Pro-life advocacy and policies are implacably opposed by the elites of the West. The United Nations promotes abortion access as an international norm. Leaders of the European Union continually criticize and attempt to stifle prolife laws in Poland and Hungary.1 All of the world’s most influential medical journals—the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, etc.—take the propriety of abortion as a matter of basic patient rights, with some now moving on to endorse assisted suicide.2 And, of course, virtually all mainstream media oppose sanctity-of-life advocacy as a matter of course.
Despite these wailing headwinds, the pro-life movement has exercised the freedoms available in the West internationally to contest anti-sanctity-of-life orthodoxies and policies in the public square and halls of government—battling not only abortion, but also legalization of euthanasia/assisted suicide, the moral propriety of embryonic stem cell research and other biotechnologies, threats to medical conscience, and the like. But come the “technocracy,” a time may arise in which “no advocacy zones” hinder sanctity-of-life activists from presenting contrary ideas to the general community and enacting public policies through the usual democratic processes.
The Danger of Technocracy
What do I mean by “technocracy?” In essence, the word translates into “rule by experts.” But in its currently gestating iteration, it means much more than that. The looming technocracy threatens to impose substantial control over most important aspects of life by “experts”—scientists, bioethicists, and societal “influencers”—but it also poses the threat of iron-clad enforcement of cultural orthodoxies and policies, not only in law, but also via the voluntary actions of powerful segments of the private sector.
Technocracy is a soft authoritarianism. It establishes no gulags to imprison dissenters and pronounces no tyrannous executions to punish the rebellious. Instead, a technocracy smothers democratic deliberation by removing most decision-making about essential policies from the people through their elected representatives to an expert class whose decisions are based on their education and experience and the data they think matter. In other words, rather than laws passed by representatives of the people, regulations are imposed by bureaucrats based on technocratic opinion and advice. As author John H. Evans wrote several years ago:
The first characteristic of technocracy . . . is a “deep seated animosity toward politics itself” and toward the public ability to make decisions. But it is not just that with technocracy, experts will rule. The second and more important characteristic of technocracy is that expert rule is justified by making policy decisions seem to be only about facts, which are fixed; not values which vary from group to group. This is accomplished by removing debates about values in politics and making political decisions solely about selecting the most efficacious means for forwarding taken-for-granted values.3
How did we get to the point where experts threaten to take effective control of society? Blame the Covid crisis, which unleashed a boldness in the would-be technocratic class and at the same time, engendered timidity among people who want to be safe. Globalists have seized the unique moment to increase their power on an unprecedented international scale. As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, explained, the pandemic’s “silver lining” was to demonstrate “how quickly we can make radical changes to our lifestyles.”4
To encourage even greater public subservience, the WEF launched the “Great Reset Initiative” with the goal of universally “revamping all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions” with “every industry, from oil and gas to tech, transformed.”
The Great Reset seeks to re-order economics on a worldwide scale by imposing new technocratic imperatives as a means of combatting climate change. More relevantly to the topic of this article, Dr. Anthony Fauci audaciously declared that combating future infectious disease requires the mindboggling task of “rebuilding the infrastructures of human existence” by empowering international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization to impose the “radical changes” he thinks are required.5 That means, according to Fauci and his co-author David M. Morens, that virtually everything in society will have to be transformed, “from cities to homes to workplaces, to water and sewer systems, to recreational and gatherings venues.”
The scope and breadth of their ambition is stunningly hubristic. “In such a transformation,” they write, “we will need to prioritize changes in those human behaviors that constitute risks for the emergence of infectious diseases. Chief among them are reducing crowding at home, work, and in public places as well as minimizing environmental perturbations such as deforestation, intense urbanization, and intensive animal farming.”
Think about what all of that would take! At the very least, the gargantuan task would require unprecedented and intrusive government regulations and the transferring of policy control from the national to international level—nothing less than an international technocratic and authoritarian supra-governing system— with the power to direct how we interact with each other as family, friends, and in community. Anyone who thinks that such overarching power would long be limited to fighting climate change or building defenses against future pandemics doesn’t understand human nature and the seductive nature of power.
Technocracy and the Life Issues
In a technocracy, when it comes to issues that prolifers care most about—i.e., policies such as abortion and assisted suicide that impact the sanctity of human life—bioethicists would likely be the most influential “experts” relied upon to influence public policy. This raises two questions: What is bioethics and who are bioethicists?6
Bioethics is a contraction of “biomedical ethics.” It is a discipline made up mostly of an elite group of academic moral philosophers, doctors, lawyers, theologians, and other members of the medical intelligentsia who dedicate themselves to bending public and professional discourse about medical ethics and the broader issues of health care public policy to fit their ideological desires. Unless a bioethicist has a modifier such as “Catholic” or “conservative” before the term, bioethicists are generally hostile to the traditional sanctity-of life moral values and ethical traditions that prolifers tend to embrace.
