Wrongful birth, the next expression of a life unworthy of living

Last week I wrote about how the idea that we can judge that there are some lives that are unworthy of living underlies the practice of aborting fetuses who have major abnormalities. I suggested that we need to remember the serious consequences that followed the acceptance of the idea the there are lives unworthy of living in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century.

This week the news reminds us that once an ethical barrier is broken we human beings tend to pursue the breach as far as we can. Aborting a fetus with some type of disability violates the basic moral principle that all human lives have great value. The violation of that principle is justified by saying that some disorders can make a person’s life not worth living. That is claimed to make the abortion permissible. But what if the abortion is not done because the parents don’t know that the child has the abnormality until after the baby is born? Some are taking the next step to say that it is not only permissible to do an abortion when a fetus is known to have an abnormality but that parents have a right to know about any and all abnormalities of their unborn children so that they can abort them. Violation of that assumed right has resulted in physicians being sued for the harm of allowing a wrongful life. It is in the news because several states, including Kansas and New Jersey, have proposed laws to ban such lawsuits.

Those who support the laws banning wrongful life suits go back to the moral principle that every human life has value even if the person has significant disability. They say no suit should be based on saying that a child’s life is not worth living. They may understand that doing so puts us back in the moral climate of pre-Hitler Germany.

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