Neil McNicholas: We all have a right to life... so why do we end the existence of so many unborn children?

WHEN I was asked if I would write an article on what legislation I would most want repealed if I had a genie-in-a-bottle-type wish, I felt like a kid in a toy shop because in recent years we have seen the passage of more ludicrous laws than enough – especially in areas of equality, health and safety, and promoting political correctness.

Resisting that temptation (or we'd be here all day) and even at the risk of those who might disagree with my choice reading no further, as a Catholic priest it should come as no surprise that my actual choice – on a much more serious level – would have to be those laws that are contrary to every individual's right to life.

In the 2008 guide to The Mental Capacity Act, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England Wales stated that "Christian faith gives us reason to cherish life, as a gift from God, and also gives reason to accept death, when it comes, with hope in God".

This statement reflects the fundamental moral teaching of the Church that human life, and every person's right to life, must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception until death, and that when laws are passed that deprive a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them…the very foundations of the state are undermined.

We are all older than we think – around nine months older. We celebrate the anniversary of the day on which we were born, but we have actually been in existence since the moment of our conception.

That's when we came into being, a reality no one can dispute.

If I were baking a cake and someone asked me, at the point at which I was putting the baking tin into the oven (and I intend no reference whatsoever here to buns and ovens!) "What's that?" I wouldn't reply, "It's flour and sugar, eggs and milk" but "It's a cake" – even though, right there and then, it might not look much like a cake.

So, no matter what the proponents of abortion might try to pretend, and no matter what their propaganda might claim, life is life from the moment of conception, and yet in England and Wales we terminated around 189,000 unborn lives in 2009.

And we are now turning our legal attention to the termination of adult lives also. The guide cited above points out that, currently, English law "accepts certain decisions to bring about death – one's own or someone else's – by omission or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment or of food or water in circumstances where, although death is not imminent, the decision-maker considers that continued life is not worthwhile".

And that's what frightens a lot of people – especially the more vulnerable – that legislation might permit someone else to decide that their life "is not worthwhile".

Where else in recent history have we seen a concept like that put into practice?

The law is also increasingly offering protection to those willing to assist others to end their life. If someone facing severe physical or mental incapacity, or terminal illness, should decide on suicide as an alternative to what they perceive their future to be, far from being allowed to put that decision into practice either themselves or with the assistance of someone else (and why do they have to involve others?), surely they should be helped to see that there are other options open to them.

Compassionate palliative care can help them live as comfortably as possible, and with dignity, until death comes naturally.

During his 2010 visit to Scotland and England, and specifically on his visit to the elderly residents of St Peter's care home in London, Pope Benedict XVI said: "At the very start of my pontificate I said, 'Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary'. Life is a unique gift, at every stage from conception until natural death, and it is God's alone to give and to take."

Parliament abolished capital punishment in the United Kingdom in 1999, completing a legislative process that began with the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act of 1965.

Those who oppose capital punishment would claim, as you often hear it expressed, that the state should not be in the business of taking lives. And yet just two years after the 1965 Murder Act, the Abortion Act opened the door to a annual termination rate currently approaching a quarter of a million.

Where, in all of this, is that same voice of protest that the state shouldn't be in the business of taking lives?

Quite clearly it is, and that is why my choice would be to repeal any and all legislation that didn't promote and protect the sanctity of life.

Father Neil McNicholas is a priest at st hilda's Parish, Whitby.