Whereas medical ethics focuses on the behavior of doctors in their professional lives vis-à-vis their patients, bioethics has a broader focus, concentrating on the relationship between medicine, health, and society. This last element allows bioethicists to presume a moral expertise of breathtaking ambition and hubris. Many view themselves, quite literally, as the forgers of “the framework for moral judgment and decision making”7 who will create “the moral principles” that determine how “we are to live and act,” drawing on a “wisdom” they perceive as “specially appropriate to the medical sciences and medical arts.”8 Indeed, some claim that “bioethics goes beyond the codes of ethics of the various professional practices concerned. It implies new thinking on changes in society, or even global equilibria”9 (my emphasis). In other words, technocracy.
The Danger Technocracy Poses to Ethical Medicine
Bioethics technocrats don’t believe in the Hippocratic Oath. As the late Dr. Sherwin Nuland sniffed in the New England Journal of Medicine writing in favor of legalizing euthanasia:
Those who t10urn to the oath in an effort to shape or legitimize their ethical viewpoints must realize that the statement has been embraced over approximately the past 200 years far more as a symbol of professional cohesion than for its content. Its pithy sentences cannot be used as all-encompassing maxims to avoid the personal responsibility inherent in the practice of medicine. Ultimately, a physician’s conduct at the bedside is a matter of individual conscience.
What a frightening thought. When I tell audiences that only about 13 percent of physicians take the Hippocratic Oath—if that—invariably they respond with loud, shocked gasps of alarm. Patients believe that doctors have certain ironclad professional obligations to patients that cannot be violated regardless of a physician’s individual beliefs. Indeed, patients rightly view the Hippocratic Oath as one of their primary defenses against the overwhelming power over our vulnerable lives that we, of necessity, place in the hands of our doctors. This obligation is summarized by the Hippocratic principle that a doctor “do no harm” to a patient—even if the patient may wish otherwise.
But that is not how most bioethicists see it. Rather, the most influential among them adhere more toward a “quality of life” utilitarian approach in which some lives count for more or are perceived as having a greater claim to legal protection than others. Here is the problem: Quality-of-life considerations are fine when they are a factor in medical decision-making—that is, does the patient think the potential harmful effects of a proposed treatment are worth risking to attain the health benefit sought. But it becomes a form of bigotry when the judged quality of a patient’s life becomes a determinate of his or her moral worth.
When applied in this manner, it is often called the “quality of life ethic.” In this view, a person needs to earn his or her value by possessing identified capabilities and characteristics. The Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer explains in Rethinking Life and Death:
We should treat human beings in accordance with their ethically relevant characteristics. Some of these are inherent in the nature of being. They include consciousness, the capacity for physical, social, and mental interaction with other beings, having conscious preferences for continued life, and having enjoyable experiences. Other relevant aspects depend on the relationship of the being to others, having relatives for example who will grieve over your death, or being so situated in a group that if you are killed, others will fear for their own lives. All of these things make a difference to the regard and respect we should have for such a being.11
The danger of Singer’s approach should be obvious to every reader. The standards Singer uses to measure human worth are his standards based on what he considers important and “relevant.” And therein lies the heart of the problem. Subjective notions of human worth, in the end, are about raw power and who gets to do the judging.
In our not-so-distant past, for example, decisions denigrating the moral worth of a subset of people, i.e., blacks, were made to justify their oppression and exploitation based on the allegedly relevant characteristics of skin color and cultural stereotypes. The quality-of-life ethic is no different—only the “relevant characteristics” have changed, not the wrongness of the approach. Quality of life, as a moral measure, strips worth and dignity from people based on health or disability, just as surely as racism does based on skin pigment, hair texture, or eye shape.12
Okay, Wesley. I understand the theoretical peril. But how might that play out in the real world if bioethicists were empowered in a technocracy to set healthcare policy? I am glad you asked. Here are just a few potential examples:
• Abortion through the Ninth Month: Mainstream bioethicists don’t only believe that abortion should be legal, they view it as a positive right to which every pregnant woman is morally entitled if that is her desire. That means erasing all limitations on abortion as to time and method.
New York has already enacted such a law. As described by Richard Doerflinger in the Catholic Standard:
It expands legal abortions from 24 weeks of pregnancy up to birth, for reasons of “health” (which in the abortion context means emotional and social “well-being,” a recipe for abortion on demand). It allows “health care practitioners” other than physicians to perform them.
It also repeals 10 provisions of New York law. Among them: A provision specifying that abortion is legal only with the woman’s consent; a law allowing a manslaughter charge against an abortionist who causes the woman’s death during an abortion; a law discouraging self-induced (which Miller calls “self-managed”) abortions; a law requiring care for a child born alive during an attempted late-term abortion; a law against providing someone else with a drug or other instrument for the purpose of “unlawfully procuring the miscarriage of a female.”13
In a technocracy, such pro-abortion policies could be expected to be imposed on an international scale.
