The Politics Of Death: Thirty-Nine Years And Counting
An examination of the “medicalization of killing” that has taken place in American culture.


Pandora's Box: The Demons Unleashed

The Sancity-Of-Life Ethic

Brain-Death Criteria: An Inexact Art

A Disposable Society

Pandora's Box: The Demons Unleashed

by: Allan Turner

In Western culture, human life has been considered very special, even sacred. This "sanctity-of-life" ethic was derived from the Bible. Under the obligations of such an ethic, life was considered to be a gift from God. Man was unique in that he was made in the image of God. Human life was thought of as something more than just the random accumulation of molecules. Instead, man was the marvelous combination of both body and spirit. As such, there was something meaningful and worthwhile in living life with all its imperfections, uncertainties, pain, suffering, happiness, pleasure, loveliness, and ugliness. In all this there was the manifestation of a unique human dignity. Although life was a constant struggle, it was worth it. Life was truly a gift to be used and not abused, something to be cherished and not destroyed. All this has now changed. Culturally speaking, the so-called "enlightened philosophy" of Humanism has brought about the enshrinement of human thinking and the dethronement of God and His Word. As I already pointed out, Western thought has shifted from those moral absolutes articulated in the Bible to the humanistic concept of arbitrary sociological law. Under such a system, there are no absolute moral laws. Consequently, we have shifted from the sanctity-of-life ethic to a quality-of-life standard. Inherent in this quality-of-life ethic is the idea that there is such a thing as "a life not worthy to be lived." It is this very attitude that has quickly led us from the general acceptance of abortion to the willingness to accept infanticide and euthanasia.

This is illustrated by the various "Infant Doe" and "Baby Doe" cases that have become a part of the "news" in the past several years. A particular case that I wrote about back in 1982 was the starving to death of a baby in Bloomington, Indiana. "Baby Doe," as the child was identified, had been born with Down's syndrome, a congenital disease involving varying degrees of retardation and, sometimes, serious physical defects. In this case, the baby had been born with a malformed esophagus which prevented normal ingestion. If the life of this child was going to be saved, a major, but easily performed, operation would need to be done. But after consultation with the parents of "Infant Doe," the doctor, with the consent of the courts and the assistance of the hospital, decided on a "treatment" that would involve doing absolutely nothing. In fact, the parents' lawyer euphemistically called the refusal to perform a potentially life-saving operation and the actual starvation of the child the "treatment to do nothing." Of course, the mentality that calls starving an innocent baby to death "treatment" is the same kind of thinking that calls abortion "the termination of a fetus that is on a life trajectory." As I have already said, those of us who take a pro-life, anti-abortion position have been saying all along that the next step after the general acceptance of abortion would be the embracing of both infanticide and euthanasia. Back in 1977 this very argument had been made in a pro-abortion editorial in the New Republic. That editorial said, in part: "The right-to-lifers' argument is simple: a fetus is a human life, and the government should not sanction the taking of human life except in the direst of cicumstances, such as when another life is threatened. None of the common pro-abortion arguments deal with the issue head-on. Would the woman's right to control her own body permit her to kill another adult person who has committed no offense against her? Would we sanction the murder of children who are unwanted and unloved, just as we sanction the destruction of fetuses because they might turn out that way...Those who believe a woman should be free to have an abortion must face the consequences of their beliefs. Metaphysical arguments about the beginning of life are fruitless. But there clearly is no logical or moral distinction between a fetus and a young baby; free availability of abortion cannot be reasonably distinguished from euthanasia" (The New Republic, July 2, 1977, pages 5,6).

The legalization of abortion-on-demand, with its slaughter of somewhere in the vicinity of thirty-nine million unborn babies, has taught a disrespect for human life that has produced a mentality that is not just advocating infanticide, but is already practicing it. According to former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, "The first this country to educate the medical profession in the art of infanticide was a documentary motion picture titled Who Shall Survive?. John Hopkins Hospital and Medical School produced shows a newborn infant with Down's syndrome (frequently called mongolism) who was permitted to die by 'inattention.'" The former Surgeon General added, "We suspect that starving to death would be a more accurate way of saying this" (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, 1978, pages 55,56).

