I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the sci-fi film Gattaca. Back in the 90’s Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman were the main cast of characters who starred in a film about a future world ruled by genetic manipulation. Ethan Hawke’s character was conceived without genetic manipulation, thereby making him weaker than his brother, and deemed unfit by society at large. Hawke’s character seeks help from Jude Law’s character who has stronger DNA, but ironically is now wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.
The film poses poignant questions about the social philosophy of Eugenics, a philosophy concerned with improving the genetic quality of the human race. The practice of this philosophy purports either increased sexual reproduction rates of those with desirable genetic traits or the reduction of sexual reproduction for those with undesirable traits. This sounds as far-fetched as a futuristic sci-fi film, but the spirit of Eugenics is alive and well in our culture today.
It was about 75 years ago an Austrian with a toothbrush mustache inspired millions to cry, “Heil Hitler!” Adolf Hitler practiced eugenics in many of his concentration camps. Hitler idolized the idea of an unadulterated purebred German people, but felt that his beloved Germany (though he was Austrian, go figure), had grown weak with mixed blood. For his vision to become a reality Hitler made Jews the scapegoat. Considering Hitler’s ideology, it’s not shocking that not all concentration camp deaths were Jewish people. The great German cleansing that Hitler foresaw had to include Nazi Eugenics practices, which meant getting rid of physically and mentally disabled people. This was executed through either death or sterilization of people who were arbitrarily deemed “unfit” to live.
Hitler ordered Action T4, which was the name given post-war to a program of forced euthanasia in wartime Germany. Under this program roughly 70,000 people were killed at various psychiatric hospitals in Germany and Austria. Part of this program was even dedicated to killing children with physical and mental illness. These “unfit” children were registered, and doctors and midwives were required to report all cases of newborns with disabilities. Reports were then assessed by a panel of medical experts, three of whom must give their approval before a child could be killed. Action T4 was the social experiment that paved the way for the technology and practice toward Hitler’s “Final Solution” of killing the Jews.
Before Hitler was busy cleansing Germany, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which was later called Planned Parenthood. Like Hitler, Sanger was an advocate of the Eugenics movement. More specifically, Sanger advocated for the reduction of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with undesired traits or economic conditions. Though Sanger’s ideology expressed itself differently than Hitler’s ideological practices, there are many similarities. Sanger had the same arbitrary assessment of who she deemed “unfit” for life, and she supported sterilization as a way to control this population of people with undesirable genetic or economic dispositions. This ideology continues today, but unlike Hitler’s Action T4, Sanger’s Planned Parenthood has lived on to kill undesirable children.
Today pregnant women can receive a genetic screening to determine their child’s chance for physical or mental defects. We have changed the terms from “unfit” or “undesirables” to not having “quality of life.” We might not kill our children in the toddler stage as the Nazi’s did, but we harbor the same beliefs when we kill them in the womb. The same spirit of Eugenics in Hitler’s ideology is alive in us today when we kill our undesirable children. If we don’t want a child with down syndrome or spina bifida then we can subject them to our personal Action T4 by snuffing out their un-lived life. The world of Gattaca is at our doorstep, because we already believe some are genetically more fit than others – and we are already doing something about it.
Yet, there is one who came before Hitler and Sanger who loved the undesirables: Jesus Christ. According to Isaiah 53:2, Jesus was undesirable as well:
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”
The undesirable God-man welcomed, healed, and dined with the undesirable outcasts of society. He didn’t stop there – but like the paralytic man lowered through the roof – he came to forgive our sins. Because we are among the undesirables whom – in our sin and filth – Jesus loved and chose for himself. We deserved for our lives to be snuffed out by God, but instead he provided a way of salvation through Jesus. He did not deal with us as our sins deserved. Jesus came to redeem the cultural belief in Eugenics, not by sacrificing undesirable children, but by sacrificing himself.