Sarah Palin’s Critics try “Life Unworthy of Life” Strategy

The criticisms of Sarah Palin are becoming more bizarre and shameful as time wears on. All the more good for McCain, I suppose. Robert Tracinski points out that the waves of hostility coming from the media only serve to discredit valid criticisms against her (and there are valid criticisms).

One such argument recently comes from the blogosphere that is unusually candid about its contempt for existence of Down syndrome lives. Nicholas Provenzo makes his concern known:

Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny. (emphasis mine)

What is revealing about those that affirm the “morality” of aborting fetuses diagnoised wth Down syndrome is that its logical antithesis is spelled out clearly: having a Down syndrome child is immoral. That is the implication “many” of which are “troubled” by. This is no misrepresentation. Provenzo writes,

A parent has a moral obligation to provide for his or her children until these children are equipped to provide for themselves. Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child’s life upon others.

Only in the case of a wealthy parent do we have an exception to the rule. Otherwise, the decision to bring a Down syndrome life into the world results in an undue burden not only to the parent, but to all of society as well. Contained in this premise are the assumptions that altruism is an aberration, and that Down syndrome life is judged “unproductive” and therefore devoid meaning and value. Objectivism and utilitarianism are apparently the “rules of reason” in this case, though such a rules produce staggering contradictions. For example, Provenzo does an about-face when he writes,

In this light, it is completely legitimate for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is not an obligation that she can accept. After all, the choice to have a child is a profoundly selfish choice; that is, a choice that is an expression of the parent’s personal desire to create new life. (emphasis mine)

The objectivist talking here would say that such a choice is a good one since acting in self-interest is good. The utilitarian, however, would have to differ because the result of such a choice would impose a miserable burden on others. Of course, there is a more sinister morality at work here–that of the practice of eugenics. And for Provenzo, that is a “slur.”

And most parents seek to create healthy life; in the case of the unborn fetuses shown to have severe developmental disabilities, one study reports that over 90% of these fetuses are aborted prior to birth. But if you notice, the anti-abortion zealots try to attach a dirty little slur to these abortions, labeling them a form of eugenics. (emphasis mine)

What is lost on Provenzo is that his reasoning up to this point is an argument for the morality of eugenics. He might not want to call it that because of the negative connotation that comes from the word, but what he says next is precisely what eugenicists thought and advocated for less than a hundred years ago. He says,

So in the anti-abortion advocate’s eyes, a parent’s desire to raise healthy children by squelching unhealthy fetuses while the are still in the womb is little more than a pernicious quest, but it is not considered a pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world. (emphasis his)

Diana Hsieh agrees with Provenzo making an even more damning judgment on those who advocate that Down syndrome life is worthy of life:

Such people are not motivated by a soft heart. If they were, they would adamantly defend abortion as a moral means of freeing parents from the prospect of endless sacrifice to a retarded child. They would regard abortion as a moral way to prevent the infliction of a miserable, degraded life on the person that will emerge from the womb. Instead, they want to create more mentally defective and perpetually dependent children by outlawing abortion.

The argument for eugenics is simple. Life unworthy of life is to be disposed of, and it is the moral duty of everyone to make sure it is not created. It is criminal to knowingly bring handicapped persons into the world, and it is degrading to society to saddle it with their burdens. Never mind the fact that this is exactly what the Nazis thought and practiced, Sarah Palin and her 5 month old- civil rights leader are to be despised and rejected on the basis of moral obligations to “good birth.”

See Southern Appeal for more commentary.

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20 thoughts on “Sarah Palin’s Critics try “Life Unworthy of Life” Strategy

  1. Elton says:

    So, where do we draw the line on relieving the society’s burden, now that it becomes an economic discussion? Do we eliminate the Ashkenazi Jews (who have a high rate of various congenital disorders such as hemophilia and Gaucher’s disease)? How about the fetus with inborn errors of metabolism? Children with these congenital disorders cost the society far more than those with Down’s.

  2. Since when is life about economics? If we’re to judge people by their economic production for or burden to society, then shouldn’t we eliminate all English and Theater majors?

    But aside from that, I’m personally offended by arguments such as these. I know people with Down Syndrome, and the thought that any of them might never have entered my life because of a so-called “moral obligation” makes me want to throw up. Clearly these writers have never met anyone with Down Syndrome (or maybe their experience was limited to making fun of them in junior high).

