Rant on “From conception to natural death”

The modern Catholic trope, endlessly repeated, is that we should “respect life from conception to natural death.”

“Natural” death as opposed to what? Violent death? Death as a penalty? Are we supposed to disrespect the lives of those who die, say, accidentally?

Does anyone even have any idea what a natural death is? I know what death by natural causes is, but even then I don’t say the person who experienced it suffered a natural death. More to the point, “natural causes” is simply a euphemism, not any rigorous statement about reality. “Death by natural causes” says no more about nature than “restroom” says about rest. And so we are left with no idea at all of what this terminus of respect is supposed to be. 

Why not just “from conception onward” or just “till death”?

(My suspicion is that the slogan started off as a well-intentioned attempt to speak against the death penalty, but it led to a half-witted, overly complex, and incoherent statement)



  1. Boethius said,

    November 22, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I have always understood it to mean “until a death not caused by euthanasia” since that phrase seems to be tying it to abortion and both are legislative issues protecting life…?

    • November 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Agreed with Boethius.

      Though technically euthanasia is included without “natural” the “natural” is needed. It redundantly emphasizes that that the death by natural causes is the death we need to encourage over and above death not by natural causes at any point “from womb to tomb.” Indeed, it implicitly speaks out against all forms of life-taking, abortion, murder, euthanasia.

      If you’re feeling cheeky, you could choose to interpret natural death as a hedge which provides room for spiritual immortality and therefore the possibility of the resurrection. I don’t know this was the intent, however.

  2. November 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Are we supposed to disrespect the lives of those who die, say, accidentally?

    No more than “until” means Mary had kids after Jesus.

    And so we are left with no idea at all of what this terminus of respect is supposed to be.

    Technically, there is no terminus of respect. After all, when we say it, we can mean the Church Suffering or Triumphant. When they hear it, let them feel uneasy that there is no terminus of respect. No point getting into purgatory in a political slogan, of course, and for the same reason no point it making it explicit, either.

    • November 22, 2013 at 10:18 pm

      I hadn’t thought of it as a critique of euthanasia, and this does make it a bit more palatable. But I still find the slogan ridiculous. On this account, a “natural” death would be a non-euthanized one. This makes accidental deaths, miscarriages, martyrdom, executions, drug overdoses, etc all “natural” deaths, and so “natural death” still doesn’t seem to indicate any distinct thing or even loose group of things.

      it implicitly speaks out against all forms of life-taking

      But then I have a real problem with it, as it would require a moral equivalence between abortion and things like execution of criminals, acts of war, or arming policemen.

      • November 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm

        As I’ve formulated it, I’ve misrepresented it. Remember the first half of the sentence — “respect life.” Even moral execution (extremely rare) and just war (not quite as rare) require us to respect the lives of those we kill, and to kill even then as rarely as is necessary.

        Incidentally, is there a common thread between enemy combatants and those justly on death row? How are these exceptions carved out such that euthanasia is still not wrong? (Not that I dispute, mind. I’m just unschooled and curious.)

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