The reason I headed this column with a photo of a mother lion with her cub was not that I will be discussing lions, but that many people have come to value baby animals more than they value baby humans, and I wanted to attract as many readers as possible.
Some time ago, a newspaper began a report on a terrible accident with the headline, “Ten People, Baby Die When Van Hits Truck.” When I questioned an editor, he saw no reason to reword this as “Eleven People Including Baby Die,” or “Ten Adults and Baby Die.” To him a one-year-old was not a “person.”
When I asked at what age a child becomes a “person,” he was unable to reply. Nor did he express an opinion about when an elderly or disabled individual ceases to be a “person.”
To him, a “person” was someone who resembled him. That is, “person” was defined not biologically or legally, and certainly not theologically, but merely narcissistically: If you look like me, you’re a person − if not, forget about it.
If resemblance to oneself defines “personhood,” it is a short step to defining the mentally or physically handicapped as nonpersons. This is hardly the attitude expected of an editor of a major liberal paper. Yet it is an attitude shared by many “bioethicists.” Is the next step the stripping of the protections of humanity from members of unpopular racial, religious, or political groups? Defining groups as subhuman can be habit-forming.
Front-page stories reported that the Fort Hood shooter murdered 13 people. No, he murdered 14. One of the dead was PFC Franchezka Velez, who was 21 and had returned from overseas just three days earlier. But she was pregnant. Is this fact irrelevant in determining the number of murders?
The California Penal Code defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus, with malice aforethought. Exception is made for legal abortions. A similar law applies to federal crimes.
Pro-choice activists opposed the laws, fearing that any protection for a fetus might restrict a woman’s right to have an abortion whenever she wishes. But the fear was groundless − the California law has been in effect for years, and abortions there continue unabated.
Perhaps the fear is not that the “right to choose” might be impaired, since here the murderer, not the mother, “chooses.” Perhaps the real fear is that the status of a fetus might be raised above that of an unsightly mole − a worthless, bothersome thing that can be removed whenever the owner pleases.
When asked about abortion, President Obama replied that if his daughter became pregnant, he wouldn’t want her to be “punished with a baby.” A baby has thus been demoted from a gift in God’s image to be cherished, to a nonperson to be ignored, to a punishment to be avoided. How indescribably sad.
There are many ways to characterize contemporary life, but the most meaningful is to note the virtual absence of anything considered sacred. For example, Congress restored funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, despite its sponsoring photos (not paintings) including a man with a bullwhip in his anus, a man urinating into another man’s mouth, a nude little boy, and a little girl with her skirt revealing her genitalia.
Another photo (not a painting), titled “Piss Christ,” showed a crucifix submerged in urine. Proponents seemed unaware that photos require real children posed as they are depicted, and a real crucifix in urine. They also seemed unaware that many taxpayers would be deeply offended. It was no accident that the exhibitors (exhibitionists?) included both degradation of the human form and desecration of a religious symbol.
If the human form has no special meaning, neither may humans themselves. Military officers used to study “Leadership, Drill, and Exercise of Command.” The title of the course was changed to “Personnel Assets Management.” I would rather be seen as an individual who deserves leadership than as an “asset” to be managed.
Healthy adults may be seen as assets, but the young, the old, and the disabled lack even that value. Abortion on demand has taught us that even a viable fetus can be killed with impunity. Yet we expect young mothers to see newborns − one minute later − as human beings. No wonder some mothers fail to make this radical change and throw newborns into trash bins. No wonder some journalists fail to see one-year-olds as “people.”
If the very young risk being dehumanized, so do the old or disabled. Most of Dr. Kevorkian’s “patients” were women. Moreover, about 75% were not terminally ill, and five had no disease at all − except depression. They were thus in the most vulnerable groups. What does that say about our empathy for the disabled? Doctors rate the quality of life of disabled persons lower than patients themselves rate it. “I’d rather be dead than disabled” easily becomes “You should be dead.”
If all human life isn’t sacred, none is. Intermediate positions are weak and are being overrun one by one. Who deserves to remain alive then becomes merely a matter of opinion. Death is no longer a biologic event but a value judgment. The 20th century clearly showed that this process can lead to the notion of “life unworthy of life” − and involuntary euthanasia. This is already happening in the Netherlands. Are you sure it can’t happen here?
If a one-year-old isn’t a “person,” are you sure you will be when ObamaCare takes full effect? Recently Social Security observed its 75th birthday. Severe cuts are planned to save it from collapse. What is the chance that you will survive to age 75 in any better condition?
Much has been said about what is wrong with health care, education, and the legal system. Distrust of politicians and lawyers is rampant. Each of these fields has its own problems, but a common thread is apparent. Avaricious doctors, apathetic teachers, corrupt politicians, and dishonest lawyers all share a lack of respect for their professions and for their fellow humans.
In the past, most people grew up in religious homes. Even if they later became irreligious, they often retained the idea that some things are sacred. Now, many grow up without learning that anything is sacred. How can they appreciate the significance of a marriage certificate, an oath of office, or a contract? What is to prevent their thinking “How can I get out of this?” rather than “How can I stick to it?” And when they say something, even under oath, what is to prevent their thinking, “How can I hide the truth?”
But eventually people tire of all this:
● They tire of seeing their tax money used to spit on their deepest beliefs.
● They tire of seeing additional categories of human life declared to be less than human.
● They tire of journalists who believe that young children are not “people.”
● They tire of politicians using language as an octopus uses ink − to confuse and conceal.
● They tire of officials with “For Sale” signs on their doors.
● They tire of leaders who encourage their weaknesses, not their strengths.
● They tire of a president who approves of pacemakers for the elderly only if it will “save money.”
● They tire of politicians remaining silent about misogynist regimes such as ISIS, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, then posing as pro-woman.
● They tire of politicians supporting abortion on demand, then posing as pro-child.
● They tire of politicians spending money that our grandchildren will have to repay − if they can.
● They tire of seeing a great nation led by persons with the veracity of confidence men and the impulse control of three-year-olds.
● They tire of a president who declares, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” and they want to retort, “We do think at a certain point you’ve got enough power.”
Disgruntled, cynical citizens may remain passive in good times. But when the inevitable recession or other problems loom, they may become dangerously angry. Before this happens, we must rebuild trust.
A good place to start is the idea that some things are sacred − for example, one’s word, an oath, and human life, whatever its age or economic usefulness to others. If we can’t agree on such basic principles, we may not survive as a nation. But it won’t matter, because we won’t deserve to.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.