A trademark of the National Socialist German Workers Party was meticulous central planning. Adolph Hitler had a plan for everything. And everyone. Hitler remembered well Napoleon’s admonition that an army marches on its stomach and was determined that this time around Germany would not lose the food war. Both supply and demand had to be addressed.
To secure a steady food source for the German people, Hitler’s design for his Lebensraum (‘living space’) was a fertile land of about 20 million acres east of Germany. That this acreage was then occupied and governed by Slavs, Poles and Russians was an inconvenient speed bump. In his “Hunger Plan”, his preparation for the demand side was just as direct: to cut down the “useless eaters” by cutting off their food or killing them more expeditiously. Chief among the eaters were Jews, Slavs, Poles, Russians, the disabled, the mentally challenged and the “degenerates” such as homosexuals. His implementation was carried out efficiently with accurate records kept along the way. Many were murdered outright; many more died of deprivation and starvation.
Before we indulge in self congratulatory smugness about our moral superiority to the Nazi monsters, examine a few instances where this type of utilitarian ethic presents itself in our own time and culture. In the most recent edition of the Journal for Medical Ethics there was an article entitled, “After Birth Abortion: Why should the baby live?” by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. The authors contend that all the reasons for abortion should be equally valid for new born infants. If the infant is disabled or imperfect in any way, it is a given that they can be eliminated since newborns are just another species of “potential” human being. They blandly state that other justifications would include health and inconvenience for the mother, such as a new job offer, financial stress or they just don’t like the kid, so it would be difficult for the family. Up until some time line in the sand to be determined, the contention is that a “potential” human being (or “useless eater”) can be put down like an old blind dog. We already have a euphemism, not infanticide, but “after birth abortion”.
This is not a new argument. Peter Singer, President Clinton’s bioethics advisor, was the founder of the animal rights movement. Within that PETA group, it is dogma that an animal’s life is morally equivalent to a human life. Dr. Singer, still a bioethics professor at Princeton, published an article forty years ago entitled, “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong”. The bizarre twist to this is that with the current interpretation of the law, killing a baby (read ‘aborting a fetus’) is permissible up until the moment of birth. Why is Dr. Singer’s, Dr. Giubilini’s and Dr. Minerva’s position any different ethically than current law? The answer, of course, is that it isn’t, but merely a natural extension of accepted principle.
A subtle, but nonetheless troubling, example of a utilitarian perspective occurred just a few weeks ago from the Obama administration. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius deliberately ran rough shod over first amendment religious freedom with the administration’s edict to force private Catholic institutions to contract with health insurance companies to provide abortifacient drugs and contraceptive drugs, clearly violating the Church’s moral law. President Obama offered a transparent and cynical “compromise”, when they protested. Don’t worry, he patronized, we’ll just make the insurance companies pay for it. The American bishops responded with the obvious – that insurance companies won’t put these drugs on their bill, but would certainly build the costs into their rates.
Here’s the rub. The president’s rejoinder to the bishops? The insurance companies wouldn’t have to charge because dispensing contraceptives and abortifacient drugs saved them money; it’s cheaper than having babies. Chemical contraceptives act as abortifacients on occasion and for some like the “morning after” pill, it is their intention. Think about the ethic that undergirds the president’s rationale for a moment. What should make this morally acceptable to the bishops and people of faith, according to the president, is that the insurance companies can afford to give these drugs away because it saves them money. As long as it costs less to abort a baby than to carry her to term, the moral calculus works for the insurance company, so it should be acceptable to the Church.
Utilitarian ethical theory, developed over two hundred years ago by John Stuart Mill and others, differs profoundly from deontological (or rule based) ethics. Traditional Socratic ethics teaches that true happiness comes from doing what is right; for the utilitarian, happiness is the first goal, and the “right” is fungible. The utilitarian holds that the overriding standard is the greatest good for the greatest number. What works, not what is right. Killing, stealing, lying, cheating, breaking promises and manipulation are not intrinsically evil. Nothing is intrinsically evil; what is good is what serves the greater good and happiness of the many. Understood, but unspoken is the axiom that the intellectual and power elite get to determine who is to be made happy. And who is to be made dead.
from Psalm 31
Affliction has broken down my strength
and my bones waste away.
I am like a dead man, forgotten,
like a thing thrown away.
My life is in your hands, deliver me
from the hands of those who hate me.