In the early 1900’s, the United States was swept by a new field of science. A combination of the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s principles of heredity and the massive popularity of Darwin’s new theories on evolution had driven American scientists to wonder whether or not intentional breeding could produce new and better human beings in the same way one could produce better apples or chickens. This school of thought was called ‘eugenics,’ and the principle was simple: inferior human beings – that is, the less intelligent, the physically malformed, and the socially unfit – could be bred out of human stock by a combination of forced sterilizations, euthanasia, and birth control programs. development
This idea eventually became popular enough that a mental institution in Lincoln, Illinois, took to feeding its incoming patients milk infected with tuberculosis, in the hopes that their mentally handicapped patients would die off. The plan was a moderate success: between 30 and 40 percent of their charges perished as a result.
This is only one small example of the kinds of behaviors that, informed by American eugenics and driven by the progressivism of the age, judged some to be below the standards of a modern nation and world, and therefore, as something less than human life. This conclusion was what led them to destroy these individuals, to cut them off from the human race, and to label them not human. Today, we regard this as unvarnished barbarism. And rightly so: we recognize that to disregard and destroy human life on our assessment of its utility – that is, its usefulness – is both unethical and immoral.
Valuable at Every Stage
This brings us to the ‘L’ of the SLED test: Level of Development.
Like the mentally handicapped victims of that Illinois facility, human fetuses lack a large measure of utility on the basis of their (relative) lack of development. Therefore, the pro-choice logic goes, the fetus is something less than human life, and can be safely destroyed. Since the fetus is at a level of development that is substantially less than even, say, a three-month-old infant, there is no moral component to its death.
This second portion of the SLED test argues otherwise: a human being’s level of development does not reflect on whether or not it is a human life. The logic here is simple. A person who possesses a greater level of development – say, a higher level of intelligence, more skills, a larger spread of talents and gifts – is not more human than someone who is simply average. Nor is the average person less than human because he or she is merely mediocre.
Similarly, a person who is developmentally impaired or damaged in some way is not less human than the average human being. Individuals with Down’s syndrome, Huntington’s disease, or Tay-Sachs disease are not regarded as less human than anyone else, and rightly so: we understand that a person’s level of development – whether mentally, physically, or otherwise – does not reflect on their personhood.
Therefore, it follows that a human infant at any stage of development – from blastocyst to fetus to full-term infant – is just as human as a 47-year-old with degenerative Parkinson’s disease. They both lack a level or degree of development that is considered normal for a full-grown human. But that lack of development does not strip away any moral component to their death.
The Spiritual Science of Incarnation
Up to this point, I’ve kept my argument strictly to the fields of logic, science, and philosophy. But I would be remiss if I did not also say this: the God whose image is stamped on the Down’s patient, the Tay-Sachs victim, and the two-minute-old zygote has elevated these human beings by Himself coming in their likeness.
He too was once a zygote, a tiny, holy thing floating in the darkness of his mother’s uterus. And later, he became a blastocyst, and was implanted in the lining of his mother’s womb. The miracle silently, invisibly, spun it itself out as His cells divided, grew, and differentiated into something more recognizably human – but at no point from the moment of His miraculous conception would we begin to suggest that He was not a person.
Christ’s level of development in the womb of His mother had no reflection on whether or not He was still a person of the Triune Godhead. No other human person’s level of development reflects on whether or not they possess the holy image of God. Therefore, no human being has the right to destroy that image, whether that human person is a micrometer across or a smiling, warm-eyed woman standing 5’10”. Our level of development has no bearing on our personhood.