    People don’t know what it means to appreciate life anymore. Everybody’s so focused on minimizing crisis–whether it be economic, energy, or even a minor family difficulty–that they think that’s the priority. If that’s what society’s aiming for, then there will never be victory for life or humanity because we’ll be more and more deeply enslaved to our institutions. Like we should serve the economy like it’s the greater good.

  3. Life becomes about economics when we ascribe moral discernment to social instutions. Provenso’s utilitarian argument relies upon an assumption that government has a core responsibility to ensure the health of all its citizens.
    Health care is a right and all that.

    Under this paradigm, the threat of disabled children, who may render the above mentioned guarantee prohibitvely expensive, ought to require government action. To call this eugenics is not a slur because eugenics has had no other historical definition or purpose.

    Eugenics is of no interest to individual persons. There is no personal reward for the perfection of man. It appeals to the collective mindset that permeates left-wing ideology in this nation.

  4. Incidentally, if liberals are so committed to this idea of “squelching the unhealthy”, shouldn’t Andrew Sullivan be a lampshade (or lampshades, in consideration of his girth) by now? He is Palin’s most vocal critic, particularly on the Trig issue. What does an overweight gay leather fetishist who intentionally spreads AIDS contribute to the social framework that merits his inclusion among the unsquelched?

    If we were to hold a public referendum, Sullivan would play Barnabas’ to Trig’s Christ in this particular equation. He’d be best to hope the verdict were rendered in Central Park versus, say, Juneau.

  5. Obviously, I don’t want to see any of the above occur. All things being equal, I’m glad I live in a country where sad gay men can make fun of babies.

    My point is that it is curious for a cultural minority (city-dwelling liberal bloggers) to be calling for groupthink as it relates to basic protections of life. Careful what you wish for.

  6. I think AS’s angst against Palin is that she represents everything that is threatening and menacing about his bizzare and pejorative lable “Christianist.” That touches a nerve in him in far deeper ways than he realizes.

  7. While this person’s view is sad and disgusting… I think it’s important to remember that there are criticisms of Sarah Palin that are actually reasonable — criticisms that far more people share. To highlight one that’s uber far out there rather than talk about the issues that have many people concerned (SP’s views on birth control, the environment, her views on the Iraq war being a “reponsibility from God”)– I don’t know if that’s furthering the discussion much.

  8. Two things are troublesome with Palin: the Troopergate story and the lack of experience. McCain was beating the experience drum up until her nomination, and now it is effectively off the table. I thought it was a good argument against Obama, but now the same good argument applies to Palin. I would grant that Palin has more executive experience than Obama, but it isn’t sufficient for the office she could potentially have. I would have preferred MN’s own Tim Pawlenty.

    But I do find her interesting, though. We’ll see what she does in the debates.

  9. “While this person’s view is sad and disgusting… I think it’s important to remember that there are criticisms of Sarah Palin that are actually reasonable ”

    Good, so let’s hear them. Troopergate is a canard. The trooper Palin wanted out tazed his stepson, and excused his actions by saying that his stepson asked to be tazed. Oh, and he threatened the life of the governor’s father. Good show.

    As for the experience question, this is valid. That said, Palin accomplished more as a mayor and governor than Obama has done in his lifetime. When discussing Obama’s accomplishments, his defenders resort to his leadership at Harvard Law. When was the last time a president cited his collegiate accomplishments as a qualification for the presidency? Hell, I don’t even put mine on my resume.

    Palin will defeat Biden in the VEEP debate. I’ll put money on it. Who’s in?

  10. Steve says:

    Provenzo writes:

    >Given that Palin’s decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

    Ochuk writes:

    >What is revealing about those that affirm the “morality” of aborting fetuses diagnoised (sic) wth (sic) Down syndrome is that its logical antithesis is spelled out clearly: having a Down syndrome child is immoral.

    I don’t think that is exactly what Provenzo is saying. He says that is crucial to reaffirm the morality of abortion, be the fetus retarded, or not. He can’t possibly mean every fetus because while some women seek abortion, most do not.

    He then says he thinks that abortion is moral, and he then notes that he considers the right to abortion to be in peril.

    He then says:

    >[I]t is completely legitimate for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is not an obligation that she can accept.

