Bioethics

Is There a Life Unworthy of Life?

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Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/19/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for April 2012

Dear Friend,

I was recently invited to USC to present the pro-life view and debate abortion-choice students in the prestigious Keck School of Medicine.

Since these were medical students who knew the science of embryology, I skipped the basic argument that the unborn is a human being. This proved to be prudent since most—though not all—accepted that view.

Instead, I found myself defending the claim that all human beings are valuable and deserving of life. Some students claimed that deformed children shouldn’t be born. Others said that since unborn humans aren’t developed enough, they don’t deserve the same protections as fully developed humans. Still others said that too many new babies increases the number of children on welfare or contributes to overpopulation.

What I discovered was that many of these future physicians were unwittingly advancing the now-abhorrent view of Lebensunwertes Leben—a German phrase meaning “life unworthy of life,” made famous by the Third Reich, who used it to designate a segment of their population as less than valuable and deny them the right to live.

Though today the phrase is uncommon in our vernacular, the principle still persists—and I found it alive and well in the halls of one of America’s finest medical schools.

No matter their reason to justify abortion, at the end of the day, these medical students were all making the same claim: Not all humans are equally valuable. Some deserve protection, while others do not. This is unjust discrimination, plain and simple. And I didn’t hold back in demonstrating the savage consequences of this view.

Their position, after all, is no different than that of General Ratko Mladic of the Bosnian Serb Army. In 1995, he determined that a class of human beings was disqualified from being valuable simply because of an arbitrary and subjective characteristic: their ethnicity. As a result of his discriminatory views, 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were wiped off the planet through “ethnic cleansing.”

Their position also results in the same kind of discrimination that occurred against African Americans. They were a class of human beings that was disqualified from being valuable simply because of an arbitrary characteristic: their skin color. This led to slavery in America and other barbaric crimes.

And their position discriminates against unborn children. According to these medical students, the unborn is a class of human beings that is disqualified from being valuable simply because of some arbitrary characteristic: they’re not developed enough, or they’re likely to become a burden on the state, or some other irrelevant reason. That’s what justifies killing 3,500 of them each day in the United States alone.

One medical student, who argued with me during my presentation, walked me to my car. On the way, she reflected on my performance and said, “You frustrated me to no end. I guess that means you did a pretty good job making your case.” I didn’t know what else to say except, “Thank you!” I appreciated her honesty. I’m happy to frustrate people so long as it leads them to change their minds.

It was a privilege to get invited to speak to this medical school. You can thank God for that rare opportunity. But I’m also especially grateful for you. Your support allowed me to take advantage of that chance. You placed me in front of that medical school. And with God’s help, we changed some minds that day. Now they’ll see that all human life is worthy of life.

For life,

Alan Shlemon