A Special Education of Our Own

Contending for the lives of people with Down syndrome and other disabilities

Jordan Wootten

Juliana Wootten

Everywhere we turn, it seems the sanctity of life is under constant assault. While society continues to turn this way and that, its consistent trajectory is undeniably toward the autonomy and supremacy of the individual—the all-important self. But not every individual is granted the same dignity.

As the pro-choice narrative has continued its cultural advance, the argument for aborting preborn babies has devolved into what has become the supposed absolute right of an individual to choose the fate of another life based on something as fickle as that person’s preference. The prizing of one individual’s choice has resulted in the lawful termination of scores and scores of little boys and girls. 

Policies targeted toward those with disabilities

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the conversation developing around the dignity and viability of people with Down syndrome, particularly babies in the womb. In the past several years, for example, a regulation was passed in the state of New York that required insurance plans to cover abortions, stating that health plans cannot “limit or exclude coverage for abortions that are [deemed] medically necessary” (emphasis added), an umbrella term that includes a lengthy list of disabilities.1https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/20/20-1501/180185/20210526121754439_20-1501acTheChurchOfJesusChristOfLatter-DaySaints.pdf 

In the U.K., language is written into the country’s Abortion Act that permits abortion when “there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (emphasis added).2https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-abortion-act-in-the-u-k-challenged-but-upheld-by-the-high-court/ In each of these examples, the language being used, ambiguous as it may seem, gives lawful allowance for taking the lives of preborn boys and girls with Down syndrome.

A special education

For years now, as an educator who teaches special education within the public school system, I (Juliana) have had the privilege of seeing firsthand what many proponents of these heart-wrenching abortion policies fail to see: the very real contributions that children with Down syndrome make to society. Too often, our advocacy for people with disabilities, while well-intended, stops short of recognizing that these individuals are not only worthy of life, but are an integral part of a healthy, functioning society. 

During my time as cheer sponsor of an inclusion cheer squad, for example, wherein female students with various disabilities were invited to join the varsity cheerleading squad, I watched as these students contributed to the culture and morale of the team. And I witnessed them carry out the role of a cheerleader with skill and competence. At an even greater magnitude, the same proved to be true in my experience as co-head of the delegation for our local Special Olympics chapter and our district’s Special Olympics club. These are people who have much to give and teach us.

I am the one who has learned the most as I’ve taught and led students and student-athletes with Down syndrome over the years. Often, it was them leading me, showing me what it means to love, work hard, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and always do it with joy. You might say I received a special education from them.

A Christian response

The inherent value and dignity of people with Down syndrome is not dependent on their contribution to society, of course, but on the fact that they bear the image of God as fully and irrevocably as every other person. And in the face of broadening abortion policies, Christians are to set ourselves apart as those who welcome babies and individuals with Down syndrome because they are created by God in his image.

But that’s not where our responsibilities end. Because people with Down Syndrome—babies and adults alike—are made in the imago Dei, they can and should be welcomed into the task of the cultural mandate, helping to bring about the sort of relational and societal flourishing reminiscent of the garden in Eden (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). They are just as equipped for this work as anyone.

This means that the people of God should lead the way in opposing abortion measures targeting babies with disabilities, care for these babies and their mothers, lead the charge in advocating for their integration into their communities, and show the watching world what a healthy, functioning society looks like by recognizing their abilities and giving them opportunities to contribute to its flourishing.

People of life

It is no overstatement to say that our secular society is on a campaign to stamp out individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Disguised as an act of compassion toward the preborn baby and his or her mother, the right to choose has become an exercise in extinguishing these young, unique lives and depriving mothers of their children. And it is a choice often applauded by society at large. 

But Christians, informed by the Word of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, are called to an altogether different mission—one of true compassion, where the dignity of people with disabilities is acknowledged and where their lives are contended for from womb to tomb, in the courts and the delivery rooms and the classrooms across this country. 

People with Down syndrome, born or preborn, should not be seen as candidates for termination because of an extra chromosome. Instead, they should be seen as persons, made by God, loved by God, bearing his image, and fully capable of carrying out the cultural mandate right alongside the rest of us. And certainly, as we work shoulder to shoulder as co-laborers in the call of God, we will learn a few things from them. By God’s grace, we’ll be the ones who are recipients of a special education of our own.

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. He's married to Juliana, and they have three children.

Juliana Wootten is a special education teacher in the Dallas/Fort-Worth area.

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