The SLED Test : Why the unborn should not be excluded from the human family

By Paul Stark

Editor’s note. My family is on vacation. While we are gone I’ll be running articles from the past 12 months that you’ve indicated you particularly enjoyed. This was reprinted from the newspaper of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. MCCL is National Right to Life’s Minnesota affiliate.

The pro-choice position, in effect, says that we may kill members of one group of humans (the unborn) for elective reasons but not members of other groups (toddlers or adults, for example). To support a right to abortion, then, one must hold that there is some morally significant difference between the unborn and those who have already been born–a difference that warrants radically different treatment.

Is there such a difference? Philosopher Stephen Schwarz created (and Scott Klusendorf, among others, made popular) the acronym SLED to summarize the differences between unborn and born human beings. By using this helpful tool, pro-lifers can show that discrimination is not justified.

S – Size. The unborn human is smaller than an infant, but most people are smaller than basketball star Kevin Garnett. Size doesn’t make us more or less valuable.

L – Level of Development. The unborn is at an earlier stage of his or her development than a newborn, but an eight-year-old child is less developed (both physically and mentally) than an adolescent. Older, stronger, more intelligent humans do not have more dignity and fundamental rights than those who are younger, weaker, less intelligent and more vulnerable.

E – Environment. A trip through the birth canal cannot account for a change in the rights of a human being. Location does not affect who or what we are. A man doesn’t forfeit his right to life by walking to the other side of the dining room.

D – Degree of Dependency. The unborn is totally dependent on his or her mother for life, but so are newborn babies. In fact, everyone relies on other people and things to some degree. We don’t question the personhood of those who are dependent on kidney machines, insulin or pacemakers.

None of these four differences between the unborn and the born is relevant in a way that would justify killing the former. It is clear that human value is not contingent on such characteristics and abilities. Rather, we have fundamental dignity and basic rights, including the right to life, by virtue of the kind of thing that we are (human beings).

It follows that all human beings, being equal in their common humanity, are equal in having a right to life. Killing an unborn human being by abortion, like killing any other human for the same reasons, is a serious moral wrong.

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