A Subhuman Creature

The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being. Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal.” [1]

Such is the state of the human fetus. It has human features like a face and eyes and even a forming brain, but it is just a clump of tissue, with no rights or value to call its own. It can be discarded through medication or a simple procedure, at the will of another. It is not a human being. 

At 4 weeks post-conception, an embryo’s’ nervous tissue of the brain, brainstem and spinal cord form a neural tube. The heart, gastrointestinal tract and external features begin to form.  It has little dimples for eyes, budding limbs and the beginnings of a respiratory system. [2][3] At 6 weeks, “the neural tube has differentiated into the brain regions present at birth” and blood is pumped by the heart into the main vessels at a regular rhythm. [4] At week 7, it has eye lenses, nostrils and the beginnings of fingers and toes. [2] Still, it has no self-interest, or consciousness. It is weak and dependent on others for care. It is not a human being. 

From conception it carries a singularly unique set of DNA, distinguishable from the rest of the mother’s biological tissue. In fact, the uterus and placenta act in such a way as to prohibit maternal blood from coming into contact with fetal tissue. If it did, immune cells (T-cells) in the mother’s blood would react to the fetus as if it were a foreign body intrusion.  Still we say, it is not a human, just a woman’s tissue to deal with as she decides. It has no individual right to life. 

“The subhuman is a biological creature […] which has hands, legs, eyes and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this […] is only a partial human being.” This description comes from a Nazi propaganda brochure titled, “Der Untermensch,” literally the “underman” and most aptly translated into English as “the subhuman.” [1] It eerily echoes much of the language that we use to justify abortions today, in America. We speak of the living beings growing in a woman’s womb as a non-person. We impose on them our own measure of whether they deserve life, and they always fall short. Too small, too dependent, not enough self-interest and volition. 

Every year, we kill more than half-a-million of these “subhumans” through what is prescribed as a basic right of healthcare, the massacre of abortion. In 2017 alone, 862,320 fetal lives were ended. [5] We view their value in terms of the burdens they place on our lives and on society. We speak of them in terms of how they’ll hinder our careers and place burdens on our foster system. We speak, not unlike the Nazis spoke of Jews, or Southern whites spoke of blacks as an inferior race. 

Mass-killings, caste prejudice, condescending mockery,  genocides all have one root cause. Every modern civil-rights atrocity occurs because we fail to acknowledge another human as equal to ourselves.  This is the great danger that every generation and individual is at risk of taking. We must ask ourselves first and foremost, again and again, are we sure this is not a human life?   

Have we found ourselves complicit in the labelling of another 60 million humans as “less-than”? [6] Our generation’s holocaust? Are we partaking in the stripping of another living being’s basic identity as a human person, leading us to justify not just their torture, or use for our own selfish gain, but to justify their killing? 

Below are two brief reasons why an embryo and fetus have equal value as a human person: 

1 – They bear a unique genetic marker. At a scientific level, we can distinguish between what is my body and yours through looking at the genetic make-up of our cells. Certainly, one can have their blood or tissues separated from their own body, but the DNA within the cells point to a unique individual and human originator that precedes the existence of those cells. 

2 – Identity persists across time, size and development. You are the same person from five years ago, ten years and so forth, despite mental and physical development through that time. You are the same person in your three month baby photos as you are today–not in personality or interests, but in bodily existence.  There is a characteristic of identity that continues, and we can extrapolate that existence to our development before birth. 

Many have argued that lack of consciousness or personal interest and personal volition negates personhood by itself; however, we do not apply this principle consistently. We treat sleeping individuals, people in comas and individuals with debilitating neurological conditions like alzheimers as persons. They may need special care, or medical treatment or simply time to wake, but we do not consider them to be non-persons. We aim to preserve their life. There are people who are not in a current state of consciousness that we consider as persons. Therefore, there must be another characteristic apart from (or a shifted understanding of) a current state of consciousness that defines human personhood. The question of what constitutes human personhood is complex, and requires further discussion. Everyone engaged in this debate needs to tackle this question seriously, and we need rigorous conversation about the facets of personhood across the aisle. 

These are just brief reasons, and I look forward to your responses and objections in the comments below. I do not aim to provide a thorough argument here, but to begin a critical discussion on this topic. The crux of the abortion debate is this question: do we steal the life of a fully human being?  I urge you, friends, to consider this issue seriously. It is no abstract question: almost one in four women between the ages of 15 to 44 have an abortion. [7] This has a huge impact on every one of us. Can we convince ourselves with 100% certainty that the baby growing in the womb is not a human person at all? Consider this life or death question. It is too great a risk to take, otherwise. 

The pro-life, pro-choice debate is not a simple one. On both sides, there are people fighting to preserve equal treatment of human beings, to empower the weak, and to free women from the burden of shame. 

There are a number of complexities and layers to the fight to preserve inherent human dignity and to treat our brothers and sisters accordingly. We must acknowledge the sacrifices that women go through, sacrifices that men are often easily excused from. Women bear the burdens of shame in unplanned pregnancy, face repercussions to their reputations and careers, and shoulder total responsibility for the decisions of whether to have an abortion, pursue adoption or raise their child.  There is great need for significant societal change to better support all mothers in every position in life.

Quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “A great many motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual. Precisely in this connection money may conceal many a wanton deed, while the poor man’s more reluctant lapse may far more easily be disclosed. All these considerations must no doubt have a quite decisive influence on our personal and pastoral attitude towards the person concerned, but they cannot in any way alter the fact of murder.”

We cannot neglect the very building block of the fight for civil rights: there is inherent value in being a human being. Both sides of this argument need to ask, do we seek to preserve the value of the woman’s life and the child’s? The historical issue of upholding human dignity has been perpetuated by the prejudices across gender, race and ability (both mental and physical). When we stand for life, we take a stand to say that each of these outward features does not diminish the intrinsic value of every individual human being. In no case does a deviation from our fabricated social hierarchy between humans give even an iota of justification to snuff out or harm the life of another. Whether we are an inch tall, a fading eighty-year-old or blessed with down syndrome, each one of us carries the right to call ourselves a human being. We have a right to life.

As we all reflect on the topic of abortion this weekend, I want to remember the following: 

Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23

God is our hope, in all things.

Our Christ, God himself, became the weakest of human beings – a little wailing babe to an unmarried woman. Our Christ laid down his life – he was the picture of sacrifice. Our Christ died for our sins, that we might have life and become children of God. He died for the joy set before him – it is his joy to sacrifice for your sake, despite all of the ways we scorn him. He willingly endured all of this; He died to redeem you and bring you to himself.

Thank you, Lord,  that in you there is life, abundant life. Amen.

Take care and blessings to you!



[1] http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/deruntermensch.html

[2] https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/28-2-embryonic-development

[3] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002398.htm

[4] Silverthorn, D. U. Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach

[5] https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states 

[6] https://nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf

[7] https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304042


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