In 2014, Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, author, and a one-time University of Oxford Professor, advised a woman who was pregnant with a Down syndrome baby that she should "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."
There is no way to quantify the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling to legalize abortion and the effect it has had on our consciences let alone its impact on our culture. It is reasonable to conclude given the remarks like Dawkins that Roe has desensitized us to the meaning of life – the unborn and born included – and our God-given sacredness to what has become a utilitarian way of thinking.
This kind of eugenic logic led to a mob of media, politicians, and individuals attacking my family for wanting to care for my sister, Terri Schiavo. These people believe disabled people like Terri should be killed while an apathetic majority does nothing.
Terri had difficulty swallowing due to her brain injury and needed a feeding tube to administer her food and water but was not sustained by “life support,” nor was she sick or dying. Nonetheless, she received a death sentence ordered by a Florida judge at the request of her estranged husband because he viewed her as a “burden” with a “quality of life” that he loathed and was unwilling to support.
In response to Terri’s death, my family established the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network to aid families in situations like what my family experienced with my sister. Since that time, we have watched the protections for our medically vulnerable shrink as an acceptance that would make Dawkins proud infects our culture like an uncontainable sickness.
For example, I recently received the following email from a brother who needed help to protect his sister from having her life ended by their mother (names have been omitted for reasons of privacy):
"I need help regarding my disabled sister’s right-to-life. She has had many surgeries and my mom no longer wants to care for her and is doing everything in her power to bring in hospice, so they can give her morphine to suppress her lungs so that she passes away. She’s a happy thriving individual who loves life - she rides her bike, watches movies, communicates using sign language, and is in general the happiest person you would ever meet. Dying would not be her wish."
Sadly, this is all too common, as we have received similar calls for help. But when our dignity is marginalized, particularly in persons with disabilities and other medically unsafe persons, this is the consequence.
And this human dignity has been marginalized previously in our recent history. Only three decades prior to Roe, the world watched in horror as fanatics (using Dawkins-esque rationale) orchestrated “The Euthanasia Program” – the prearranged and calculated murder of institutionalized patients with disabilities in Germany.
These heartless tyrants – mostly German doctors – targeted those they deemed "life unworthy of life.” In other words, individuals with mental and physical inferiorities were killed, in part, because they were financial burdens on German society.
Although the United States has not reached a full-scale, government-endorsed “Euthanasia Program,” this financial rational, along with the fading meaning of a person’s intrinsic worth, has taken root in American health care, as it is used to deny and withdraw care from our medically inferior.
Disguised as compassion, the value of the dollar is given more deference than a person with disabilities or the medical care they require. Moreover, the expansion of this thinking is spreading into uncharted territory.
For instance, the difficulty in diagnosing severe neurological related injuries, the rising expense of life-sustaining medical technology, and the lucrative financial incentives to harvest organs is forcing challenging and unwanted decisions on caregivers and loved ones.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, the current “procurement” market for human tissues and organs in the U.S. is quite large and driven by insufficient supply and heavy demand. The Milliman Report publishes the “going rate” for each of 12 different tissues and organs in the human body. A heart, for instance, goes for close to $80,000; a kidney, $65,000; a lung, $70,000. If all 12 tissues and organs could be harvested from a single patient declared “brain-dead”, a highly controversial diagnosis, however unlikely, their total value would exceed a half-million dollars.
It was not long ago— prior to Terri’s death in 2005—when the thought of dehydrating a cognitively disabled person would have been unimaginable. Today, it has become commonly accepted by society, not only as the cases we receive at the Life & Hope Network demonstrate, but by the worldwide headlines of comparable types of cases.
So, who is next? Perhaps those with autism will be in their crosshairs? We can certainly make similar financial burden and the loss of dignity arguments on the most severe cases of autism. How about persons with Down syndrome after they have been born? Especially if their parents or caretakers pass away and they become wards (and financial liabilities) of the state? Seems like Richard Dawkins would approve.
Indeed, this is the natural progression when we marginalize those in society we judge “useless.” Eventually, nobody is immune to mistreatment, and in the case of our medically unprotected, death is the inevitable conclusion.
The medical profession used to lead by example, understanding the vital importance of a person’s dignity and reflecting that in its relationship between the physician and the patient. Doctors desired and chose to be healers, so that our medically fragile would receive appropriate and needed life-affirming care.
Extremists like Dawkins’ understanding of what is “immoral” exposes a new morality that is being supplanted by today’s modernists and their relativistic agenda: an anti-life, anti-traditional value, anti-Christian ideology.
Consequently, God as our Creator is rejected, opening the door to the most powerful and influential institutions: physicians, government bureaucrats, the health care system, the insurance industry, and the media, all intertwined working in harmony deciding who should and who should not receive treatment. Or in other words, who will live and who will die.
What a dangerous time for us all.
Bobby Schindler is president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.