• Legal Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia: Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide is the default setting in mainstream bioethics, with most prominent practitioners supporting what they euphemistically call “aid in dying.” There are exceptions, of course. Ironically, despite his opposition to sanctity-of-life ethics, Ezekiel Emanuel—one of the country’s most influential bioethicists and a leading adviser to President Joe Biden—opposes legalizing assisted suicide. (More on Emanuel’s views below.)
• Healthcare Rationing: Most bioethicists also support healthcare rationing. Such a policy could take several forms. For example, “futile care” in which hospital bioethics committees are empowered to force patients off wanted life-extending treatment based on quality-of-life judgmentalism.14 Futile care is more or less ad hoc rationing. Many bioethicists would prefer formal rationing, such as the “quality adjusted life year” (QALY) system in which access to a given treatment is allowed or denied based on quality-of-life formulas established by healthcare bureaucrats.15
• Destruction of Medical Conscience: Increasingly, bioethicists advocate that access to abortion or assisted suicide become an enforceable right. This is a giant step beyond what I call “mere legalization,” because it would require the government to guarantee access—which in practical terms, would mean legally coercing healthcare professionals to be complicit even if it violated their religious beliefs or moral consciences. That would mean enacting laws and ethical rules requiring doctors and other healthcare professionals to either do the deed upon request or procure another professional the original doctor knows will abort, euthanize, etc.— sometimes called an “effective referral.”
The attack on medical conscience has already commenced. Emanuel wrote in favor of such coercion in the New England Journal of Medicine.16 The Australian state of Victoria requires such participation in abortion and has sanctioned at least one doctor for refusing to participate in a sex-selection abortion.17 Coerced participation in all legal medical procedures—specifically including abortion and euthanasia—is required by medical ethical rules in Ontario, Canada, upheld by a Court of Appeals ruling.18 (A desired side effect of such policies from the technocrats’ perspective would be the forcing of pro-life doctors, nurses, and pharmacists out of their professions.)
The Danger to the Freedom of Association and Thought
Of late, I have become worried that a technocracy in the West will adopt many of the social control strategies deployed by the Chinese Communist Party to enforce conformity among the people of China. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that a technocratic authoritarianism will put dissenters in camps or engage in violent suppression of heterodox ideas. But I do believe we could witness a form of private sector-enforced social excommunication of those who don’t adhere to “acceptable” ideas or propose what will be defined as discriminatory—meaning pro-life—policies.
The rough model would be the “social credit” system being constructed in Communist China. Here’s how that pernicious tyranny is planned to operate once it goes fully online. Deploying powerful cutting-edge computer technologies such as facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and GPS, the government monitors the individual behaviors and associations of the Chinese people—rewarding those who are socially compliant and punishing those who engage in disfavored “anti-social” activities—in particular, Christians or other religious believers.19 Computer algorithms analyze the compiled data and compute the “social scores” of each Chinese citizen.
The social credit system could become the most effective means of social control ever devised by using one’s “score” to reward compliance or punish resistance. Benefits of a high social credit can include lowered rent. But the consequences of low score are draconian—including job loss, the inability to rent housing, even blackballing from riding the downtown bus. But it gets worse. The social “sins” of the parents are borne by the children. A child may be kicked out of university and stripped of his or her own ability to work, which in turn, could destroy the child’s future, for example, making him or her unable to find a spouse or participate in a community’s social groups. It is one thing to accept the consequences of living out one’s personal beliefs, but it could be quite another to see one’s children’s lives ruined as a consequence of one’s own actions.
I do not expect governments in the West to act so despotically. The Constitution would forbid it here, to be sure. But I am worried that a less stringent form of technocratic-implemented private-sector-enforced social control could be wielded by “woke” major corporations to isolate and marginalize socially conservative individuals and groups who resist reigning political orthodoxies.
Hear me out. What if the private sector began enforcing technocrat-imposed utilitarian and quality-of-life orthodoxies promulgated by a bioethical technocracy? We don’t have to wonder. It has started happening already with what is often called “cancel culture.”20
When Indiana enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect the free exercise of religion in the state, some of the world’s most powerful corporations threatened boycotts against the state until lawmakers modified the law.21 Ditto when North Carolina passed a “bathroom bill” that required people to use public restrooms consistent with their biological sex.22
More recently, we have seen the suppression of heterodox ideas on university campuses. Try accepting an invitation to speak on a secular university campus if you are a well-known pro-life advocate. Chances are that campus progressives will mount angry protests leading the administration to cancel the invitation.
