Friday, March 18, 2005

Ethics and the Value of Life (part 1)

Ok, I've been meaning to add to my blog for awhile now, but have been a little 'lazy.' So here goes...

In the light of the recent turmoil over the Terri Schindler-Schiavo case in Florida, (see an excellent article here)
There seems to be one particularly troublesome theme that arises again and again from those who support Michael Schiavo's decision to have her feeding tube removed. That theme, put simply, is that she has "no quality of life." The implicit assertion in this statement, is that because she, or any person has "no quality of life," the value of their life is somehow less. My question is this: can the subjective criteria of "quality of life" EVER be used to determine the value of any person's life?

Now, certainly one might (and they have) argue that a severely brain-damaged individual can hardly enjoy a 'quality of life' that any person 'deserves, because she is no more than a 'vegetable'. It seems they might (and they have) argued that certain unborn children face a future with no 'quality of life', because their mother is a poor, single, drug-addict. Or because the child may have birth defects or any number of problems with their health, mental condition, or similar to the just-given example--an 'unfriendly environment' to be born into. Now, as healthy individuals with sound minds and bodies, who may very well fear that some similar state of being could come upon us or perhaps our children, we might look upon any person in such truly difficult situations as having such a poor quality of life, that it is truly not worth living. We see ourselves in the same circumstance, and unable to bear the thought of what we have deemed to be such an unacceptable quality of life, that we would rather die first. I don't blame anyone for fearing such an existence. It could hardly be claimed that it would be easy.

However, I am convinced that it is entirely unacceptable for us to place a value on someone's life based on their 'quality of life.' In fact, I don't believe we can ever put a value on a human's life. All human life is intrinsically valuable, and NOT on a sliding scale of value based on our determination of 'quality of life.' Take Job, for example. His quality of life rapidly changed from excellent to horrific, and yet in the face of such suffering, he said in faith, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21) Job also said, " 'Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not received evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (Job. 2:10). Now Job certainly grievously lamented his quality of life, even cursing the day of his birth, and he poured out his soul's complaint to God. But through it all, he never saw it as an option to take his own life. Rather he accepted the suffering that had befallen him, and remained faithful to God. Of course we could go on and discuss the 'quality of life' of all sorts of Biblical characters, especially the sick, leprous, and lame whom Jesus healed in the Gospels. But no where do I find the idea that WE can determine the value of our own, or other people's lives.

Ultimately, what this is to say, as a Christian, is that God and not we ourselves, gives value to life. Few things seem as black and white to me now as this: that 'quality of life' is NOT a factor we can use to determine the value of life. And God is the one who gives and takes life away. Now certainly someone will say that this still leaves major ethical decisions undecided, especially regarding end of life matters. For that discussion, see my next post......

6 comments:

Stuart Floyd said...

2 Samuel 9, Mephibosheth.

Josh Schneider said...

Stuart, thanks for pointing to that example. It is an excellent example of how believers can show compassion and mercy to a suffering or disabled person. It's interesting how Mephibosheth makes the self-effacing comment, "What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?" Yet David treated him with the best regard and humanity.

wildboar said...

Josh,

Good observations. That "quality of life" argument is the same they use to justify murdering the unborn as well. "Having a baby will ruin the mother's quality of life" or "that baby will have no quialty of life if allowed to be born" (because it is unwanted, the mother can't provide for it, etc.). When will we realize that matters of life & death need to be decided on a basis more solid than how we happen to feel about it ay ant given moment?

Keith A. said...

It also seems that most pro-choicers start with the quality of life argument and then move to whether or not the fetus is human.

Stuart Floyd said...

Quality of life arguments are opposed to Christian thought. I stated Mephibosheth for several reasons. His physical infirmities, lineage in the house of Saul, and uncleanness in the sight of God made him unworthy to sup at the table of David. We are Mephibosheth at the table of David's LORD, receiving His very Body and Blood for the remission of our sins. How can we who have been given so great a treasure refure to give others daily bread, particularly the least among us? Would Matthew 25:21-46 be appropriate?

Thanks for the post. I wonder what you think about the government intervention in this case with regards to Romans 13, etc. What is a Confessional response to a government which starved her citizens?

Stuart Floyd said...

Quality of life arguments are opposed to Christian thought. I stated Mephibosheth for several reasons. His physical infirmities, lineage in the house of Saul, and uncleanness in the sight of God made him unworthy to sup at the table of David. We are Mephibosheth at the table of David's LORD, receiving His very Body and Blood for the remission of our sins. How can we who have been given so great a treasure refure to give others daily bread, particularly the least among us? Would Matthew 25:21-46 be appropriate?

Thanks for the post. I wonder what you think about the government intervention in this case with regards to Romans 13, etc. What is a Confessional response to a government which starved her citizens?