The Deserving and Undeserving Poor vs. the Worthy and Unworthy of Life: How Both Major Political Parties Pick and Choose Who They Help and Whom They Kill

Posted on June 6, 2023 By

by Jacqueline H. Abernathy, Ph.D., M.S.S.W


Dorothy Day


Catholic social activist Dorothy Day once said, “The Gospel takes away our right, forever, to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor.” As I look at the current political landscape, I can see how this quote is far more dynamic than I once thought. The two parties that dominate our government are both guilty of discrimination in that they decide who “deserves” what. Not only do they debate who deserves food stamps or other welfare, the debate also includes who deserves to live.

Just as entire groups of human beings are labeled as “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor” in order to justify denying charity to those who “deserve” their poverty, both the American Left and Right have likewise labeled entire groups of human beings as “deserving of life” and “undeserving of life,” in order to justify killing those who “deserve” to die, either for their crimes or for their cost.

Those undeserving of life according to the Left are primarily unborn children disposed of via abortion, as well as those with terminal illnesses who wish to end their own lives rather than die from their diagnoses. The Left also champions unethical research on human beings in their earliest stages, insisting this is a noble thing because the death of these unworthy embryos could yield life-saving treatments for those they believe deserve to live.

Conversely, the Right condemns the Left’s positions on bioethics as evil, yet many of them  enthusiastically support capital punishment for those they think should die for their crimes. Likewise, many on the Right insist that certain actions justify immediate deadly force, arguing that unarmed civilians killed by police had it coming if they resisted arrest or were simply judged to look suspicious or threatening. Or they may consider non-citizens who are deported to probable death in their home countries also “deserving” to die for being in our nation illegally.

These are just some examples of how the duopoly is pro-violence: neither Democrats nor Republicans in their party platforms care about all human lives, just those lives they think have value. Unsurprisingly, those deciding who is worthy to live and who isn’t almost always deem themselves worthy. Even when this isn’t so and people support violence for themselves (like physician-assisted suicide), this worldview that some lives are less sacred than others creates second-class citizens in our midst. There can be no equality as long as some people don’t have the right to even exist.

When trying to determine how the duopoly chooses what violence to protest and what violence to promote, it appears that Democrats and Republicans are operating from two distinct criteria.

Ableism and ageism (forms of discrimination that remain broadly accepted) often determine which humans are “undeserving of life” according to the Left. On the Right, it is often the concept of innocence, narrowly defined.

Ableism is a pervasive argument for both abortion and euthanasia, the suggestion being that life isn’t deserving of existence if it involves disabilities or chronic illnesses. Citing an unborn child’s  inability to survive outside of the womb on their own before 5 months or so is simply ableism repackaged. It’s also ageism, as common arguments in favor of abortion and euthanasia include that the elderly have supposedly lived their lives, while an unborn child is so young and unaware that nothing is lost by killing them before they gain self-awareness.

The Left has cited the economic benefits of killing these populations. Letting those who want to die early do so saves valuable health resources for others, and abortion prevents children from being born into poverty. Once children are born, they become “deserving” of better lives. While they remain unborn,  anyone who is unwelcoming of her child has every right to determine that she doesn’t wish to remain pregnant, even though this means taking her child’s life. Because to the Left, mothers not only deserve to live, but deserve to live the kind of life they want, even if their child must die for this to happen. Since unborn children don’t inherently deserve to live in their opinion, especially not at the expense of someone who does, abortion is an acceptable choice for any reason or no reason at all. The lives of the unborn don’t matter, just like those who are no longer healthy and prefer (or are pressured to choose) death rather than living with a terminal illness or disability.

There are those who oppose abortion and euthanasia and reject these qualifiers for whose life is deserving, but have their own criterion: innocence. Innocent human life is deserving of protection, while those guilty of a capital crime are no longer deserving of life. Donald Trump extended the guilt criterion to the families of terrorists, suggesting they should be “taken out.” This is a war crime, but sadly, mere geographic proximity to the guilty seems to be enough to be undeserving of life as well, since children killed by drones are dismissed as “collateral damage” without much uproar.

While the Left protested police killings, the Right counter-protested with guns, ready to shoot anyone they felt was out of line. In Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two people but was heralded as a patriot for volunteering to patrol the streets. The second victim was just trying to apprehend Rittenhouse, who was fleeing on foot after his first lethal shot, but Rittenhouse is a folk hero on the Right who was merely defending himself and the public from “thugs.” To bolster this point, they were sure to bring up that the victims had criminal records—so  killing them was justified because they weren’t “innocent” enough.

