The expression of deep ethical concerns by the prolife movement parallels the development of contemporary “bioethics.” Those ethical concerns relate to the death-dealing “shining wires” and controls hidden in the undergrowth of human determination, not only to heal but to achieve the unlimited perfection of the human race. That determination is eugenic in nature. Darwin is noted to have written, “We civilized men do our utmost to check the process of elimination [of the unfit]; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment….thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind.” Darwin’s musings were later fostered by his cousin [an intellectual flaw of genetic origin?], Francis Galton, who determined that the human race might be perfected further through selective breeding designed to multiply superior human qualities while eliminating inferior qualities. (Jonsen, The Birth of Bioethics, 167). Contemporary “reformed” genetics, however, as Jonsen warns, is haunted by the old genetics “in more scientific guises” (190). In other words, the question is not whether we kill fellow humans, but do we kill earlier, faster and better for “higher” purposes?
The broad focus of bioethics includes: Research and experimentation on human subjects; the definition and determination of death, the withholding and withdrawal of life-sustaining care, physician-assisted suicide; genetic engineering, somatic cell therapy, germ-line therapy, cloning; genetic screening, counseling and therapy, intrauterine diagnosis, population genetics, agricultural genetics; human reproduction, abortion, various forms of birth control, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, embryo research; the mapping and sequencing of the human genome; organ transplantation, harvesting and artificial organs, and fetal tissue transplants. The “ethical” criteria put forward to justify bioethics (autonomy, justice and beneficence) are intensely political in nature. The concept of “autonomy” fuses the Kantian concept of “respect for persons” with John Stuart Mill’s notion of “liberty.” Mill’s concept of liberty held that the actions of a person should not be obstructed unless they infringed upon the liberty of others. “Autonomy” also isolates the individual from all personal relationships and leaves him standing naked before the unmitigated powers of the state. Few have noted that Mill was Manichaean and believed that human reproduction must be limited in the interests of the “greatest number.” He also saw those interests as harmed by those who refused to limit their families. Mill’s “liberty” did not extend to the right to bear children. Contraceptive education, re-enforced by an economics dependent on demographics provided the means to reduce “redundant” populations. Mill’s strong support of abortion, stated boldly in his youthful debates, was never altered. Within his philosophy of history, theology and metaphysics were passé, the definition of man in the third and final stage of science was placed in the hands of the positivist “Scientist.” Within that context, Kant’s redefined “respect for persons” could well include the forced reduction of human populations.
Justice, within the context of access to health is interpreted as distributive justice. However, distributive justice determined by the scarcity of access to the cells of destroyed or discarded embryos and the organs of perhaps not-quite-so-dead humans, fails to reach a thorough understanding of justice, per se. True justice would protect the dignity of each and every human being; it would not be restricted to the categorically preferred. The scientists of the US National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects redefined “fertilization” as “implantation,” abandoning the human individual at fertilization to the manipulations of science. It is a cataclysmic error with shattering portents for the future to suggest that the requirements of justice can be met through purposeful, utilitarian redefinition.
“Beneficence” is equally open to question as a principle. Tristram Englehardt, an ethicist associated with the US National Commission, described beneficence as, “a web or nexus of commitments and understandings… which sustain a fabric of moral understandings…usually open to revision” (Jonsen, 330). Under such principles, the human person remains undefended. Perhaps we can benefit by listening to a cautionary tale woven by Richard Adams, in his creative work, Watership Down. Adams tells the story of pilgrim rabbits forced by circumstances to wander the countryside in search of a new home. In their travels, the pilgrims came upon a “great burrow” of the “biggest and healthiest rabbits” they had ever seen. There was even a farmer who provided many special foods for them and who killed their enemies, the owls and foxes. Strangely, the demeanor of their new friends was perplexingly melancholy. And their warren had many empty burrows. There was one question the pilgrims could not ask their new friends. Should they ask a question that began with, “where is…?,” their handsome friends began to chatter frantically. Was it possible this was designed to prevent their questions? Their hosts also had the strangest habit of dancing and singing in front of stones pushed into the wall! One day, in the midst of this peace and plenty, there was a terrible fight. During the fight, one of the pilgrim rabbits stamped furiously away down the path. Suddenly, there was a loud snap, a scream and a terrible choking sound. He was found kicking and struggling in the tangled underbrush, garroted by a “shining wire” attached to an ugly “man-smelling peg” buried deep in the ground, obviously destined, like the healthy, perfected rabbits of the “great burrow,” for the farmer’s dinner table. Of course, as stories will, this tale ends happily with his rescue and together the pilgrims flee from the dangers of the “great burrow.”
While it may seem unusual to draw an analogy between perfected humans and perfected animals, for some of the scientific elite, there is little difference between the two. Peter Singer, teacher of bioethics at Princeton’s Center for Human Values, espouses a theory of animal rights, arguing that the killing of an animal may be ethically worse than killing infants because the animal may have a greater capacity for pain. Singer shows no compunction about killing human babies in the first 28 days of their lives based on a utilitarian calculus of pleasure and pain. He is not the first to offer such a comparison. John Stuart Mill first raised the comparison between the treatment of animals and the domination of slave masters over black men in his essay on Whewell. It was Mill also who eliminated the long-recognized universal essence of man through the deconstruction of the Aristotlean categories (J.S. Mill, A System of Logic…, Bk 1, Vol. 1, 19-156).
Mill was preceded by the utilitarian ethicist, Jeremy Bentham, who eliminated rationality as the universal identifying characteristic of man. His designations also slipped across the line of species within the animal genus to extend the “greatest happiness” principle to “the rest of the animal kingdom” (J.S. Mill, Whewell …., CW, vol. 10, 185-86). “The day may come,” Bentham wrote, “when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden [sic] from them but by the hand of tyranny….But a full grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal than an infant of a day, a week, or even a month old….the question is not can they reason? Nor can they speak? But can they suffer?”