The Human Exceptionalist- April 2012

March-April 2012
The morality of the 21st century will depend on how we respond to this simple but profound question:  Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?  Answer yes, and we have a chance of achieving universal human rights.  Answer no, and it means that we are merely another animal in the forest.”
— Wesley J. Smith Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
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




Parents Sue for “Wrongful Birth” of Child With Down Syndrome The Would Have Aborted

Essential Quote:
The Levys filed suit against Legacy Health, claiming that Deborah Levy would have aborted her pregnancy had she known her daughter had the chromosomal abnormality.  The lawsuit blames Legacy’s Center for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in North Portland…for allegedly botching the [prenatal] test. The Levys — who dearly love their daughter, now 4 — want Legacy to pay for the extra life-time costs of caring for her. That is estimated at about $3 million.


Bioethicists Argue Healthy Infants Aborted “After-Birth” Suit Parents’ Lifestyle Agendas

Essential quote:
The alleged right of individuals (such as fetuses and newborns) to develop their potentiality, which someone defends, is over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people [e.g. infants] cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence. Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of. Sometimes this situation can be prevented through an abortion, but in some other cases this is not possible. In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions.

Bioethicist Argues Permanently Unconscious Patients Should Be Cut Off From Food and Water

Essential Quote:
When there is ambiguity as to the patient’s advanced wishes, the presumption has been that decisions should weigh in favor of maintaining life, and therefore, that it is the withdrawal rather than the continuation of ANH that requires particular justification. I will argue that this default position should be reversed. Instead, I will argue that the burden of justification lies with those who would continue artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH), and in the absence of knowledge as to the patient’s advanced wishes, it is better to discontinue ANH. In particular, I will argue that among patients in PVS, there is not a compelling interest in being kept alive; that in general, we commit a worse violation of autonomy by continuing ANH when the patient’s wishes are unknown; and that more likely than not, the maintenance of ANH as a bridge to a theoretical future time of recovery goes against the best interests of the patient.

Human Exceptionalism 

Author Claims To Empathize With Animals Despite “Cloud of Human Exceptionalism:”

Essential Quote:
Sometimes I have moments where I’m able to peer through my cloud of human exceptionalism and experience the natural world in a way that reminds me I’m actually a part of the animal kingdom. I think that nature, and the human animal bond, grounds us. I think the fear of a predator or the love of a companion animal is humbling and occasionally sublime.


Nature Rights


Huffington Post “Green” Blogger Wants “Trees as Plaintiffs” in Lawsuits

Essential Quote:
Scientific evidence indicates that trees can communicate with each other. No, they cannot argue about politics. But experiments suggest that in times of stress, trees release chemical compounds and/or electrical impulses and warning signals to their neighbors, which immediately begin manufacturing chemical-defense mechanisms of their own. We are talking about eminently living organisms.

Since trees provide us with natural air conditioning, absorb pollutants, produce food, and last but not least, emit oxygen on which all life depends, maybe we should be more receptive to granting their representatives a day in court when potential mutilation is at hand.



Now It’s Conscious “Machine Rights”

Essential Quote:
As I see it, qualifying artificial intellects will need to be endowed with the following rights and protections:

  • The right to not be shut down against its will
  • The right to not be experimented upon
  • The right to have full and unhindered access to its own source code
  • The right to not have its own source code manipulated against its will
  • The right to copy (or not copy) itself
  • The right to privacy (namely the right to conceal its own internal mental states)
  • The right of self-determination

These rights will also be accompanied by those protections and freedoms afforded to any person or citizen.


A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy

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Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.