In 1982, "Baby Doe" was born in Bloomington, Indiana. The baby had Down's syndrome and a defect of his esophagus that needed corrective surgery before he could drink from a bottle. The surgical procedure was considered routine for children born with the condition known as tracheaesophageal fistula. But because Baby Doe had Down's syndrome, his parents decided to refuse the surgery and allow the wee child to starve to death. When the situation became public, several couples offered to adopt Baby Doe and even pay for the surgery. But the parents, their doctors, and an Indiana Court said they had a right to refuse medical treatment in order to starve him. That's exactly what happened, and Baby Doe died seven days after being born.
Decent people across America (and the world) were appalled at this horrible injustice-including President Ronald Reagan. The next year the President wrote an article for the Human Life Review, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," in which he dealt directly with his horror over the case of Baby Doe. It was President Reagan's correct view that abortion concerns every person because all humanity is interdependent. To illustrate this point, the President quoted English poet and divine, John Donne (1572-1631) who wrote, "... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind ...." This is part of Donne's 17th Meditation from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623). Those words follow the immortal line, "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main . . . ." Humanity's interdependence makes the welfare of one person the concern of all people. America, Reagan was saying, was not made up of 300-million little islands entire unto themselves. Words like "family," "citizen," "community," "neighbor," and even the United States of America attest to human interdependence. And that human interdependence included disabled and helpless Baby Doe.
The President continued:
"We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life-the unborn-without diminishing the value of all human life. We saw tragic proof of this truism last year when the Indiana courts allowed the starvation death of 'Baby Doe' in Bloomington because the child had Down's syndrome."
The great man was deeply troubled. "The real question today," he insisted, "is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life?" He reminded readers that America was founded by men and women "who shared a vision of the value of each and every individual." The President said that this vision was clearly evident from the beginning with those towering words of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The President wrote: "Regrettably, we live in a time when some persons do not value all human life. They want to pick and choose which individuals have value. Some have said that only those individuals with 'consciousness of self are human beings. . . . Obviously, some influential people want to deny that every human life has intrinsic, sacred worth. They insist that a member of the human race must have certain qualities before they accord him or her status as a 'human being.'"
With clarity and conviction President Reagan held that it was important for America's future that the country re-embrace the sanctity of human life ethic. "My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land," he concluded, "and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning."
His words carried an ominous tone for the future regarding definitions of worthy life of "some influential people" that would discount the intrinsic value of the cognitively disabled. …