For some time now, many in the medical profession, along with the intellectual elite, have advocated infanticide and euthanasia. In his book, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law, Dr. Glanville Williams advocates "humanitarian infanticide" and "euthanasia for handicapped children." Dr. Robert H. Williams, a professor of endocrinology, has said that "planning to prevent overpopulation of the earth must also include euthanasia, either negative or positive" (Northwest Medicine, July 1970). According to Dr. Joseph Fletcher, the well-known professor of medical ethics and proponent of situation ethics, "It is ridiculous to give ethical approval to positive ending of subhuman life in utero, as we do now in therapeutic abortions for reasons of mercy and compassion, but refuse to approve of positively ending a subhuman life in extremis" ("Ethics and Euthanasia," in To Love and to Die: When, Why, and How, by Robert H. Williams). James D. Watson, the Nobel laureate who discovered the double helix of DNA, has said: "If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice only a few are given under the present system. The doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so choose and save a lot of misery and suffering. I believe this view is the only rational, compassionate attitude to have" (Time, May 28, 1973, page 104). Francis Crick, also a Nobel laureate, has said, "No newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live" (American Medical Association, Prism, May 1973). Millard S. Everett, who was professor of philosophy and humanities at Oklahoma A & M, wrote: "My personal that eventually, when public opinion is prepared for it, no child should be admitted into society of the living who would be certain to suffer any social handicap—for example, any physical or mental defect that would prevent marriage or would make others tolerate his company only from a sense of mercy" (Ideals of Life: An Introduction to Ethics and Humanities, 1954).

We can no longer hide our heads in the sand. Unfortunate infants are receiving the "treatment to do nothing" in the same hospitals where extraordinary means are being undertaken to save other babies who would otherwise die. This "treatment" consists of the refusal to supply food and water. What this means is that these children are not dying from their illnesses and deformities per se. Instead, they are dying from starvation and lack of hydration. The growing acceptance and actual practice in this country of infanticide is a conclusive and undeniable fact.

With the acceptance of abortion and infanticide, Americans are now actively involved in euthanasia. In 1986, after several cases involving a patient's "right to die," the American Medical Association published guidelines identifying artificial nutrition and hydration as treatment procedures that could ethically be withheld from a patient in "irreversible coma." According to the AMA, this was similar to the now widely accepted view in the medical community that it is ethical to stop using a respirator to keep a patient breathing after it has been determined that he has no hope of recovery. Of course, it needs to be noted that a patient could continue to breathe on his own after a respirator is turned off, as the Karen Ann Quinlan and many other cases have clearly demonstrated. On the other hand, when food and water are withdrawn from a patient who can no longer feed himself, death is imminent and unavoidable. Consequently, it can be argued that where food and water are withheld from the patient, the patient actually dies from starvation and dehydration and not the illness or injury. Because of this, removing food and water is very different from turning off a respirator or stopping kidney dialysis so that nature can take its course. After a long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a constitutional right to refuse treatment. But in doing so, the court said that states may require convincing evidence of an incompetent patient's wishes. In the well-known Nancy Cruzan case, a local probate judge in Carterville, MO. ordered her feeding tube removed. Twelve days later Nancy Cruzan died. Tragically, this 33-year-old woman had lived in a "vegetative state" for almost eight years. She did not require a respirator to breathe, but like all human beings she did require food and water. In thinking about this case, several questions come to mind. Did Nancy Cruzan die from the injuries she sustained eight years before when her car veered off a country road, overturned and threw her into a water-filled ditch, or did she die of starvation and dehydration? Would not a better alternative to removing feeding tubes from living human beings be for the medical profession to have been encouraged and permitted to channel its energies toward improving her comfort and quality of life? I have more to say about this in the next section.

Go To Next Section

Go To Home Page