Virginia Ironside is a British columnist of apparently some note who has hit the international scene recently by asserting on BBC that she would rather suffocate a suffering child than allow it to live. In the context of a conversation about whether abortion can be a kindness, she likened an embryo to “a couple of cells” and valued them as nothing compared to long-term suffering.
A handful of things strike me as a result of this video. Is it really out of the realm of reason to argue against current forms of abortion and euthanasia using the slippery slope argument? The destruction of a child in the womb is one form of murder, and we may feel a step disconnected from the morality of it because the child is still in the womb, but infanticide is another. And while the public debate up until recently has typically been in terms of “health of the mother” or “back-alley” abortions, the public debate is now creeping into the territory of simple infanticide for the sake of convenience. The slope seems to have been slippery, indeed.
To my knowledge only two types of cultures consider infanticide not murder: the utterly barbaric and backward and the overly cushy. We are the second: a culture inextricably linked to our creature comforts and convenience and thus we seem to be developing a particular distaste for an undefined (but clearly abhorred!) sense of “suffering.” The ubiquitous question asks itself, “Who gets to define ‘suffering’?” What kinds of people are so selfish as to impose their sense of “suffering” on another and chose life or death for them?
According to studies done in the last decade, about 90% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. I guarantee you that if you talk with a family who has a Down syndrome child, they will be appalled. Down syndrome can be a relatively minor handicap. So what about other “minor” forms of handicaps? Where do we draw the lines and who gets to draw them?
The more I work this issue through, the more it seems to me that the only reasonable and solid ground for personhood is at conception. Anyplace else is fairly if not utterly arbitrary, and opens the door to having conversations about how old a child can be for us to legally kill it. The personhood of anyone is not correlative to the value we place upon it, or the potential suffering we expect for it. Your personhood is not a sliding scale with another’s hand on the dial.
The Christian knows that suffering, in all its forms, is not the gauge for the value of any human life. There is no denying suffering, and no Christian should downplay real pains and consequences, but no Christian should measure the value of any life based on “suffering.”