Kathryn Lopez

"For a renewed respect for human life, from conception to natural death ... "

Seared in my memory is the sound of Kobi Cudjoe, gasping for air, as he read that prayer.

He was one of the petition readers at the special mass held on Oct. 23 at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., "Honoring the Gifts of Persons with Special Needs." From his wheelchair, he could only be heard as pleading for all those whose lives may be undervalued by a society that sees their disabilities as burdens, and the differently abled as more handicap than human. Just weeks before, the same church had hosted the more well-known mass for Supreme Court justices, lawyers and other dignitaries. That one makes news -- this one, not so much.

It is easy to dehumanize the sick, the weak and the disabled. Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator Paul Greenberg noted one way to do so a few days later, addressing a crowd in Manhattan: "Verbicide must precede homicide," he said. And so whether it be the Down syndrome baby or an unborn child with another adverse prenatal diagnosis, "speak of a fetus, not an unborn child," Greenberg said. "Vocabulary remains the decisive turning point."

The folks at The Human Life Review were celebrating an early Thanksgiving. They gathered in gratitude for the work of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Greenberg, naming him a "defender of life."

But he didn't always start out that way.

"When Roe v. Wade was first pronounced from on high, I welcomed it," he said in his remarks.

It didn't come up at the dinner, but Greenberg's example stood as a corrective to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who had earlier in the week announced on "The O'Reilly Factor" that a man can't be 50 or 60 and change his mind on major issues. We all know what he was doing there -- aiming for a primary blow against the shifting views of rival candidate Mitt Romney. But he was not making a defensible point.

And it wasn't just abortion that Greenberg had changed his mind on. "Start off opposing abortion and you'll start questioning euthanasia, too." He recalled, with the great, tender passion of a touched conscience, the death of Terri Schiavo, the cognitively impaired woman who was denied food and water for 13 "long days." With Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, who runs the Life and Hope Network, which helps families facing the same pressures to end life, in the audience, he said, "It would have been kinder to shoot her."

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.