Deciding Who’s Better Off Dead

The West’s staggering embrace of assisted suicide and why Christians must proclaim the imago Dei message.


John Stonestreet

Shane Morris

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that “in 100 years, if Christians are people identified as those who do not kill their children or their elderly, we would have been doing something right.” His words are especially prophetic in light of a post-Christian West that has in many ways embraced killing.  

This month, the Dutch government implemented a policy that permits terminally ill children up to 12 years old to be euthanized. In other words, young children can now be put to death without consent. Though the new policy is only supposed to apply in exceptional cases of very serious terminal illnesses, limits on assisted suicide never hold.  

The most obvious example in the world is Canada. In 2021, 10,000 Canadians were killed by physician-assisted suicide, or one out of every 30 Canadian deaths. This explosion in medically assisted deaths led columnist David Brooks to write in The Atlantic that autonomy-based liberalism, the idea that we each own ourselves and get to do whatever we want with our lives, had gone off the rails. He demonstrated with story after story just how quickly and easily “assisted suicide” blurs into involuntary killing. As many have observed, the “right to die” has a pernicious way of becoming a “duty to die.” 

This deadly logic is embraced across much of Europe, on a scale few appreciate. Back in 2017, CBS ran a celebratory headline announcing that Iceland was on pace to “virtually eliminate Down syndrome.” No cure had been found for the condition, of course. Instead, Iceland had become so effective at eliminating people with Down syndrome through selective abortion that almost none were being born. 

A study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics found that across Europe, births of children with Down syndrome are now about half what we’d expect. Again, this isn’t because of some miracle cure, but because parents are aborting around half—in some countries as many as 83%—of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb. 

Usually, those on the political Left cheer assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion “rights.” Increasingly, the post-Christian Right is leading the applause. Political researcher and commentator Richard Hanania, for instance, shared this study and praised the results: “Many of the parents go on to have a healthy child instead, or maybe two. So you get just as many lives but more health. There are actually people who think this is a bad thing.” 

In response, David Harsanyi at The Federalist correctly identified this as the same logic behind eugenics, and asked: “If eugenics is a social good, why stop at Down syndrome? Why not keep having abortions until you get the perfect kid?” 

The logic behind the Western war on the weak is simple and sinister. Thousands of human beings are being told, “You’re imperfect, so you’re better off dead, and everyone else is better off without you.” The United States isn’t far behind. According to estimates, around one-third of children with Down syndrome are aborted in this country, and more states are considering legalizing so-called “Medical Assistance in Dying,” even embracing Canada’s misleading label for it. 

Both the Left and the Right (though not equally so) are susceptible to this idea that some lives are not worth living. Christianity alone, with its idea of the imago Dei, is capable of grounding human dignity for all and reforming societies that view its weaker, older, younger, and disabled members as disposable. If so-called “quality of life” is all that matters, a systematic attempt to define and control “quality” is inevitable. In practice, such systems never become more restrictive about who is considered unworthy of life. The mass graves are eventually dug, though never at the beginning. 

Even those who manage to escape this deadly new form of eugenics will still hear the message: You’re better off dead. Writing about “The Last Children of Down Syndrome” in The Atlantic in 2020, Sarah Zhang recounted having lunch with a Danish mom whose son has Down syndrome. At one point, the boy saw his mother look up a documentary on her phone with a title translated Death to Down Syndrome.” In response, the young man “curled into the corner and refused to look at us.”  

The mom explained, “He reacts because he can read.”  

To which Zhang replied, “So he’s aware there are people who don’t want people like him to be born?”  

“Yes,” the mom said. 

For the sake of the image bearers who are listening and those who will never get the chance, Christians must proclaim a different message. If we don’t, no one will.   

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


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