Julian Savulescu, a neuroethicist at the University of Oxford suggests reviving “good eugenics.” He says the information from the human genome project makes it a moral imperative to produce children with the best genes possible. He follows on the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991) an Episcopal priest who taught Christian ethics at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge Massachusetts and Harvard Divinity School. “The world no longer needs all the individuals we are capable of bringing into it-especially those who are unable to compete and are an unhappy burden to others. If the size of our families must be limited, surely we are entitled to children who are healthy rather than defective.”
He also wrote that families with genetic abnormalities have a “responsibility for quality in their offspring and of obligation to the community’s interest,” not to pass down that genetic error. What constitutes a genetic error? Missing a limb? Cleft palate? Down syndrome? Autism? And who will be the arbiter of these decisions as we learn more about our genes and heredity?
Shortly after the Nazis came onto power in 1933, they commenced their plan to populate their territory with Aryans, people designated by the state to have the right blood line. As Hitler put it, “The Aryan race is the bearer of human cultural development and therefore human culture and civilization are inseparably bound up in the presence of the Aryan. The Aryans by their nature, their blood were chosen to rule the world. What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, the sustenance of our children and the purity of our blood, the freedom and independence of the fatherland so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe.”
They promoted the birth of pure Germans, the Volkist racial state with a two pronged plan; to increase the Aryan races they shut down birth control centres, stopped advertising for contraception, and made abortions difficult to obtain for all those who fit the description of a member of the Aryan race. At the same time they murdered human beings they designated as not appropriate: the mentally and physically challenged, the weak and the elderly, Russians and Poles who got in their way of their Pan-German plans; and they made every attempt to remove all Jews from the face of the earth. The Nazis redefined what it meant to be human. And those who did not fit the definition were exterminated.
For Fletcher, the essence of a person, the definition of human, is dependent upon reason; to only function biologically is to be a nonperson. “Humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are not persons…” According to Fletcher at the beginning of life “The ethical principle is that pregnancy when wanted is a healthy process and pregnancy when not wanted is a disease-in fact, a venereal disease. The truly ethical question is not whether we can justify abortion but whether we can justify compulsory pregnancy.”
In 1972 John D. Rockefeller chaired the commission, “Population and the American Future,” which recommended access to unlimited abortion in the first two trimesters. At the time, the fear of overpopulation was so great that abortion was promoted to control world population. This opened the door to sex-selection abortion which takes place in many cultures and has now arrived in Canada and the United States.
Secularist Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) concluded that human beings have an absolute intrinsic value. Kant based this conclusion on rational thinking and pure practical reason. Kant wrote “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” Kant’s secular ethical system demands respect for all humanity and that we “uphold the human rights of all persons, regardless of where they live or how well we know them, simply because they are human beings, capable of reason, and therefore worthy of respect.”
Kant’s ethical system mirrors ethical monotheism. Both promote the intrinsic value of a human being and that people are ends in and of themselves and not a means to an end; we matter because we exist: whether we are obese or beautiful; perfectly or imperfectly formed; intelligent or developmentally challenged; mentally ill or a genius; exceptionally wealthy or homeless. Ethics that view life as having intrinsic value would not consider ending life when one is “without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity.”
I can’t imagine receiving news about a baby that I was carrying that would leave me questioning whether or not I should continue the pregnancy. I am truly grateful that I never had to face such a life-changing decision. Our society needs to develop the courage to open the question of abortion to public debate. Not to make laws that deny abortion, but to give as the opportunity to discuss the type of society we wish to pass down to or children. How we define what it means to be human affects all aspects of life from birth, to education, incarceration, health care, to the “golden years.”
In the 20th century there was a TV programme, Rod Serling’s the Twilight Zone. One week he told the story of a woman begging to have one more corrective surgery so that she would look like everyone else and be acceptable. Did she carry a genetic abnormality? The surgeons tell her that they can’t fix her. Because of her unacceptable look, she would be sent to a special place where others with deformities like hers live out their lives separated from the ones designated appropriate. When we see her she looks like a supermodel. When we see the medical staff we learn what it means to be acceptable in that society. Everyone has the face of a pig.