'The Giver' reflects reality

Arina Grossu is Director, Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. This article appeared in USA Today on September 10, 2014.

Atheist writer Richard Dawkins' Twitter message to the world regarding an unborn child with Down syndrome was, "Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

Even more horrific than Dawkins' assertion is the fact that we actually follow his advice. Up to 90% of unborn children with Down syndrome are aborted. Further, euthanasia of elderly people and children is a present-day reality in Belgium.

Are we that far off from the atrocities in the movie The Giver? Not really. The Giver, now in theaters, is a dystopian story based on Lois Lowry's 1993 best-selling book. The story takes place in a futuristic world where hatred, pain and war have all but been eliminated. No one has more or less. The constructed world with its apparent equality seems like a socialist's paradise. The environment, weather and even emotions are controlled. Each day, each member of the community must take drugs that numb real emotions.

An elderly man known as The Giver retains the memory of the "old world" and must pass it to a chosen Receiver, a boy named Jonas. Coming out of his allegorical cave with newfound knowledge of reality, Jonas describes his constructed world as "living a life of shadows" because he recognizes that evil still exists.

The movie is rife with bioethical implications applicable to our society, from genetic engineering and infanticide to surrogacy and euthanasia. In this seemingly perfect universe, the most imperfect members are eliminated. When elderly people no longer have utility, they are "released" (read, euthanized), as are sickly babies.

Isn't this exactly what the contracting parents in the recent Australian surrogacy case of baby Gammy wanted? They asked the Thai surrogate mother carrying their twins to abort one of them because he had Down syndrome. When she refused, they took only his healthy twin sister and demanded a refund.

Gammy represents Gabriel in the movie, a baby at risk because he was considered undesirable. Thankfully, Gammy was protected by his surrogate mother, just as Gabriel is protected by Jonas.

In the most disturbing scene in the movie, Jonas' father, whose job is "releasing" babies, takes a needle and inserts it into the head of a sickly baby to kill him. The Washington Post reported the line from the book that was "too dark" to add to the scene was the father cheerfully saying, "Bye-bye little guy," while placing the dead baby in a box. As Jonas puts it, "They hadn't eliminated murder. ... They just called it by a different name."

How similar to the horrors committed by Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who killed not only unborn children but also children born alive?

Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva have proposed arguments in the Journal of Medical Ethics in favor of "after-birth abortion" (aka infanticide). If human life is not respected in the womb, why should it be respected outside the womb?

Jonas asks The Giver about his dad, "Can't he see the baby stopped moving?" The Giver tells Jonas his father is unaware he is murdering because memories of death and killing were erased. Jonas replies, "Then it's our fault. You and me and all the receivers back and back and back."

What's our society's excuse? We doknow what murder is. We must become a society where killing the weak and the vulnerable is unthinkable. Jonas is the hero in this movie. He risks his own life not only to save baby Gabriel's life but also to restore his world to what is true and human, with all of its frailty. The value of human life does not derive from being perfect or even useful, but simply from being human.