Flat White

Richard Dawkins, euthanasia and eugenics

18 February 2020

4:00 PM

18 February 2020

4:00 PM

Richard Dawkins is the gift that just keeps on giving. Well, at least for us religious types who believe in God and hold to a Judeo-Christian worldview. For Dawkins consistently makes the alternative look downright ridiculous. Take for instance one of his most recent tweets on the effectiveness of eugenics: 

For someone who has pronounced himself as one of the world’s ‘brights’ it’s difficult not to perceive this statement as anything less than dim-whited. Especially when one understands the historic link between social Darwinism and eugenics, especially underpinning the philosophy of Nazi Germany.  

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it more than a little ironic that someone like Dawkins would invoke a rule named Godwins Law to defend himself from any such connection? And to be fair, Professor ‘Bright’ quickly qualified his position tweeting: 

But this is just a classic bait-and-switch which Dawkins is known for so often doing. Just take, for example, his defence regarding mild forms of paedophilia. But as an avowed atheist, why invocate such a thing as ‘heaven’ as an authority? It sure is difficult to be consistent when you reject a belief in any power brighter than yourself. As Allie Beth Stuckey in response tweeted: 

However, the underlying problem with Dawkin’s argument is that he has explicitly advocated for a eugenic strategy involving babies with Downs Syndrome. 

With New South Wales set to debate euthanasia laws later this year now is the time to take stock of what some of the ramifications almost certainly be. As former prime minister Paul Keating has rightly argued in The Sydney Morning Herald: 

An alarming aspect of the debate is the claim that safeguards can be provided at every step to protect the vulnerable. This claim exposes the bald utopianism of the project – the advocates support a bill to authorise termination of life in the name of compassion, while at the same time claiming they can guarantee protection of the vulnerable, the depressed and the poor.

No law and no process can achieve that objective. This is the point. If there are doctors prepared to bend the rules now, there will be doctors prepared to bend the rules under the new system. Beyond that, once termination of life is authorised the threshold is crossed. From that point it is much easier to liberalise the conditions governing the law. And liberalised they will be. Few people familiar with our politics would doubt that pressure would mount for further liberalisation based on the demand that people are being discriminated against if denied. The experience of overseas jurisdictions suggests the pressures for further liberalisation are irresistible.

Ethicist Professor Scott B. Rae argues in Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics: 

[E]ugenics and euthanasia share some points of commonality—namely, the notion that some people are “useless eaters,” a phrase being resurrected today, and the idea that someone could be a human being but not be a full person with inalienable rights to life. Both should be causes for alarm, prompting us to reconsider the way the elderly are viewed today.

So, yes all forms of eugenic policy should be deplored. But in the light of Dawkins previous statements regarding people with disabilities it’s difficult to take his outrage seriously. 

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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