Weed Out the Weaklings: Selective Abortion

Weed Out the Weaklings: Selective Abortion

Gruesome reports of forced abortions continue to emerge from China, where a one-child policy has resulted in untold death, chiefly targeting girls. So far, few American media have circulated Monday’s news of a U.S. State Department inquiry into the case of Cao Ruyi, who anti-abortion activists say will be required to abort her child this weekend if she fails to pay a substantial ”social burden fee.”

Tragically, we have no shortage of incidents that remind us of abortion’s horrors, intended and unintended. For example, last fall a hospital in Australia mistakingly killed the wrong twin in a selective abortion. Steven Ertelt, founder and editor of LifeNews.com, reports, “The mother of the two babies had wanted to abort the baby who doctors said had little chance to live. But now, both babies are dead.” The doctors told the mother that one of the unborn babies had a heart defect that would require years of surgeries, if the child survived long enough. The mother asked doctors to abort the one child while allowing the other to live.

“However,” Ertelt writes, “the abortion . . . went awry and the wrong baby was injected with drugs meant to end his or her life.”

The Implications: Peter Saunders, CEO of Christian Medical Medical Fellowship in the UK, responds, “The story graphically illustrates the grim reality of the ‘search and destroy’ approach to unborn babies with special needs. Such procedures are now very common although very few involve twins.”

His remarks deserve further reflection:

It is interesting that the killing of an “unwanted” child with special needs in the womb is regarded as “normal” whilst the killing of a “wanted” normal child is seen as a tragedy and worthy of international news coverage.

By contrast the Christian view is that the life of every human individual, regardless of its intelligence, beauty, state of health, or degree of disability is infinitely precious. A just and caring society is one where the strong make sacrifices for the weak, or in the words of the apostle Paul, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Earlier this week, Ross Douthat’s column “Eugenics, Past and Future” notes the eerie relation of today’s selective abortions to “the American elite’s pre-World War II commitment to breeding out the “unfit.”‘ He concludes:

…This progressive fascination with eugenics largely ended with World War II and the horrors wrought by National Socialism. But while the West has discarded the theory of the eugenics era, the practice urged by Fisher and others — the elimination or pre-emption, through careful reproductive planning, of the weaker members of the human species — has become a more realistic possibility than it ever was in the 1920s and ’30s.

The eugenicists had very general ideas about genetics and heredity, very crude ideas about intelligence, and deeply poisonous ideas about racial hierarchies. They did not have, as we do, access to the genetic blueprints of individuals — including, most important, human beings still developing in utero, whose development can be legally interrupted by the intervention of an abortionist.

That access, until recently, has required invasive procedures like amniocentesis. But last week brought a remarkable breakthrough: a team of scientists mapped nearly an entire fetal genome using blood from the mother and saliva from the father.

The procedure costs tens of thousands of dollars today, but the price will surely fall. And it promises access to a wealth of information about the fetus’s biology and future prospects — information that carries obvious blessings, but also obvious temptations.

Thanks to examples like Irving Fisher, we know what the elites of a bygone era would have done with that kind of information: they would have empowered the state (and the medical establishment) to determine which fetal lives should be carried to term, and which should be culled for the good of the population as a whole.

That scenario is all but unimaginable in today’s political climate. But given our society’s track record with prenatal testing for Down syndrome, we also have a pretty good idea of what individuals and couples will do with comprehensive information about their unborn child’s potential prospects. In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won’t lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.

Is this sort of “liberal eugenics,” in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher’s era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.”

From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.

But this is a convenient perspective for our civilization to take. Having left behind pseudoscientific racial theories, it’s easy for us to look back and pass judgment on yesterday’s eugenicists. It’s harder to acknowledge what we have in common with them.

But this is a convenient perspective for our civilization to take. Having left behind pseudoscientific racial theories, it’s easy for us to look back and pass judgment on yesterday’s eugenicists. It’s harder to acknowledge what we have in common with them.

First, a relentless desire for mastery and control, not only over our own lives but over the very marrow and sinew of generations yet unborn. And second, a belief in our own fundamental goodness, no matter to what ends our mastery is turned.

(Originally titled “Profiles of Death.”)

John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. You can follow him on Twitter.

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