By Wesley J. Smith
The late Richard John Neuhaus famously wrote of bioethicists:
Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on the way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as unexceptionable.
In my over 20 years engaged in trying to push back against the bioethics movement, I have found that to be an absolutely accurate formula.
Take, as one example, dehydrating the cognitively devastated to death–a slow and potentially agonizing death. That was once unthinkable, it became debatable in the 1980s, and is now unexceptional.
Allowing infanticide has now reached the “debatable on the way to justifiable” stage–with some of the world’s most prominent bioethicists and medical/bioethical journals publishing apologies for infanticide. (Remember the “after-birth abortion” article in the Journal of Medical Ethics two years ago?)
Latest example: The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery hosted a debate on infanticide–See!–in which the prominent Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk argues in favor of the propriety of infanticide.
Killing severely ill or dying babies is okay, don’t you know, because human beings don’t have intrinsic dignity. What matters is the “quality of life ethic.” From, “Physicians Can Justifiably Euthanize Certain Severely Impaired Neonates:”
A quality-of-life ethic requires us to focus on a neonate’s current and future quality of life as relevant decision making criteria. We would ask questions such as: Does this baby have the capacity for development to an extent that will allow him or her to have a life and not merely be alive? If we reach the conclusion that it would not, we would have reason to conclude that his life is not worth living.
That is an entirely subjective question, isn’t it? It’s in the eye of the utilitarian beholder.
Schuklenk might say–I don’t know–that only a baby that would never be conscious should be killed. But the authors of Journal of Medical Ethics article opined that Down babies could be killed because they can be aborted.
Netherlander doctors have killed babies with spina bifida and other physical disabilities. Once human value becomes subjective, the extent of the right to life is reduced to who has the power to decide.
Sometimes when this issue comes up, opponents yell, “But that’s what the Nazis did!” NO. That is what the Nazis allowed doctors who wanted infanticide to do.
German infanticide was driven by doctors and what we would now call bioethicists. Indeed, the very first infanticide, Baby Knaur, would almost surely receive the Okay-to-Kill rubber stamp from Schuklenk. From my book Culture of Death, quoting three notable history books that focused on the case:
The first known German government-approved infanticide, the killing of Baby Knauer, occurred in early 1939. The baby was blind and had a leg and an arm missing.
Baby Knauer’s father was distraught at having a disabled child. So, he wrote to Chancellor Hitler requesting permission to have the infant “put to sleep.” Hitler had been receiving many such requests from German parents of disabled babies over several years and had been waiting for just the right opportunity to launch his euthanasia plans.
The Knauer case seemed the perfect test case. He sent one of his personal physicians, Karl Rudolph Brandt, to investigate. Brandt’s instructions were to verify the facts, and if the child was disabled as described in the father’s letter, he was to assure the infant’s doctors that they could kill the child without legal consequence. With the Fuhrer’s assurance, Baby Knauer’s doctors willingly murdered their patient at the request of his father. [Burleigh, Death and Deliverance, pp. 95-96; Lifton, Nazi Doctors, pp. 50-51; Gallagher, By Trust Betrayed, pp. 95-96.]
Brandt was hanged at Nuremberg. These crimes came from a rejection of intrinsic human dignity and accepting a subjective quality of life ethic.
Schuklenk also spills the beans that infanticide will be about money:
The question of whether it would be a wise allocation of scarce health care resources to undertake the proposed surgical procedures invariably arises in circumstances such as this.
Continuing life-prolonging care for the infant would be futile, it would constitute a waste of scarce health care resources.
Health care resources ought to be deployed where they can actually benefit patients by improving their quality of life. This cannot be achieved in the scenario under consideration.
Several years ago at Princeton, I castigated the university for giving infanticide proponent Peter Singer one of the most prestigious endowed chairs in the world. He was brought to Princeton not in spite of believing in the moral propriety of killing babies (because they are supposedly not “persons”) but because of it.
In the Q and A part of the presentation, one professor objected, saying he liked academic freedom and the interplay of ideas. In reply, I asked if Princeton would ever bring the racist Noble Laureate William Shockley to the university, regardless of his expertise in physics. He said, honestly, “No.”
Exactly. Racism is beyond the pale–and properly so. The fact that Shockley’s expertise would have had nothing to do with racial politics wouldn’t have mattered. He would have been unemployable at any major university.
Infanticide is the same bigotry aimed at different victims. It is now considered a respectable and debatable proposition in bioethics.
If we don’t keep pushing back very hard, it will, one day, become unexceptional.
Editor’s note. This appeared at nationalreview.com.