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Integrity and the Pro-Life Debate


Since 1966, Professor Raymond Dennehy has bravely accepted the challenge of debating abortion advocates at the University of California at Berkeley.


His long apprenticeship in the ring, so to speak, has led to the publication of his book, Anti-Abortionist at Large: How to Argue Intelligently About Abortion and Live to Tell About It (Trafford, 2006).

The touch of humor in Dennehy's title is carried forward in the heading of his first chapter: "No One's Ever Accused Me of Being Brilliant." The heading is more self-deprecating than deserved. Nonetheless, it suggests a crucial point that its author is much too modest to claim: namely, that when it comes to making wise choices, integrity is far more important than intelligence.

Fittingly, Dennehy compares his approach with that of the daring man from La Mancha. Like the redoubtable Don Quixote, Dennehy sees his mission as restoring the virtues of a more chivalrous age. Though somewhat less than ideally equipped to pursue his ideals, Cervantes' endearing character sets out with a tree branch for a lance, a rusty suit of armor for protection, and an old nag as a means of transportation. The moral is this: When we respond to an important challenge, we can do no more than bring with us whatever we happen to have on hand. How else can any one of us "right the unrightable wrong" and "beat the unbeatable foe"?

In one particular debate at Berkeley, a man of considerable intellectual renown and social standing made his case for abortion. He was a medical doctor and boasted of being the world's only embryologist who performed abortions. He was also vice president of Planned Parenthood International and heavily involved in Third World family planning. In his slide show presentation, he compared an eight-week-old pig embryo with that of a human at the same stage of development. His comment was a paragon of false humility and bad science: "For the life of me I can't see any difference."

Dennehy countered by pointing out that his opponent had just committed the fallacy of arguing from appearances. "One might as well argue," Dennehy retorted, "that the sun is smaller than the earth because that's the way it looks." He added that we do not need to be limited to how eight-week-old embryos appear to the naked eye. The electronic microscope allows us to see deeper into the realities of the two embryos and read their distinctive DNA. The critical distinction between appearance and reality, as a matter of fact, was the very insight that inaugurated science, as well as philosophy.

This is what may be said of the man of integrity: "He did not know more than others, but he never used whatever knowledge he had as a trophy to be admired. Rather, he humbly placed his knowledge, animated by love, at the service of what is good."

The embryologist, according to Dennehy, "blew his cork." As an embryologist, he certainly must have known that there are scientific ways of differentiating between an eight-week-old pig embryo and an eight-week-old human embryo. What he lacked was not knowledge but integrity, not status but virtue. The fact that his lack of integrity had been publicly exposed, a rather humiliating experience, naturally infuriated him.

Samuel Johnson once remarked that "knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." Specialized knowledge, such as what is needed to be an embryologist, is obtainable by relatively few. But integrity is a quality that is available to everyone. It is not embarrassing not to have that for which one has neither opportunity nor aptitude. But it is indeed embarrassing not to possess something that one should possess, specifically, one's own personal integrity.

Integrity is the unification of knowledge, rightful purpose, and love. It is impressive and unassailable. Knowledge alone, tethered neither to a good purpose or to love, can be used for malicious aims. Indeed, as Johnson warns us, it can be "dangerous and dreadful."

Professor Dennehy offers us a most important lesson, in the style of the Man from La Mancha: We will win in the end if we are virtuous. Mere brilliance can be blinding. Integrity does not distort truth for private gain. It is a personal virtue. And it is through genuine person-to-person contact, that we make truth clear, convincing, and palatable.

He has given us encouragement to take on opponents who may be more intelligent, better informed, and of a loftier social station than what we might possess. But if we bring to the arena our integrity, that, when all is said and done, is what counts most.

This is what may be said of the man of integrity: "He did not know more than others, but he never used whatever knowledge he had as a trophy to be admired. Rather, he humbly placed his knowledge, animated by love, at the service of what is good."



DeMarco, Donald. "Integrity and the Pro-Life Debate." Lay Witness (January/February 2007): 36-37.

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness.

Lay Witness is the flagship publication of Catholics United for the Faith. Featuring articles written by leaders in the Catholic Church, each issue of Lay Witness keeps you informed on current events in the Church, the Holy Father's intentions for the month, and provides formation through biblical and catechetical articles with real-life applications for everyday Catholics.

The Author

Heart-of-VirtueMany Faces of VirtueDonald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He is a regular columnist for the Saint Austin Review.   DeMarco is the author of twenty books, including Reflections on the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding, How to Remain Sane in a World That is Going MadPoetry That Enters the Mind and Warms the Heart The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 LayWitness
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