Recently, the national media hailed the advent of "breakthrough" technology that enables women to more readily determine the likelihood that their babies will be born with Down Syndrome. The new technology, which combines the results of an ultrasound test with the results of a blood test, is capable of identifying many unborn children with the genetic disorder eleven weeks after conception. Fergal Malone, leader of the study, stated that the breakthrough is a "big deal" for women, because it permits women who opt to abort Down Syndrome babies to do so much earlier than before. It should be noted, however, that the test is not completely accurate, and it produced false positives in about 5 percent of cases.
Thoughtful people in quest of a just society should eschew the notion that it is acceptable to eliminate a segment of the population just because they have some form of handicap. People's right to life and their right to be treated with dignity should not depend on how they score on a functional capacity study or IQ test. Human dignity and human rights flow out of the fact that human beings are creatures made in God's image. Because of that exalted status, they are, therefore, vested with inalienable rights — the first and foremost of which is the right to life. Governments exist, according to America's founders, to secure those rights.
Protection of one's right to life is eroded any time society makes the right contingent upon measuring up to someone else's subjective standard of perfection. How far short of perfection can one fall and still be included in the human family? Does one have to be as smart as a Supreme Court judge, as beautiful as Miss America, or able to jump as high as Michael Jordan before being accorded membership into the club? How narrow or wide is the circle of membership to be drawn?
And what happens to people's membership after they have been admitted to the club when they become substantially diminished in their capacities, perhaps because of age or illness or injury? Is membership in the club revocable? Who gets to decide if one is in or out?
The societal ethos that allows for the destruction of a less-than-perfect child also allows for the destruction of a less-than-perfect adult. (Terri Schiavo is Exhibit A to that proposition.) With the aging of the baby boomers, the pressures that militate toward the elimination of defective adults will only get worse. As the number of elderly increases in our society, the strain on the Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security systems will also increase. The ratio between workers and retirees has fallen dramatically in the last fifty years. The burden on the young to support the old is getting heavier and heavier. As John W. Whitehead asks in his book, The Second American Revolution, "How long will it take for the youth of America who are continually bombarded with the abortion mentality to decide that the aged are really nothing more than useless eaters and quite unwanted?"
Sadly, the sanctity-of-life ethic which dominated our collective thinking for several hundred years in the United States, and which resulted in the protection of the weakest among us, is rapidly being supplanted by a "disposable man" ethic that calculates the net worth of people utilizing quality-of-life calculus, cost/benefit ratios, and an assessment of whether they are "wanted" or not.
The only way for society to preserve a sanctity-of-life ethic that respects and protects the life and dignity of each human being is by preserving the concept of the imago dei — i.e., that human beings are made in God's image and, therefore, are of inestimable worth, value, and dignity. Neither the right to life nor the right to be treated with dignity should be qualified by age, race, sex, economic status, stage of development, intelligence, or functional capacity. Every person — black or white, rich or poor, whole or handicapped, born or unborn — is entitled to the right to life and basic human dignity.
Abandon the notion of imago dei and the barbarians will soon be at the gates.
Ken Connor is founder and chairman of the Center for a Just Society. He recently served as president of the Family Research Council and as counsel to Governor Jeb Bush in Bush v. Schiavo.