Archives For Ethics

Over the last two posts, I have discussed the suggestion, published in The Journal of Medical Ethics, that parents (or the state) should be able to kill their infants if they discover a defect or hardship that would have led them to have aborted the baby before birth. Much of this discussion hinges on the authors’ (Giubilini and Minerva) definition of personhood.

In this post, I will address an important question that actually gets discussed in the article: why not put the kids up for adoption rather than killing them? I mean, it can’t be easy for a parent to put their children up for adoption, but that has to be a better option than killing them. Right?

Wrong. At least, according to Giubilini and Minerva. In the article, they assume that unhealthy or unhappy babies will be killed. But what of the healthy and happy babies? Wouldn’t it be better to put these babies up for adoption? That way the babies can live and even bring happiness to those adopting them.

Before we consider this too seriously, however, we need to take the mother into account. Giublilini and Minerva explain that giving up a child for adoption can be psychologically difficult for a mother. They acknowledge that abortion sometimes creates a psychological hardship for would-be mothers, but argue that the psychological trauma caused by giving up a child for adoption is worse, because the potential exists to reverse the decision. A woman who has had an abortion is able to move on because she knows her decision was permanent and can’t be undone. A woman who has given up her child for adoption, however, will always have to live with the thought that maybe she could or should reconnect with her child.

I am certainly not inclined to rank levels of psychological distress, especially not in such matters where I do not (and cannot) have any experience. But I do think that it’s important to identify what is happening here. The avoidance of feelings of guilt is exalted above the dignity of human life. Better to kill a human being than to go through life with a burdensome child. Better to deal with some temporary guilt over killing the child than to deal with lifelong guilt over seeing the child live with another family.

There is no discussion of right and wrong, just a desire to alleviate the consequences of our actions and a firm commitment to avoid guilt.

Francis Schaeffer explains: “Humanism makes man ‘the measure of all things.’ It puts man rather than God at the center of all things.” Ironically, in giving ultimate value to man, we lose the only adequate basis we have for considering humanity to be valuable. Man is valuable because he has been created by God, created in his image even. But once we make man “the center of all things,” then he is free to decide that some people are not people. The value of humanity has not been placed in each individual by a Creator, it comes from our ability to contribute to society (or whatever arbitrary standard of value prevails).

Speaking in the late 1970s, Schaeffer compared the harsh realities of abortion and euthanasia to the child sacrifices of the ancients:

“In Old Testament days, God expressed special abhorrence for the Canaanite practice of infant sacrifice…the ancient Europeans also offered up their offspring to the gods. These people killed their offspring in order to purchase from the gods, they hoped, their own personal peace and affluence. Today, indiscriminate abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are also performed for the personal peace and affluence of individuals. People who destroy their own children and others’, so that they can maintain their life-styles, are also sacrificing to the gods—the gods of a materialistic world-view and practice, and the god of the ‘self’ as the egotistic center and measure of all things.”

We need to be careful here. There are reasons that people pursue abortions that are not to be scoffed at or quickly dismissed. A Christian solution to these social issues will require a depth of compassion, commitment, and sacrifice that the Christian community is not accustomed to. We ought to bear the burdens of those who feel they have no other options than abortion—before or after birth—rather than simply condemning them. But we must be aware of what is being proposed and prepare ourselves to respond with wisdom and compassion.

I will let Schaeffer’s words conclude this series of posts:

“We challenge you to be a person in this impersonal age. Be human in this inhuman age. Put the people in your life first—whether perfect or marred…You and the those around you are people, made in the image of the personal God who created all people in His image.”

The Journal of Medical Ethics recently published an article advocating “post-birth abortions.” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, who wrote the article, argue that there are many cases where women have abortions because having a child would be physically, psychologically, or economically difficult for them. But what if these hardships are not realized until after the baby is born? What if the child’s father leaves, for example, or the child is born with an unforeseen disability? Should the mother have to bear the burden of raising a child in non-ideal circumstances? Or what if the financial and organizational burden of caring for the child falls to the state?

Though Giubilini and Minerva acknowledge that people with severe disabilities are often “reported to be happy,” they argue:

“to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified an abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.” (emphasis original)

Medicine is one of those front lines where the specific definition of key words such as “person,” “fetus,” “justified,” “burden” and so on have huge implications. For example, why call the active murder of a baby (some advocate killing children up to a year old) “post-birth abortion”? Giubilini and Minerva explain:

“In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.”

There is much here that should concern us as Christians. Rather than offering my own thoughts on this, I will share some insights that I gleaned from reading Francis Schaeffer’s book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-authored by C. Everett Koop, M.D.). Schaeffer wrote this book in 1979 to call attention to the issues at stake in the growing popularity of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. Relevant as his words were in his day, they proved to be prophet of our time as well.

Though many were shocked that the Journal of Medical Ethics would publish such an article, this is merely the logical conclusion of people operating within a Darwinian mentality. If survival of the fittest really is the driving force behind life, then humanity has no inherent value. What value he has must be derived from his ability to survive. And if a young child stands in the way of another evolutionary being (i.e., a mother) of surviving in the way she wants to, why shouldn’t she practice survival of the fittest with her infant?

As soon as we leave behind an absolute standard of right and wrong, the inherent value of human life gets reworked, even discarded. We are left only with prevailing notions of what humanity is and ought to be. Looking at the push for abortion in the late 70s, Schaeffer says, “It all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

He insightfully explains the degenerating logic that unfolds once we abandon an absolute standard of morality:

“At first we hear much talk of compassion for the unwanted. The discussion moves on to ‘rights,’ then to ‘my’ rights and soon to pure ‘economics.’ The discussion of life must be brought back to where it belongs—not to emotional, extreme examples, not to selfish questions of rights, not to expedience, and certainly not to economics. The matter should be discussed in terms of right and wrong.”

With regard to the use of language in these types of debates, do we really think we’re kidding anyone by calling the murder of young children “post-birth abortions”? Does the softened title make the act itself any less reprehensible? Yet this simple decision to not call it “baby-slaughtering” will likely go a long way towards its being perceived in a more understandable light. Schaeffer warned: “Language has power. The language we use actually forms the concepts we have and the results these concepts produce.”

I will explore some of the issues presented in Giubilini and Minvera’s article in the next two posts as well. But before I close this post, Schaeffer gives us another warning that we should take to heart:

“One wonders what the chances are for someone who becomes a burden in a society that practices the concept of the survival of the fittest and has begun this practice by starting to eliminate its children.”