By John Jalsevac
February 22, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – There was a time, not so long ago, when pro-lifers, in an effort to galvanize the apathetic, would recount to them the disturbing opinions of a certain Princeton professor, Peter Singer, who, amongst other things, has long held that it is ethical to kill disabled newborn children.
For instance, in a 2006 interview Singer was asked point-blank: “Would you kill a disabled baby?” His response? “Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.”
“Many people find this shocking,” he continued, “yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion. One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.”
At the very least one should commend Singer for his logic, particularly for his disowning of the modern superstition that at birth a fetus somehow transmogrifies into a wholly new creature. If it’s ok to kill a fetus, then it’s ok to kill a newborn, Singer argues, there being no qualitative distinction between a fetus and a newborn, but only an accidental difference of position – within or without the womb. And any clear-headed logician would affirm that the conclusion follows neatly upon the premise, assuming the premise is true.
But never mind that. The point is that, for a while anyway, and in the not so distant past, Peter Singer was the lone, wild figure standing on the farthest fringe of the ethics community, shunned by social conservatives and liberals alike – by the former as the very mouthpiece of evil, the very embodiment of the Culture of Death, and by the latter as much “too extreme”.
* * *
It is a funny thing, though, about the social left, with its ever fluid notion of truth and blind faith in the goodness of “progress” and “change”, that an opinion that is one day deemed “too extreme”, very soon becomes “edgy,” and then “progressive” and, before you know it, “acceptable” or “ethical”.
And so for pro-life activists it comes as no surprise that Singer’s once-appalling opinions about infanticide have now jumped firmly into the mainstream, with the publication of a sober, though enthusiastic 10-page defense of newborn euthanasia in the prestigious journal of bioethics, the Hastings Center Report. With the appearance of this article, entitled “Ending the Life of a Newborn”, infanticide has become no longer, “extreme”, nor “edgy”, but sits somewhere on the cusp of “progressive” and “ethical”. See our report on the article at https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/feb/08022201.html.
It is true that for the time being this may only be strictly true within the more educated, elite circles of the left; but history has proven time and again that ideas that gain momentum in the world’s ivory towers inevitably filter down to the public. In this, the digital age, the age of communication, this process takes place at a breathtaking rate.
For the time being it is true that most people will continue to be appalled at the notion of newborn euthanasia; but, unless the acceptance of legalized infanticide amongst the leftist elite is vigorously fought with the proper intellectual and propagandist weapons, the idea will soon begin to be acceptable to the “man on the street” as well. Unless fought, the idea of infant euthanasia will filter down from the journals of bioethics to the newspapers and the news channels, in the same process of supersaturation and normalization that saw homosexuality go from being perceived as a grave crime against nature, society, and oneself, to perfectly normal, even commendable, in a little over a decade.
* * *
What really struck me, however, as I was reading the Hastings Center piece (besides, of course, the hard-to-ignore fact that the authors were defending killing newborn infants, including those who weren’t suffering yet, but probably would suffer in the future) is how ill prepared we are to respond to the arguments presented by the authors. It seems to me that the pro-life movement is somewhat behind the times in its approach to responding to the core principles of the Culture of Death, especially in its newest incarnations.
While much of the pro-life movement continues to desperately try to prove to the opposition that the fetus is human, by showing pictures of the unborn child, or proving that the fetus can feel pain, the whole pro-death movement has moved on. With the advent of embryonic research, immoral reproduction technologies, and now infant euthanasia, the pro-life movement has simply attempted to adopt and adapt old arguments for a whole new fight, which calls to mind that old Scripture quote about new wine in old wineskins.
“Human life,” we point out time after time, “is a continuity that begins at conception and continues through to the moment of natural death, and since it is wrong to kill an adult, it is also wrong to kill a child, born or unborn.”
But this just won’t do any more.
The cameras inserted into the womb have proven beyond a doubt that the uterus is not a twilight zone that suddenly transforms a formless blob of inhuman tissue into a hearty, healthy baby at the moment of birth. And hence it is somewhat condescending to our opponents to assume that the they are just so plain stupid that they can’t tell that the fetus looks, acts, and feels like a human, and is a human, albeit in its nascent stage of development.
What we seem to have failed to recognize, therefore, at least with the necessary clarity, is that the humanity or inhumanity of the fetus is often no longer the issue – at least, not within the elite spheres of the pro-death movement. The pro-death movement has evolved into a subtler, more radical, and much more dangerous form, a form that requires new intellectual and spiritual weapons to fight.
* * *
This whole issue of sanctioned infant murder, as explicitly espoused by the Groningen Protocol, is a dramatic case in point. Nowhere in The Groningen Protocol, and nowhere in Lindmann and Verkerk’s extensive study of the protocol, do the authors demand that physicians determine whether or not the newborn child is “human”. Nor do they attempt to determine of the child is a “person”. Both the humanity and personhood of the child are taken for granted. Indeed, on several occasions the authors equate the unborn child with a newborn child, and both of these with grown adults.
Hence, no matter how watertight our arguments for the humanity of the fetus or the newborn child are, they would do nothing to counteract the arguments of Lindemann and Verkerk, which are based, not upon the child’s humanity, but upon the issue of “quality of life”.
As Wesley Smith writes, “It wasn’t many years ago that almost everyone accepted that infanticide is intrinsically and inherently wrong. No more. With personhood theory and the ‘quality of life’ ethic increasingly permeating the highest levels of the medical and bioethical intelligentsia, we are moving toward a medical system in which babies are put down like dogs and killing is redefined as compassion.”
It is not the intent of this editorial to formulate a response to these theories mentioned by Smith, but only to highlight them as significant, and requiring a serious and intelligent response. These terrifyingly subtle “personhood” and “quality of life” arguments require the full attention of pro-lifers, and especially a new generation of serious pro-life intellectuals and apologists.
If we do not study and learn to devastate these theories at their most fundamental intellectual and spiritual core, then we will be left helpless and unprepared to respond as the pro-death movement increasingly uses them to justify embryonic research, destructive assisted reproduction technologies, infant euthanasia, and, inevitably, across the board legalized suicide, assisted suicide, involuntary adult euthanasia and who knows what else in the future.