Alison Davis and the infinite value of life
It is ironic and very sad that such an ominous judgement should be handed down in the same month as the anniversary of the death of a great pro-life champion, Alison Davis, who died on December 3 2013. Alison, whose life and achievements were remembered in a talk given by her long-time carer, Colin Harte, at the SPUC conference in September, was an improbable champion of life. Born with spina bifida and for many years a keen feminist and supporter of “a woman’s right to choose”, as well as being an atheist, her attitude gradually changed when she learned that disabled babies like her were sometimes starved and drugged to death after birth.
Protesting about this brought her into contact with SPUC in 1981 and for many years she helped organise their Handicap Division (later to become No Less Human.) As a disabled person herself, Alison always rejected any political strategy that meant “bargaining” over the relative worth of a baby’s life; she could not accept that “healthy” babies’ lives might be saved by lowering the legal age limit for abortions, but at the expense of those whose lives were judged “incompatible with sustained survival”. For her, especially after she became a Catholic in 1991, each human life had infinite value.
As Colin Harte said in his speech, Alison was steadfast in her belief “that human beings have a value that is intrinsic, incomparable, sacred, priceless – infinite.” Thus she was adamantly opposed to the David Alton Bill of 1988 that had accepted the strategy of “chipping away” at the Abortion Act to gain what is known as incremental protection of the unborn. Colin told me he believes that one day Alison will be acclaimed as a great saint of the pro-life movement; the spiritual and physical suffering she endured in her life, and which she came to see as “the greatest privilege possible in the world” were eventually to lead to her witness of a holy death; she chose to forgo painkillers at the end so as to be able “to pray, to suffer and to love” for others as long as she was alive.
Perhaps, as a result of this undermining of the right of conscience in the recent Supreme Court judgement, we should now start to pray to Alison Davis on behalf of the unborn – especially those diagnosed with a disability