Defending the ‘Defective’

In 1915 Dr. Harry Haiselden, the chief of staff at German-American Hospital on Chicago’s near north side, made national headlines for his contribution to the eugenics movement. Haiselden gained front-page notoriety on the issue of eugenic euthanasia. In November of that year, he ended the life of a baby born with serious physical abnormalities. The method of euthanasia was denial of treatment. The naked newborn was left to die alone and unattended in an empty room.

This was not the first time that Dr. Haiselden had euthanized a newborn and he was not alone. Other doctors were doing it quietly. Afterward Haiselden went unpunished. At the inquest he stated, “I should have been guilty of a graver crime if I had saved this child’s life. My crime would have been keeping in existence one of nature’s cruelest blunders.” (“Jury Clears, Yet Condemns, Dr. Haiselden” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 20, 1915)

Then Hollywood called. The Black Stork, a propaganda film, was produced. In it Dr. Haiselden played himself. It tells the story of a man suffering from an inherited disease. Haiselden warns him not to marry and have children with his sweetheart. Any offspring produced by this union will likely be defective. Despite the warnings the woman gives birth to a defective child. The woman “mercifully” decides not to treat the child, and it is blasphemously portrayed as God’s will. The climax shows the dead baby floating into the arms of Jesus.

Dr. Haiselden’s story is just one of the dark chapters in the story of eugenics in America. Sadly, the killing of “defective” babies is an idea that has not gone away. Today advances in science have made it possible for physical abnormalities to be detected in an unborn child. For example, the amniocentesis test makes it possible to detect Down syndrome and spina bifida (among other conditions). It is not uncommon for the mother, or both parents, to decide to abort the child in such cases.

One of the issues tied to the killing of unwanted babies is that no medical test is 100 percent accurate. There is always a small chance that an unborn child is condemned to die for a misdiagnosed condition. A more compelling argument may be that many “defective” children go on to overcome their disabilities and live normal and, in some cases, extraordinary lives.

I have seen this firsthand. My niece was born with a form of spina bifida. As a result she has spent virtually her entire life in a wheelchair. To have euthanized her would have cut short the life of a beautiful and talented young woman. She is a gifted violinist who is attending a major university and studying music. Vibrant and outgoing, she’s simply a joy to be around. Our family thanks God for her and for the rich blessings he has given to her.

My niece’s story is reminiscent of a story about Beethoven. This story has often been used as an argument to counter abortion. Author Edmund Morris relates it in his 2005 book Beethoven: The Universal Composer: “The British playwright Enid Bagnold once asked a feminist what advice she would give to a 23-year-old housewife who, having lost four children, found herself pregnant again by an abusive, alcoholic husband. ‘I would urge her to terminate the pregnancy,’ the feminist replied. ‘Then,’ said Ms. Bagnold, ‘you would have aborted Beethoven.’ ”

Morris goes on to explain that the story is somewhat apocryphal. Maybe that is just as well. The real argument against the killing of “defectives” has nothing to do with famous composers or successful college students. The reality is that every baby is defective and although conditions like Down syndrome and spina bifida are very serious, this universal defect is graver still:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

Yes, all are “defective.” We are born spiritually dead, condemned to the eternal punishment of hell. Even the unborn child is accountable for his sinful condition (Psalm 51:5). The argument against eugenic euthanasia is not based on the value of an individual life. The argument in defense of life is based on the love God has shown to a world of people who are without any trace of spiritual value:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Because of Christ, who became one of us and is the only human being ever born without defect, we have a solution to our birth defect. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, which has infinite value because He is also true God, we are presented to God as perfect and without defect:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians: 5:21)

Rejoice that by faith you are a child of God, without defect. Share this ironclad argument against eugenic euthanasia. God’s wonderful promise of salvation is the supreme argument against abortion!

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:39)

~ By Mr. Timothy Snyder


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