Dear Exceptional Human:
Human exceptionalism is the essential ingredient in the recipe that protects human equality and promotes universal rights. Once we decide that we don’t each enjoy equal moral value simply and merely because we are human, we soon find ourselves searching for subjective criteria by which to value the worth of each individual—a transitory matter at best, since circumstances are in constant flux—that we apply to humans, animals, machines, “post humans,” and perhaps even, nature. By definition, such a subjective approach leads to some of us passing muster and others failing. Alas, history shows that once we devalue whole categories of humans, they are soon subjected to terrible forms of oppression, exploitation, and even, killing.
As this edition of the Human Exceptionalist demonstrates, the assault on human equality continues apace. Infants are among the most threatened among us in this regard. For example, a jury in Portland determined that a girl with Down syndrome was “wrongfully born” because her parents would have terminated the pregnancy had prenatal tests not been negligently performed. In other words, a jury decided that a civil wrong was committed by doctors merely because a child was born, even though the doctors did not cause the girl’s disability. We are assured that the parents love their daughter, and I have no reason to doubt that it is so. Still, let us hope the child never learns her parents would have preferred her dead when she was gestating than be allowed to be born, and that a jury implicitly agreed with that deadly diagnosis.
Meanwhile, bioethicists writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics created an international brouhaha when they promoted the moral propriety of “after birth abortion,” the term they used to describe what is properly called infanticide. The basis for this odious view? Infants do not possess the capacities to be deemed “persons,” and hence, they do not have the right to life. In any event, the desires of “people”—those already born—trump those of infants, who are apparently not really people. Thus, we see the deadly price that denying human exceptionalism can extract—a price, by the way, that is already being paid by disabled and terminally ill newborns in the Netherlands, some of whom are euthanized in their cribs.
The same lack of personhood is often applied to justify dehydrating patients diagnosed to be persistently unconscious to death by removing feeding tubes. Currently, the law gives the benefit of the doubt in such cases to life. But bioethicists writing in Bioethics would make dehydration to death the default position. If applied in law, thousands of the most defenseless people in the world would be made to die slowly and in a way that would be criminal if done to an animal and correctly deemed a terrible human rights crime if used as a method of execution against, say, an Al Qaeda terrorist.
As some seek to depersonalize and remove rights from vulnerable humans, a concurrent effort is underway to personalize and/or grant rights to non humans—animals, nature, and even artificially intelligent machines. Sorry, no matter how sophisticated a computer’s program might be, it is still inanimate, or one could say, a bucket of bolts and silicon chips.
We at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism believe that rights properly only apply to human beings—and it is difficult enough getting all of us covered. But we will continue to defend human exceptionalism as the foundation of Western Civilization as we strive to prevent the value of humans from being eroded at law, in philosophy, and/or as a matter of ethics. If you would like to help us in this crucial work, we would profoundly appreciate a tax deductible donation.
Thank you and onward!
Wesley J. Smith
Co-Director: Discovery Institute Center on Human Exceptionalism