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Opinion | How the ‘Whole Life’ Movement Challenges the Politics of Left vs. Right

In the next 20 years, the population of those with dementia is going to double. In 30 years, it’s going to triple. So what I’m profoundly concerned about is if we’re already treating people, especially with later-stage dementia, this way with the resources we’ve chosen to put into this now, what is it going to be like when this population doubles or triples?

We really need a total rethink of our elder care system, of our vision of human dignity and of the resources we’re willing to put into this. We’re going to have to massively ramp up our resources for elder care and dementia care if we’re going to meet this moment. And I fear that if we don’t have the changes we’ve been talking about during this interview with regard to human dignity, we will move in the direction of either so-called “robot care,” where we imagine an algorithm can care for somebody, which is ridiculous, or just straight out, no chaser euthanasia. So the stakes couldn’t be higher for us to get this right and move our vision of human dignity in a very different direction.

What about people who are hearing you and saying, “Well, we can’t really know what makes someone a person or when life begins or ends, and your ideas that all humans are persons who are fundamentally equal in human dignity are just your own personal religious convictions, so this is about individual choice.” What would you say to folks who say this is mostly about personal religious convictions and that that cannot affect policy in America?

On one level, it’s obviously not just about religion because a significant chunk of the whole life movement and the pro-life movements are not religious people. I commend to your readers the group Secular Pro-Life as just one of several examples of this.

But on another level, I don’t like the religious/secular binary when it comes to ethics. Everyone — regardless of your claims about the transcendent and God and organized religion — has irreducible first principles, fundamental goods that you don’t have because of arguments. If you just go down and try to reduce all of your values, you’re eventually going to come to something you believe just because you believe it, because of intuition or some other kind of authority. And sometimes it’s at odds with the views of others.

But I don’t think we say to secular people, “Oh, you can’t use your first principles or fundamental values to try to work for justice, say, to impose a view of the good onto others who think differently.” If you care about justice at all, you care about imposing it on others. The whole point of things like the antislavery movement or the civil rights movement was to say, “We have this vision of the good and we’re here to impose it on those who think differently.” That’s what justice requires.

How do you think about finding common ground on some of these issues with people who may not share your point of view?

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