Actual guilt isn’t necessary, just the killer’s perception. Ahmaud Arbery was jogging on a public street when he was stalked and gunned down by a father and son who claimed they thought he was a burglar. He was innocent, but the defenders of his murder insist that assuming he was a thief justified chasing him down with a gun and that Arbery’s choice to try to escape his assailants meant they were just exercising self-defense. Unless someone is perfectly innocent by the Right’s inconsistent standards, their lives don’t matter.

The rationale used by each side is viewed as arbitrary and hypocritical by the other. This is abundantly clear regarding abortion and the death penalty. The Right mocks the Left for protesting the execution of a serial killer while protecting the execution of millions of innocent unborn children. The Left mocks the Right for zealously protecting unborn children on the grounds that “human life is precious,” while supporting the execution of a condemned criminal who is clearly just as human.

Both major political parties condemn the other as hypocrites for supporting one form of violence while opposing the other. Neither catches the irony that both accusations are true. Both ends of the political spectrum attempt to claim the moral high ground with what lives they decide are worthy of protection, yet both are morally defunct.

The Democrat and Republican parties alike support violence against human life. Their platforms explicitly champion the right to kill entire groups of human beings they deem undeserving of protection, while strongly condemning violence towards those whose lives they value. The justifications employed by each to kill human beings are all arbitrary and self-serving.

Killing is  easier than caring, and typically less expensive. Violence is an easy way to rid ourselves of those who cost our time and money because they require care: healthcare, childcare, nursing home care, and incarceration. It’s an easy way to cleanse society of the worst of humanity by executing heinous criminals instead of paying to keep them in prison, and many say that the extra costs associated with death row are worth it if it means they won’t be seeing their tax-dollars used to feed, clothe and guard a murderer they insist needs to die for their offenses. The satisfaction of revenge comes only with executing the condemned.

Advocates of abortion claim that women benefit from violence rather than a non-violent alternative. Abortion relieves someone of parenting and the costs associated with it. Although adoption does the same by finding a home for the child and covering pregnancy-related expenses, it lacks the additional appeal of sparing a woman the physical burdens of childbearing and any social costs that come from being unable to do what she otherwise would. Abortion allows her to avoid the judgment she might receive from her family, friends, potential partners, and/or employers. Some assume that seeing a child grow up with an adoptive family would be emotionally harder on the birthmother than terminating the pregnancy.

We kill embryonic children for the not-yet-realized benefits of scientific research, or because they’re no longer wanted and it costs too much to keep them in storage. While releasing embryos for implantation by infertile couples could be free like traditional adoption is, this is commonly rejected for the same reasons: the biological parents would be uncomfortable knowing they may have a child out there in the world that they’ll never know, so it’s easier that their children die. They have no use for them anymore.

We kill the criminal for revenge and to eliminate someone we no longer want in society. We kill the unborn because we don’t want to incur the costs of letting them live. No matter who the victim is, it’s all about killing those who are more valuable to us dead than alive.

Both parties kill. They just don’t agree on who to kill.

Both Parties Politics Kills

graphic from our member group Rehumanize International

A more subtle form of determining who deserves to live is determining who deserves to eat when they can’t afford to feed themselves (and the taxpayer is footing the bill). It’ss depraved that we should insist people be deemed deserving of help before we’re willing to assist with basic human needs. The concept of innocence plays into that in many ways as well. Children and the elderly, for some, deserve help because they have a limited ability to help themselves, but an able-bodied adult deserves to go hungry if they don’t work hard enough to earn a living wage. If they are in need because of alcoholism or addiction, this is also their fault. They’re guilty and undeserving of assistance.

Segregating human beings into the “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor” serves a selfish purpose: it allows people to rationalize their unwillingness to share their good fortune by insisting that many people in need are unworthy of their help. Segregating human beings into those “deserving of life” and “undeserving of life” is the other side of the same coin: it rationalizes for survivors the choice to kill and reap the benefits they only get if certain people die. Both major parties do it. Neither one stands consistently for equality and non-violence.

It’s time to stop pretending to value human life only when it suits us. For this reason, the only moral course of action for those who revere human life is to reject both the Left and the Right and stand consistently for non-violence.


For posts on similar topics, see:

The Death Penalty and Abortion: The Conservative/Liberal Straitjacket 

Elections 2020: Three Consistent-Life Approaches

Pro-life Voting Strategy: A Problem without an Answer

My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (about the American Solidarity Party)

How Consistent-life Advocacy Would Benefit from Ranked-Choice Voting


See also our website which keeps track of Peace & Life Referendums

Get our SHORT Biweekly e-Newsletter

Email & Social Media Marketing by VerticalResponse



  1. Ms. Boomer-ang says:

    Excellent points!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *