Of course, future shock is nothing new, and there is some comfort to be found in the unchanging fact that change has always seemed threatening. Yet such comfort may be a delusion. A great many of our own era’s innovations have clear and profound implications for the meaning of human life itself, as journalist Ramesh Ponnuru forcefully argues in this compact and eminently readable book. In particular, Ponnuru contends that the various “life” issues now preoccupying us—the unlimited abortion license, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide, prenatal testing, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and others yet to come—are all interconnected, and are best understood as part of a single phenomenon and a single moral challenge. Although few of the specific details provided in his book will be news to informed readers who follow these matters, his manner of gathering and framing the facts is both arresting and suggestive.
What all of the practices at issue have in common, in his view, is their wanton disregard for the basic rights and fundamental dignity of the human person. Such practices are consciously promoted by political and professional forces that he refers to, a little vaguely, as “the party of death.” That term points toward a functional unity underlying disparate movements, arising out of a shared willingness to sacrifice the lives of the marginal and vulnerable—the very young, the elderly, the disabled, the inconvenient, and others whose “quality of life” is deemed insufficiently weighty to deserve protection—when doing so is thought to further the cause of individual well-being (among those in the healthy adult majority) and general progress. Ponnuru pushes back hard against these forces, insisting that we should not allow ourselves to abandon our culture’s longstanding commitment to the unique and transcendent value of each human life, from conception to natural death, and that we should not countenance any social practices that systemically diminish the value of human life. These are admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.