as our legal system goes, the unborn child is a fetus with no right to life. A recent court case in California underscores this contradiction. Following is an except from a column by Benjamin D. Wiker:

"Olivia Taylor Garcia lived for eight months in the safety of her mother's womb. Then tragedy struck. The car in which her parents were riding was broadsided by a drunken driver, and Olivia was forced to enter the world by Caesarean section. Under normal circumstances a child delivered at eight months has an excellent chance of survival, but the misfortune precipitating Olivia's birth had been too violent. With the aid of life support, she lived four hours in the hospital. This gave her parents a chance to hold her and the doctors time to issue a birth certificate.

"As if this horrifying twist of fate hadn't been enough for the Garcias, an absurd legal ruling was soon to add official state denial to devastating personal loss.

"On Nov. 24, San Bernadino Superior County Superior Court Judge Mary Fuller told the Garcias that the baby had never been alive. Dismissing the prosecutor's charge of vehicular manslaughter, she ruled that, apart from drunken driving and traffic infractions, the only crime the man had committed was causing bodily harm to Mrs. Garcia.

"Have pity on Judge Fuller. She found herself faced with a horrific dilemma. As a public judge, she has a sworn oath to uphold the law - and the law affirms the right to abortion at any time from conception right up to and during delivery. It does this by denying the humanity of the pre-born. Had the judge ruled that little Olivia had been alive, not only would the drunken driver be guilty of vehicular manslaughter, but thousands of abortion doctors would be guilty of millions of murders.

"Olivia's tragic death and the judicial sleight of hand that followed illustrate an important moral principle: If we allow our conscience to become distorted, we will be compelled to distort reality to conform to it....

"In death, Olivia was a victim of this schizophrenia. On the one hand, her parents and doctors were trying to save her fragile life; on the other, someone other than her mother caused her death and was held to no account for it...." (National Catholic Register, January 1, 2000)

The case of baby Olivia Garcia underscores a fundamental contradiction of our society. Because of it, many people have become confused about the source and purpose of human life. In today's second reading, St. Paul helps clear away some of the fog. He asks, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (I Cor 6:19) We live in an age when people are quick to say "MY." This is MY car, MY bank account, even MY child - and MY body. St. Paul tells us such talk is ultimately nonsense. Everything we have comes to us as a gift - and we will have to render an account for how we use what is entrusted to us, including our bodies. He goes on to say, "For you have been purchased at a great price. Therefore glorify God in your body." Acknowledging that all we have and all we are is a free gift from God should lead us to a deep reverence for every other person who is also from God and destined to an eternal relation with him. That includes the most defenseless among us, the pre-born child.

This Sunday we have an opportunity to reflect on this most basic issue - the dignity and value of each human life. It is a pleasure to welcome two speakers from Human Life of Washington: Mary Jo Kahler at our English Masses and Luz Marķa Emerson at our Spanish Masses. They help us focus on the most basic gift - human life. This is particularly important today when certain human beings are deprived of that most basic right. In the past human beings were deprived of legal rights on account of skin color (slavery) and religious descent (anti-Semitism). Today some have been designated as non-persons by the fact they are tiny - and perceived as inconvenient. But like each of us they have a great dignity because of their origin and final destiny. Our speakers this Sunday call us to reaffirm that fundamental dignity.


*Matt Drudge gave some attention to a pre-born baby named Samuel Armas who was photographed at the conclusion of an operation. Dr. Joseph P. Bruner, director of fetal diagnosis and treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center performed surgery on Julie Armas and her 21-week old unborn child to correct the baby's spina bifida. Matt Drudge wanted to show the foto of Baby Samuel's hand reaching to grasp the surgeon's finger as he completed the operation. Fox News Channel refused Drudge permission to show that dramatic picture. I have the picture in front of me now. It reminds me of someone reaching to shut off an alarm clock - either to get back to sleep or to take on a new day. Who could see it and deny the tiny hand belongs to a human person?

Clarification from California Law Student, William Logan

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