Secular humanists like to sneer at religious folk for our stubborn insistence upon seeing God’s hand at work in the world. We call “providence” what the materialist sees as a random unfolding of events. We see a blessing where the nonbeliever sees nothing more than the mundane workings of physics or biology. This mentality has insinuated itself into virtually every facet of contemporary culture, and its impact on bioethics has been particularly tragic. Human life is no longer considered to be sacred, and human dignity is no longer viewed as something inherent and inalienable. According to today’s materialist values, human life is only worthwhile and dignified when it meets a certain standard of vigor and utility. If you don’t measure up, then your life doesn’t really matter.
Unborn children with chromosomal defects like Down’s Syndrome are one of the unfortunate groups adversely impacted by this new ethic. Because so many people now view children as a “choice” rather than a blessing, a disabled child is often viewed as an unwanted and – thanks to ever advancing medical technology – avoidable burden. National Public Radio recently ran a story celebrating the advance of precise prenatal testing for birth defects like Down’s Syndrome. As reported by First Things, the tone of NPR’s coverage was unequivocally celebratory. “The story quoted physicians who lamented that inaccurate tests can mislead a woman into ‘terminating what would actually have been a normal pregnancy.’ With prenatal certainty about trisomy 21, the doctors said, women won’t accidentally abort normal children.”
Well praise the Lord and pass the forceps! Thanks be to Science for liberating would-be parents from the burden of raising a disabled child. Everyone knows that parenting a normal child is difficult enough. Why would anyone choose to have a child that will require so much extra time, effort, and attention for so much less return on investment? After all, there are no world famous neurosurgeons with Down’s Syndrome. No professional athletes or CEOs or movie stars. Just disabled people with limited capacity that often require a lifetime of hands-on support. Better to simply discard the “damaged goods” and try again for perfection.
If this sounds extreme, it’s meant to be. Genocide is being waged against humanity’s most vulnerable members because a huge segment of western society has rejected the Judeo-Christian worldview in favor of a self-centered worldview. Ironically, in the name of “progress” we’ve regressed to a pre-Christian ethic, one in which might makes right and society’s most vulnerable members have no worth and no voice. This was the reigning ethic that was shattered with the birth of the Savior of the World in a cattle stall in the Jewish backwater called Bethlehem.
Jesus Christ upended the established order by preaching a Gospel of love and radical equality before God. Not only did he affirm the inherent worth and dignity of the poor, vulnerable and infirm, he spoke of them as uniquely blessed and especially favored (inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me). In a time when it was common for defective infants to be left outside the city walls to die of exposure or be eaten by wild animals, and for the sick and infirm to be cast out from society, Christ set a higher standard. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers and enabled the lame to walk. He taught that life isn’t about self-actualization, but about selfless love.
This example of selfless love was exemplified, of course, by Christ’s Passion on the Cross. Instead of condemning us for our imperfection, Christ redeemed us and reconciled us to our heavenly father.
Of course, our culture today has by and large rejected this worldview. We sneer at the idea of “original sin” and the need for a savior. We are the authors of our fate, and no one, not even God (if he even exists), has the right to tell us how to live our lives. Our willingness to destroy those of our children that don’t measure up is a reflection of this attitude, an attitude characterized by narcissism and selfishness. For all the lofty rhetoric defending Roe v. Wade as a landmark moment in the evolution of American civil society, the grim reality is that it has produced a disposable man ethic which holds that if people are less than perfect or unwanted, they may be disposed of with impunity. It is a judicial decision that elevates the individual will at the expense of the common good.
It is doubtful that changing this new mentality is possible, and if it is, it won’t come easily or quickly. The first step, of course, is to live lives of Christian charity, to teach our children to do the same, and to share that love with everyone we meet. We have to leaven the loaf of cultural materialism with a healthy dose of Christian charity: every life is precious and beloved of God, and everyone has a place in this world, even those who fall short of our earthly standards of perfection.