In response to yesterday’s post, a reader left the following comment:
Choosing to have a retarded child is a moral atrocity. There’s no way to get around the fact that Down syndrome causes suffering in everyone involved. The parents who support bringing more people burdened with this illness into the world only want to extend their and their children’s suffering to everyone else. They should be named for what they are – evil.
Every child should be loved and valued – but a fetus is not a child until he or she is born – and what kind of perverted monster do you have to be to want your children to suffer their entire life? Only the religious dogma behind the hypocritical “culture of life” is capable of sinking people to this level.
These remarks grieve me as much as they anger me. They anger me because it’s hard for me to fathom how anyone could have such an open and callous indifference towards the humanity of the weakest among us. They grieve me because I get the feeling that this person actually believes their own twisted error. Nevertheless, a couple of words by way of response are in order.
First, this reader says that choosing to bring a Down syndrome child to term is a “moral atrocity” because such children suffer and bring suffering into the lives of others. Is this really how we will assess who should live and who should die? Are we going to authorize the killing of innocent persons simply because we think their lives are not worth living? What about babies who become mentally impaired after they are born? Should we execute them as well? What about people who are burdening their families and suffering in cancer wards right now? Should we execute them? No, the logic undergirding that proposition would lead to macabre injustices that any reasonable person can foresee. A person’s human dignity and right to life do not derive from their ability not to suffer or be a burden to others.
Second, the reader claims that “a fetus is not a child until he or she is born.” This simply will not stand, and many modern day pro-choice advocates have abandoned such arguments. What is the difference between a child in the birth canal and one who has passed out of it? Does it make sense to say that the child inside the birth canal is not a person created in the image of God, but the one outside of the birth canal is? The only difference between the two is a little bit of time and a little bit of distance.
This reader makes the common mistake of thinking that the unborn are not human persons because they are so small, because they are less developed, because they are still inside the womb, because they are not viable (they depend on their mother’s womb for life). A few probing questions reveals the bankruptcy of this thinking. You can remember the questions by the acronym S.L.E.D. (source).
Size: Does your personhood derive from your size? Is Arnold Schwarzenegger more of a person than Gary Coleman?
Level of development: Does your personhood derive from your level of development? Is the burly football player more of a person than a prepubescent boy?
Environment: Does your personhood depend on your location? Does sitting inside a house make you more or less a person than one sitting outside a house?
Degree of dependency: Does dependence upon another determine your personhood? Is a diabetic on kidney dialysis less of a person than those who do not need such support?
The answer to all of these questions is obviously “no.” If size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency don’t determine our personhood, then why would they determine the personhood of the unborn? The answer is that they don’t.