The Protection of Life

Orthodox thought holds that life is a gift from God, given to creation and to human beings as a trust to be preserved and protected. Just as the care for one's health is a moral duty for the individual, society's concern for public health is also a moral imperative. The first large division of concern is that existing life be protected. This can be expressed in a number of ethical positions characteristic of an Orthodox perspective.

The protection of life has been a value pursued throughout history by the church. During the early days of the rise and spread of Christianity, abortion was widely practiced in the Roman Empire. The Church, based on its respect for life, condemned this practice in its canon law as a form of murder. The Church considered abortion particularly heinous because of the defenseless and innocent condition of the victim (Kowalczyk). Of course, no moral stance is absolute. In Orthodox traditional teaching, however, abortion is nearly always judged to be wrong. There can be unusual circumstances, such as an ectopic pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother, that might be judged prudentially as calling for an abortion, but such situations are rare.

Historically related to the rejection of abortion was a condemnation of the exposure of infants, that is, their abandonment, a practice that caused their death or led to their exploitation by unscrupulous persons who profited from forcing children into prostitution or begging. These are severe examples of child abuse that unfortunately have continued into the modern age. Every such case, historic or contemporary, violates the moral requirement that adults care for children in a loving and supportive manner.

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