Erasing our humanity: Facing a silent genocide

August 18, 2017

Making the rounds on the internet this week is a story from CBS News titled, “What kind of society do you want to live in?” The story has gained much attention in recent days, and one reason it has garnered so many clicks and shares is its compelling featured image—the photo that displays when the hyperlink is shared on social media. The image depicts a seven-year-old girl, Agusta, sitting by the falls of a frigid Iceland river in her toboggan and winter coat. With only a glance at her photo, two things immediately become clear: Agusta is a precious little girl, and she has Down syndrome. But surprisingly, Agusta is one of the few children in Iceland with the genetic disorder. According to the article’s subtitle, in Iceland, “Down Syndrome is disappearing.”

Eradicating Down Syndrome births

At first this seems to be an achievement worthy of celebration. There is no question that people with Down Syndrome face challenges and limitations that negatively affect their lives. As the article reports, “Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues.” Were this a medical innovation, we might deem it miraculous. But as the article reports, the precipitous decline in Down Syndrome births, not only in Iceland, but in nations across Europe and North America, can be attributed to no such innovation. Instead, it is the result of sympathetic barbarism.

With the advent of prenatal screening, a mother can now elect to have her child tested for genetic defects while still in utero. As a consequence, a positive result indicating the presence of such a defect usually ends in abortion—67 percent of the time in the United States, though this pales in comparison to Iceland’s nearly 100 percent “termination” rate. Yet the practice is defended on humanitarian grounds as an act of compassion. In such cases, aborting a child with Down Syndrome is often dismissed as nothing more than the termination of a “possible life” in order to prevent “suffering for the child and the family.” But contrary to the article’s claims, this does not represent the “disappearance” of Down Syndrome. No, this attempt to eradicate Down Syndrome births is nothing less than the systematic extermination of an entire group of people. This is a silent genocide.

And there is an ugly truth behind this practice; this is not about compassion or mercy. Having Down Syndrome doesn’t make a person less than human. So let us be honest about it. Western society has determined to sanction the deaths of innocent people because we do not believe they deserve to live, despite the fact that it is not uncommon for people born with Down Syndrome to “live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.” The truth is, this isn’t about alleviating their suffering; it’s about our idolatry and self-interest. Instead of recognizing their dignity and value, we sanction their deaths by the thousands in pursuit of a “better world.”

Having Down Syndrome doesn’t make a person less than human.

What kind of world, indeed

People with Down Syndrome are people. A chromosome abnormality is hardly cause to deny a person’s humanity—regardless of its effects. And this alone should be enough for our society to abruptly end this horrific practice. In a culture obsessed with judgment, we should ask how we could possibly condemn these innocent victims. Who knows what joy their lives could hold? Who could speak for the inestimable value of their potential?

What kind of world, indeed, could be realized through the elimination of the vulnerable? We know what kind. It is the kind sought in the eugenics of Margaret Sanger.

Christians recognize that every person—regardless of how healthy or normal—bears the image of God. We also understand that the promise of a new world comes only through the work of Christ. We must stand and dissent with a message that is simple and clear: This is not treatment, but extermination. These individuals matter, and taking their lives will not produce a better world.

Facing the reality of systematic genocide

There is no gentle way to say this, abortion is violence against the innocent. If our culture is willing to subject people with Down Syndrome or other genetic defects to such cruelty and excuse it in the name of compassion, Christians must have the courage to speak for those who have no voice. And beyond even that, we must be willing to hold up the mirror for the world to see itself.

Seeking to eliminate Down Syndrome—through the abortion of innocent babies—is itself a betrayal of our own humanity. We are talking about killing people because they have a disability. This is not a problem of the slippery slope. We shouldn’t be asking where to draw the line. We should be asking how we allowed ourselves to determine that some people aren’t worthy of life. This is barbarism, and we should be outraged.

We can live in a world where those outside the church speak of abortion as the termination of pregnancy. We can live in a world where the systematic extermination of the disabled is glossed over in the name of progress. But as the people of Christ, we will never accept it. We will be the people who protect the vulnerable, shelter the unwanted, and care for the least of these. In the name of Christ, we will fight against this evil because we have another message. Jesus loves the little children, including those like Agusta. They are precious in his sight. He loves all the children, indeed, each and every one.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24