Or post a YouTube video that cuts against the orthodox grain on issues of interest to prolifers. Not only will the video likely be taken down, but the tech companies will prevent a sponsoring organization from monetizing their perspectives.23
Things could get worse. We already see financial institutions pressured not to do business with disfavored industries, such as gun manufacturers or retailers.24 What if banks were similarly pressured successfully not to do business with “bigoted” groups that advocate restricting “reproductive freedoms” or that resist transgender advocacy agendas or other socially correct agendas? Not only could it happen, but it is already happening. Look what almost occurred to the Colorado baker who refused to create a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. It took a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to save him from ruin.25
This much is certain. As the international technocracy increases in power and influence—ranging from imposing mandatory Covid policies, to adopting utilitarian views on bioethical issues, to stifling communication of heterodox opinions and perspectives—prolifers could find it more challenging than ever to “make their case.”
But that doesn’t mean we should surrender democratic principles to rule by experts. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the great Soviet dissident, wrote relevantly to our current moment, “Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?” Technocracy of the type described above can only succeed when imposed upon a cowardly people. If the pro-life movement has proved anything, it is that its activists are not cowards.
Of course, this does not mean acting recklessly or lashing out in ways that are antithetical to the norms of advocacy in a free society. But in this brewing crisis, let us not shrink from living fully as free men and women despite the potential costs—and that includes resisting the imposition of an international rule by experts. Because if ever such an authoritarianism establishes its grip, it will be almost impossible to reverse.
1. Reuters, “European Parliament says Polish Government Influenced Abortion Ruling,” November 26, 2020 (European Parliament says Polish government influenced abortion ruling, yahoo.com).
2. For example, see Elizabeth Nash, “Abortion Rights in Peril—What Clinicians Need to Know,” August 8, 2019 (N Engl J Med 2019; 381:497-499) (Abortion Rights in Peril—What Clinicians Need to Know | NEJM, www.nejm.org).
3. John H. Evans, The History and Future of Bioethics, a Sociological View (2011, Oxford University Press), pp.122-123.
5. David M. Morens and Anthony S. Fauci, “Emerging Pandemic Diseases: How We Got toCovid-19,” Cell, 182, 1077-1092, September 3, 2020 (Emerging Pandemic Diseases: How We Got to Covid-19, cell. com).
6. Some of the immediately following material was adopted from Wesley J. Smith, Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine (New York, Encounter Books, 2016).
7. Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress, The Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Fourth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3.
8. Joseph Fletcher, Humanhood: Essays in Biomedical Ethics (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1979), 5.
9. “Bioethics and Its Implications Worldwide for Human Rights Protection,” United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 93rd Inter-parliamentary Conference, Madrid, March 1995.
10. Sherwin Nuland, MD., “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Practice,” N Engl J Med 2000; 342:583-584, February 24, 2000 (Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Practice | NEJM, nejm. org).
11. Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death, supra., p. 191.
12. For a chilling, first-person view of how the “quality of life ethic” endangers the most weak and vulnerable, see, Wesley J. Smith, “The Deadly Quality of Life Ethic,” First Things, July 6, 2020 (The Deadly “Quality of Life” Ethic | Wesley J. Smith | First Things, www.firstthings.com).
15. Many medical journals have already published editorials supporting QALY systems. See, for example, Peter J. Neumann and Milton C. Weinstein, “Legislating against Use of Cost-Effectiveness Information,” N Engl J Med 2010; 363:1495-1497, October 14, 2010. (Legislating against Use of Cost-Effectiveness Information | NEJM, nejm.org).
16. Ronit Y. Stahl and Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D, “Physicians not Conscripts—Conscientious Objection in Medicine,” N Engl J Med 2017; 376:1380-1385, April 6, 2017 (Physicians, Not Conscripts—Conscientious Objection in Health Care | NEJM, nejm.org).
18. Court of Appeals of Ontario, Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2019 ONCA 393 DATE: 20190515 DOCKET: C65397
21. Nichole Hensley, “Corporations, cities and celebrities drive push to boycott Indiana after governor signs controversial religious freedom bill,” New York Daily News, March 27, 2015 (Corporations, cities and celebrities drive push to boycott Indiana after governor signs controversial religious freedom bill New York Daily News, nydailynews.com).
22. Savannah Pointer, “Netflix Boycotts North Carolina Over ‘Controversial’ Bathroom Bill,” The Western Journal, January 12, 2019 (https://www.westernjournal.com/netflix-boycotts-north-carolinabathroom-bill).
24. Polly Mosendz, “Banks Refusing Gun Industry Business Is ‘Troubling,’ CFPB Chief Says,” Bloomberg, April 12, 2018 (Banks Refusing Gun Industry Business Is ‘Troubling,’ CFPB Chief Says bloomberg.com).
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. In May 2004, Smith was named one of the nation’s premier thinkers in bioengineering by the National Journal because of his work in bioethics. In 2008, the Human Life Foundation named him a Great Defender of Life.