The loathsome introduction of judicially enforced eugenics

Here is a most troubling story. Lord Justice Munby – Head of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England and Wales – has ordered a 13 year old girl to have an abortion despite her clear desire to the contrary. The Cranmer blog comments here.

The basic facts of the case are these: The girl in question has an IQ of 54 and the comprehension skills of a seven year old. She has been deemed “very damaged”, “impaired” and “largely out of control”. The father of the child was a 14 year old boy, evidently reckless and irresponsible himself. Nonetheless, it was manifestly clear the girl “had set her mind against termination” and expressed “unambiguous hostility towards termination”.

One expert argued “If the pregnancy were terminated I believe that this would cause considerable harm to this young girl, who would see it as an assault. Continuing the pregnancy…may have a less detrimental effect on her given her current circumstances”. Nevertheless, Lord Justice Munby argued “a clinical psychologist showed the girl lacked capacity to decide for herself” and ruled “it was clearly appropriate for me to supply the necessary consent to enable the termination to proceed”. All of this is over and against the desire of the girl herself and the recommendation of clinical experts.

Cranmer has previously commented on Lord Justice Munby and his underlying legal presumptions (accessible here). Whatever view one holds is rather by the by in this case. It matters not whether one believes, like Cranmer, Christian mores and values should underpin our legal system. Nor should it make a difference if one prefers Lord Justice Munby’s position that “the law of this country is secular, and that Christianity no longer informs its morality or values”. What really matters – and I see no reason to reach a different conclusion based on a Christian or secular worldview – is whether enforced eugenics (and let’s make no mistake, that is precisely what we are talking about) is ever acceptable.

The decision made by Lord Justice Munby was clearly not made on the basis of the girl being a minor. A month earlier, Mr Justice Mostyn had ruled that another pregnant 13 year old girl “had the mental capacity to understand options open to her” and that she was free to “decide what she wishes to do”. This makes it evident the decision was based on IQ alone. Moreover, despite expert testimony that continuing the pregnancy would have been preferable for the mother, Lord Justice Munby ruled for a termination. This rather suggests the best interests of the mother were not at heart (for the best interests of the mother were expressly stated as continuation of the pregnancy). 

What then are we to make of the decision to terminate? Seemingly, it was based on little more than the mother’s low IQ and comprehension. Given the best interests of the mother were to continue with the pregnancy, it follows the mother’s best interests cannot have been forefront in the decision-making process. We are thus forced to conclude that although the low IQ of the mother was the basis for the decision being taken out of her hands, it was also the fundamental basis of the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Though Christian and secular values may differ over the rights and wrongs of removing the decision-making process from the mother (though not necessarily), surely both would agree that the “best interests” of the mother must be taken into account when reaching a decision. Though, when discussing abortion in the abstract, Christian and secular worldviews may differ over what constitutes “best interests”, in this case the best interests were made manifestly clear by expert witnesses. They concluded the best interests of the mother were to continue with pregnancy. 

This begs the question: why did Lord Justice Munby rule to terminate the pregnancy over and against the wishes, and the best interests (in the view of experts), of the mother? One can only conclude that Lord Justice Munby was concerned the child would inherit the mother’s low IQ and level of comprehension. The mother’s wishes and best interests were apparently moot.

Cranmer gives undue credit by inferring that Lord Justice Munby believed he was acting in the girl’s best interests, despite his palpable wrongness predicated on his secularist presumptions. Rather, it seems Lord Justice Munby, despite expert testimony clearly stating the girl’s best interests, reached a conclusion contrary to this measure. It is hard to escape any other conclusion but that this represents judicially enforced eugenics. Whatever differences exist between Christians and secularists (and those with a foot in both camps), one finds it hard to believe that many would find this acceptable.