That we live in a culture of death is now apparent to even the most casual social observers. Whether the issue is abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, embryo research, or genetic engineering, the modern secular West is moving rapidly away from the traditional first principle of medicine: “Do No Harm”.
And often the justification given for the pro-death mentality is the desire to create a better version of humankind. The co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, James Watson, for example recently said that he would have aborted his son if genetic testing had shown that he would be born with severe epilepsy. He said that “Any time you can prevent a seriously sick child from being born, it is good for everyone”. Not too good for the child however.
Eugenics is what Watson has in mind. It is the desire to create a perfect or ideal race by eliminating those regarded as inferior or defective. The Nazis were earlier examples of the eugenic mindset. But many today continue to argue for the “improving” of the human race, even if it means bumping off a lot of undesirables along the way.
Much of the pro-death and eugenic mindset revolves around a defective understanding of personhood. The traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, for example, affirms that because mankind is made in God’s image, each person is to be treated with dignity and respect.
For many in that tradition, personhood is seen to commence at the moment of conception. Human life is important because of who the person intrinsically is, not because of what a person can do. However the sanctity of life ethic has been replaced by the quality of life ethic. Now people are judged by what they can contribute to society, instead of who they are.
Thus the secular philosopher Peter Singer argues that only people who have consciousness or awareness and offer functional usefulness can really be said to be persons. Those incapable of sentience or utilitarian usefulness (such as the unborn, the newborn, the frail and elderly) are not to be regarded as persons. People are thus of value for what they do instead of who they are.
Therefore Singer is pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and pro-infanticide. Some people just do not measure up to his definition of personhood. As a result he has argued that newborn babies should pass a test of usefulness before we allow them to live. Singer and his like-minded friends would obviously be the judges and executioners if such a brave new world were permitted.
But it is interesting how philosophical consistency does not always stand up to the demands of reality. Singer’s mother suffered for a while from debilitating Alzheimer’s Disease. According to Singer’s own philosophy she should have been put down, since she no longer could be considered a person. Yet Singer did all he could to comfort and support his dying mother. Fortunately for the mother, Singer in this case was a better son than a philosopher. (She eventually died in 2000).
The secular utilitarianism of Singer and others may sound good in theory, but in practice it is a death wish. It is an elitist philosophy, in which certain “experts” determine who will live and who will die. Recent history has witnessed too much of such misguided utopianism.
The desire for the perfect man always comes at a price. In seeking to perfect life, we instead unleash death. Human perfectibility is a chimera, and those who most clamour for it are those who tend to be the most disrespectful of human life.
As C.S. Lewis warned way back in 1947 in his important work, The Abolition of Man, “if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendents what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger. . . . Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men”.
The truth is, the quest for perfectibility and immortality always results in tragic endings. Two very early attempts are recorded in Scripture. Both resulted in the judgment of God: the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve attempted to become like God, and the Tower of Babel, where the people attempted to reach heaven by their own devices.
Scripture tells us to choose life. But modern man, in rejecting God, has rejected life as well.