Secularism and Infanticide: The Nexus

Last year in Bloomington, Indiana, a newly-born baby was diagnosed by physicians as suffering from Down’s syndrome. The doctors proceeded to put this question to the baby’s parents: Should we treat him or let him starve to death?

The parents replied that the “quality of life” is more important than the mere “right to live,” and told physicians not to treat their handicapped baby. The local prosecutor heard about this tragedy and the decision of the parents to let their baby starve to death, and proceeded to take the parents to court. The parents contended in court that their decision was simply “a private matter,” and two county courts and the Indiana Supreme Court agreed.

The hospital obeyed the parents’ request that their baby not be fed or treated. Nature then took its course very quickly: The baby died in six days.

The decision not to treat the handicapped child, and the view that his life was somehow less valuable, worthwhile and sacred, is rooted in the secularistic view of man and life. When we speak of “secularism,” we mean the philosophy that one can understand and live one’s life without reference to another and higher reality, that is, without any reference to God.

Secularism means that our standards of morality, of right and wrong, are derived not from faith and belief in a Supreme Being and in the Ten Commandments revealed by God to man but, rather, are derived from man himself or from social conventions. Man is the measure of all things, of right and wrong; the source of our rights, therefore, is not God but, rather, in some human authority such as society or the government. Consequently, our rights are not inalienable. For if society is the source of our rights, then society may take them away from us. If government is the source of our rights, then government may abridge them whenever it so desires.

Clearly, the secularist position provides a firm foundation for the anti-life mentality and such practices as abortion, euthanasia and the refusal to treat handicapped babies. For if human life is not sacred, if man is not made in the image and likeness of God, then we may do away with life whenever society or the government deems it necessary or convenient to do so.

If man is merely material, we therefore may judge him solely according to material considerations. If it is too much of an economic burden to care for a very ill elderly person, we may allow doctors to “put her to sleep.” Thus we hear so much talk today about euthanasia, about “mercy killing.” If having a handicapped child means that we will have to go without a new swimming pool or that we will have to drive a Chevette instead of a Cadillac, then, according to the secularistic view of life, we should be free to abort or refuse to treat him.

But if we acknowledge the sanctity of human life and the reality of God-given rights and corresponding duties (both of which are denied by the secularistic view of life, since it refuses to acknowledge the objective reality of a Supreme Being and of an order higher than human), we must grant that even elderly and handicapped persons and unborn babies have intrinsic moral worth, dignity and value. Thus, euthanasia and infanticide are wrong, because even an elderly or handicapped person of “no use” to society is a being who possesses intrinsic moral worth and value. Therefore, too, even an unborn baby who will be born mentally and physically handicapped should not be aborted, because, in spite of his handicaps, that unborn baby nonetheless is a being of intrinsic moral worth and significance.


  • Haven Bradford Gow

    Mr. Gow was a Wilbur Foundation Literary Fellow when he wrote this article.

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