    He doesn’t say that it is completely *illegitimate* for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is an obligation that she *can* accept. He says a woman has to make a choice and a choice according to her circumstance and standards.

    What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong about a woman observing the circumstances of her life and choosing not to bring an unborn fetus to term if she can not life up to the commitment? Is it because the fetus is retarded? If so, then how is this not the worship of retardation—a worship Provenzo condemns, and yet you seem to support?

  11. Steve,

    Thanks for the challenge (and pointing out my egregious spelling errors!).

    As you might expect, the morality of abortion is on trial in this debate; not just aborting fetuses with Down syndrome. At the center of the issue is whether or not the unborn entity is a member of human community. If you don’t think so, then there is no moral problem. It is no different than removing a tumor. The problem with this is hardly anyone sees it that way. Even those that affirm an abortion rights position largely accept the notion that life begins at conception and is difficult to dismiss as simple “tissue.” So in response to your question, it is wrong, whether it is retarded or not, to take innocent human life. Whether it lives in favorable or unfavorable circumstances is irrelevant. Many people live in poverty today, but that does not mean they lose their right to live.

    My problem with Provenzo’s views is not only with his belief that abortion is moral, but that it is particularly moral in the case of a Down syndrome fetus. I think you have it wrong when you say that Provenzo thinks that having a Down syndrome child can be legitimate, because he is in fact surprised that it is “not considered a pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world.” If any “worship” is happening in this debate it is on the side of Provenzo who demonstrates a reverence for the eugenic doctrine of “good birth”–the duty of everyone to reproduce well.

    Moreover, it is a fallacy to say that by protecting life, particularly the “least of these,” it follows that it is the worship of life. The only reverence worthy of attention is reverence for justice, and history has much to say about the injustice of eugenics. As you might expect my commitment to Christian ethics plays a significant part of this. Those that are the weakest of society are in need of the most protection. As Down syndrome life inside the womb is devalued, it is hard to argue that it is valued outside the womb. The stigma of Down syndrome persons as “life unworthy of life” is at play in this debate, and it must be resisted.

  12. “He doesn’t say that it is completely *illegitimate* for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is an obligation that she *can* accept. He says a woman has to make a choice and a choice according to her circumstance and standards.”

    He goes quite a bit further in stating the a person with Down syndrome will barely produce. Therefore, the question for the woman is whether she can compensate for the lack of production. If she cannot, Provenso insinuates, then it is IMMORAL to have the child, as she is passing the burden onto us.

    If this is true, than the proper recourse is to dismantle the systems that hold our nation collectively accountable to the decisions of others. That is a far more sensible and humane choice than simply killing those who would strain the resources of our arbitrary collective.

    Accusing the pro-life side of worshipping retardation is simply poisoning the well. I would fight to protect my wife. Heck, I’ll fight for the right to drink Diet Coke. I worship neither.

  13. Steve says:

    Hi Adam,

    >At the center of the issue is whether or not the unborn entity is a member of human community. If you don’t think so, then there is no moral problem. It is no different than removing a tumor.

    I’m glad you framed it that way. From my perspective, it would be immoral to leave a tumor in place if you thought that your rational-self interest would be hurt and the tumor had a right to exist for its own sake and at the expense of your life. Removing a tumor is a moral question, but (thankfully) an easy one.

    Abortion is not as easy a question because it forces us to define the beginning of human life, but I can’t help but note that there are many parallels between an unwanted fetus and an unwanted tumor.

    > As you might expect my commitment to Christian ethics plays a significant part of this. Those that are the weakest of society are in need of the most protection.

    While I am not a Christian or sympathetic to the Christian ideology, if your goal is to defend the rights of the weak, why not defend the rights of a woman who recognizes that she cannot bring her pregnancy to term and live up to the obligations of parenthood? Again, here I must sympathize with Provenzo’s argument. He’s saying there is a big cost in caring for a child who will likely never come to the point were they can care for themselves. If a woman knows that she simply cannot meet that cost (and I am sure we both agree it will cost her much more than money) why should she not have the right to end her pregnancy? Nature deals her a bad hand and that is supposed to be the end of it?

    This strikes me as deeply unfair; after all, the woman is not killing a born child, she is terminating a pregnancy that exists inside her own body.

