This series of posts is a brief overview of some of the implications of current conversations surrounding ‘personhood’. It is a land mine-ridden subject laden with controversy, emotion, ideology and faith. One of the key difficulties lies in the fact that who the conversations are about and those whom are primarily affected are the very ones often unable to contribute to the discussion. Commonalities of inter-faith dialogue include some form of the ‘golden rule’ as well as a belief that a society is somehow measured by how it treats its weakest citizens. The purpose of these posts is to draw attention to an already-at-risk population and begin to identify the important role faith and culture groups can play in advocating more humane ways of defining and defending personhood. It is hoped that this brief scan will raise both awareness and interest in the public discourse.
The Globe and Mail reported a recent Danish headline that reads “Plans to Make Denmark a Down syndrome-free perfect society”. In Denmark the discussion is taking place regarding aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome so their society will be “free of” such people around 2030. On bioethicist describes it as a “fantastic achievement”. The article identifies the controversial nature of the decision and comments, “What kind of society might result from endorsing a belief that a society with disabled people is “perfect?” The use of science in the search for human perfection has been at the root of some the greatest atrocities.
Of concern is the increase of successful litigations of ‘wrongful birth’ globally. Recent cases in the US have awarded compensations upwards of 3 million dollars. The rise of these cases caused Forbes magazine to write an article “Wrongful Life and Wrongful Birth Lawsuits Raise Tax Issues”. This is a complex issue that is not always what it may appear to be on the surface. Particularly in the United States, parents may feel they have no alternative but to sue in order to obtain the resources necessary to support a disabled child because of insurance and medical costs. However, the end result is the social policy conversations that revolve around economic costs and liabilities to an already strained system. In this view, the ‘responsibility’ to bring potential persons who will be healthy and contributing members of society is an obligation that parents must shoulder.
An expose by Mail on November 29th, 2012 revealed that Liverpool Care Pathway (hospital) was engaging in,
The practice of withdrawing food and fluid by tube is being used on young patients as well as severely disabled newborn babies. They say it is a form of euthanasia, used to clear hospital beds and save the National Health System money. The use of end of life care methods on disabled newborn babies was revealed in the doctors’ bible, the British Medical Journal.
One only needs to revisit the beginning of the 20th century to discover the impacts and implications of Eugenics. It would difficult to distinguish this present behaviour from similar activities conduct in Germany in the 1930’s.
This concludes the three-part series on “The Challenge to Personhood.” It is important to be equipped to face the diverse views that are promoted on the subject of what it means to be a person. I hope you have enjoyed this series, and I look forward to hearing any thoughts you have on the subject!
 Margaret Somerville, Deselecting our Children, Special to the Globe and Mail published Monday August 22nd, 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/deselecting-our-children/article626406/