Waging War on the Weak
Center for Bioethics and Culture
January 16, 2008
Link to Original Article
Four months ago, a little girl in Samoa was born with serious disabilities. Doctors did not believe the baby could survive, so they urged the parents not to feed their daughter. But the parents loved their daughter and snuck food to Miracle. Beyond all medical expectations, Miracle survived.
Ponder, if you will, what I just wrote: Miracle's parents had to sneak food into the hospital! This wasn't even a feeding tube case. Had the parents acquiesced and permitted Miracle to starve, her death would have been akin to being exposed on a hill—the method ancient Romans used to rid themselves of “defective” babies.
Alas, surviving against expectations did not end her rejection by doctors. New Zealand has now refused to permit Miracle to be brought there for surgery. One doctor—who has not even examined the child and ignoring the first mistaken prognosis—said, "I do not think that any intervention could be offered by New Zealand that would change the long-term prognosis for Miracle."
This is nothing less than medical abandonment—and alas, it is not an anomaly. Around the world, profoundly disabled or terminally ill people are increasingly being seen as resource vampires that monopolize an undue share of medical attention that should be devoted to those with lives more worth living. Not only is the odious notion of infanticide gaining Establishment acceptance—with pro-infanticide bioethicist Peter Singer now at Princeton, and supportive pieces about euthanizing terminally ill and seriously disabled babies having been published in the New England Journal of Medicine , New York Times , and Los Angeles Times , among others---but also, a “duty to die” is gestating, beginning with Futile Care Theory in which hospital ethics committees are being empowered to allow doctors to refuse life-sustaining care based on their judgments about the quality of their patients' lives.
This is nothing less than the rising of a “new eugenics” that perceives some lives as having greater value than others, and which in some cases sees death—including active euthanasia and assisted suicide—as an appropriate “solution” to the problems of human suffering. The original eugenics movement expressed this relativistic view of human life through hate-filled rhetoric; for example, eugenicists described disabled babies like Miracle in terms that today would be considered hate speech. Thus, as recounted in Edwin Blacks' splendid history of eugenics, War Against the Weak , Margaret Sanger took “the extreme eugenic view that human ‘weeds' should be ‘exterminated.'”
Today's new eugenicists are not that crass, of course. Indeed, rather than screaming hate and pejoratives from the rooftops, they instead ooze unctuous compassion as they croon about a “quality of life” ethic and preventing the weak—against whom they are secretly at war—from “suffering.” But behind the politically correct language, and indeed, hiding within the hearts of those who perceive themselves as profoundly caring, lurks the same old disdain of the helpless who offend because they remind us of our own imperfections and mortality.
We have been down this road before—and it led to Holocaust. This is not to say, of course, that the new eugenicists are so many modern-day Nazis. Nor, am I predicting death camps or pogroms. But there is more than one way to fall off an ethical cliff. As Dr. Leo Alexander, one of the leading medical examiners at the Nuremberg Medical Trials, wrote presciently in the July 14, 1949, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine:
Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitudes of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic to the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.”
Looking at the state of the 1949 culture of American medicine, Dr. Alexander then warned:
In an increasingly utilitarian society these patients are being looked down upon with increasing definiteness as unwanted ballast. A certain amount of rather open contempt for the people who cannot be rehabilitated with present knowledge has developed. This is probably due to a good deal of unconscious hostility, because these people for whom there seem to be no effective remedies, have become a threat to newly acquired delusions of omnipotence. . . . At this point, Americans should remember that the enormity of the euthanasia movement is present in their own midst.”
The most dangerous sentence ever uttered is, “It can't happen here.” We ignore Dr. Alexander's prophetic counsel at our own peril.
CBC consultant Wesley J. Smith is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is also the author of the Weblog Secondhand Smoke.
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