    Kevin wrote:

    > If she cannot [produce enough to care for her child], Provenso insinuates, then it is IMMORAL to have the child, as she is passing the burden onto us.

    And here I have to agree with his insinuation as you stated it. Why is my child your obligation? Remember, we are not talking charity here; we’re talking tax dollars and jail time for tax scofflaws. If Brittney Spears has another child, why is it any obligation of anyone else to provide for that child when the choice to have it was hers and hers alone? It seems here that you are favoring the welfare queen mentality, but why?

    And again, realize that I divorce real charity from so-called government “charity.” I have no problem helping someone injured though no fault of their own; I do it all the time as I can. But why does someone have the right to present me with an un-chosen obligation, even in the form of a child? And if they do, where does it stop? Can all the starving people in the world demand that the US provide them with sustenance because they are starving and we are not?

    Your ideas here are appreciated.

  14. “And here I have to agree with his insinuation as you stated it. Why is my child your obligation?”

    Because folks of a certain ideological persuasion want it that way. I find resonance between the liberal view on collective responsibility, by force of law, and the slaughter of children. One begets the other, and I oppose both.

    “And again, realize that I divorce real charity from so-called government “charity.””

    You and me both, which is why I find the liberal claim to a more high ground so unnerving. Ted Kennedy, lowlife that he is, is regarded as a hero in some circles by virtue of his willingness to spend other people’s money. When this is our definition of virtue, no wonder we are willing to overlook murder.

    “I have no problem helping someone injured though no fault of their own; I do it all the time as I can. But why does someone have the right to present me with an un-chosen obligation, even in the form of a child?”

    This is a compelling argument for allowing abortion in the case of rape. Generally (since very few pregnancies result from rape) if you become pregnant with a disabled child, you are responsible for caring for the child. That sounds harsh, but the alternative is to suggest that the child is responsible to sacrifice its life so that a parent can abdicate responsibility.

    Again, I would note that I am not advocating a societal responsibility here.

    “And if they do, where does it stop? Can all the starving people in the world demand that the US provide them with sustenance because they are starving and we are not?”

    Nope, but let me draw your analogy further. Say we conclude that we have a responsibility to feed to starving children of the world. In order to achieve this, would we then be within our rights to selectively slaughter the hungriest children?

  15. “I can’t help but note that there are many parallels between an unwanted fetus and an unwanted tumor.”

    I would beg to differ rather strenuously. First, there is the problem of nominalism and realism. For instance, are there “many parallels” between a WANTED fetus and and WANTED tumor? No, there are none. Second, the fetus is an entity genetically distinct from its host, a tumor is not. Third, we were all fetuses at one time; we were not at, in any way shape or form, tumors.

    As for Christian ethics, those that adhere to them ought to have concern for pregnant women in need. However, from this concern, it does not follow that abortion is valid (the case of rape is admittedly difficult on this point). If it did it would show a lack of concern for the unborn. Adoption, on the other hand, honors both given the adoption process is a charitable one. Moreover, a moral problem for those that defend the decision to abort a disabled fetus belies the notion that parents should love their children unconditionally. The fetus is aborted for not living up to a certain standard.

    For more on the issue of abortion in general, Down syndrome in particular, and the proper attitude and action of a Christian pro-life ethicist, I commend you to these two arguments from Alex Pruss and this episode of Frontline. . Hopefully, you will be persuaded.

  16. “Abortion is not as easy a question because it forces us to define the beginning of human life, but I can’t help but note that there are many parallels between an unwanted fetus and an unwanted tumor.”

    There are many parallels between a race car and a bucket of cheesesticks. This adds nothing to your argument.

  17. Steve says:

    >Nope, but let me draw your analogy further. Say we conclude that we have a responsibility to feed to starving children of the world. In order to achieve this, would we then be within our rights to selectively slaughter the hungriest children?

    I thought your criticism was directed at a supporter for the right to abort the unborn. Now you are linking those who support abortion with the murder of the born. That may sound nice rhetorically, but I think it’s utterly undeserved here.

  18. “I thought your criticism was directed at a supporter for the right to abort the unborn.”

    My criticism was directed at Provenso’s mindset vis. your analogy. Your analogy only works if I cede the argument that an unborn child is not the same as a child. Cascades of rhetoric have been heaped upon this debate in an effort to dissuade people from considering the merits of holding this distinction.

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