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Opinion | How the 'Whole Life' Movement Challenges the Politics of Left vs. Right – The New York Times

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I was in college, just old enough to vote, when I first bumped into the left-right binary of American politics. I was volunteering with undocumented immigrants, and particularly passionate about the alleviation of poverty, so I was drawn to progressive student groups. But I was also pro-life and involved in more conservative religious groups on campus. My friends and I often felt like we didn’t fit anywhere politically.

Over the decades since then, I’ve often been frustrated and befuddled by what felt to me like the arbitrary bundling of political issues in each party. So people or movements that don’t fit neatly into our political categories often catch my eye.

One of these is the whole life movement, a group that sometimes describes itself as having a “consistent life ethic” or being pro-life “from womb to tomb.” People and organizations in this movement are committed to protecting the life and dignity of all people, particularly those who are vulnerable. This usually involves opposition to abortion, euthanasia, nuclear weapons, and the death penalty. It also often involves championing policies and practices such as a living wage, universal access to health care, ecological and racial justice, and adoption.

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Charlie Camosy has been a leader in this movement. He is an associate professor of theology at Fordham University with a focus on moral theology and bioethics, and an author of several books, including “Beyond the Abortion Wars” and “Resisting Throwaway Culture.”

I asked him to speak with me about his most recent book, “Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality,” and about the whole life movement more generally. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Some people reading this will immediately say, “Well, which party does the whole life movement fit in?” It will be easy for people to say, “Is this just kind of a softer, gentler Republicanism? or “Is this just pro-life progressivism?” How do you think about this politically?

I think most people who pay attention to the political winds and trends agree that we’re in the midst of a political realignment right now. It just isn’t clear what the parties stand for in many ways, especially on the Republican side. What is a Republican right now? That seems to be totally up for grabs. So in some ways, a whole life movement that doesn’t track with our right/left political binary is right where it should be because this binary is a terrible, limiting, toxic thing.

This movement is about something bubbling up from outside of those national political assumptions and power structures.

I think Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is the perfect example. Here’s a Democratic governor with an unblemished record of supporting prenatal justice. But also, he expanded Medicaid and is pursuing a host of other social justice measures that would be associated with the left. I mean, who is John Bel Edwards? According to our political assumptions, on a national level, he doesn’t fit at all. But to say that he has no political home would only be true on a national level.

If you get down to the local levels where people are, you get to what people actually think. People like John Bel Edwards can become governors of states, right? So the more that we can move away from that toxic political binary that has so dominated our national discussion — if we can resist that — then I think something like a whole life movement becomes not only possible, but very attractive.

A number of ethicists, most prominently Peter Singer — who you count as a friend and have modeled friendly debate with — have made the case for distinguishing between “human beings” and “persons” with inherent rights and dignity. “Persons” would potentially exclude those human beings with profound disabilities as well as infants and others who are not capable of rational self-awareness. You and others in the whole life movement think this is a deficient understanding of personhood. Why is it important to understand this?

The central argument of my book was really to say that we’ve lost the kind of language to speak about personhood, at least in ways that make all of us equal. My book is an attempt to sound the alarm and note this shift is largely happening without our really realizing it. And for us to take stock of this and say, do we want to make this distinction between human beings and persons? Is this the direction we want to take? I hope the answer is no. I hope we can pause and say we need to get back to this idea where we didn’t make distinctions between human beings and persons.

In your book, you talk about your growing concern about how our culture views those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. My mother has Alzheimer’s so this is very personal to me.

I think if we continue down this path, we’ll say that these are human non-persons. They’re living members of the species homo sapiens, and for the most part, their bodies are functioning, but they’ve lost certain capacities that we’ve decided are what matter. And one of the most important ideas about fundamental human equality, whether in a secular sense or a theological sense, is that it shouldn’t matter what your capacities are, that we’re all equal regardless of these — to use a philosophical term — these “accidental truths” that have nothing to do with our essence. Our essence is the same. Our natures are the same. They bear the image and likeness of God in exactly the same way. We’re all the same on the basis of the kinds of creatures we are, and we share that nature in common.

But we have rejected that vision of the good, as a culture, and this group will be the next to fall. If we think about where we choose to put our resources, our medical resources and care resources, many people in this population just die because of neglect.

A New York Times investigation recently found that somewhere between a fifth and a third of residents in nursing homes who have dementia are given antipsychotic drugs not because they have any psychosis, but because they just want to keep them docile. The story referred to it as giving them a chemical straitjacket, and to use these drugs in this off-label manner not only takes them away from any human interaction, but dramatically increases their chances of dying on top of it.

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?

A “whole life” ethic can and does offer common ground that otherwise wouldn’t exist with the national binary. For instance, we can disagree about abortion law, but we can agree, I hope, that if one is pro-choice, that one wants women to have the resources to choose want they want — including life, if that’s what they want.

On euthanasia, for instance, we can maybe disagree about what the law should be, but we can agree that we should reduce the stigma surrounding disability and those who are not “autonomous,” quote unquote. All the data seems to say that people who choose assisted suicide in the states where it’s legal often do so because they don’t imagine their lives as having value because of their lack of autonomy.

A “whole life” approach would highlight where we agree on all sorts of issues.

However, I just want to emphasize that we need to find ways to actually disagree with each other. I mean, there’s an open question about whether that’s even possible now. Disagreement requires precision. It requires understanding what your particular opponent thinks. It requires getting into the head and heart of someone and to do one’s best to steelman, not strawman their position.

Right now, with the kind of antagonistic political binary we’ve set up, none of that is happening. So one underrated thing that I think a whole life approach really helps us to do is have actual disagreements — real, authentic disagreements, getting to the real nub of the matter instead of dismissing each other across this antagonistic binary.

Have feedback? Send a note to HarrisonWarren-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and author of “Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep.”

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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