The autonomy of the human person is a remarkable concept. By nature of my humanity – and yours – my value as a being, as a person, is actually intrinsic to my existence. That’s wild! And it’s a tough sell in a culture which puts performance before personhood, and requires proof of productivity before full rights are granted. How many times have you heard the phrase, “meaningful contribution to society,” uttered in reference to the worthiness – or unworthiness – of some pitiful specimen of human flesh?
It’s a fairly common piece of rhetoric, typically engaged in order to justify the termination of a terminal nuisance such as an elderly victim of dementia, a coma patient who has entered a “persistent vegetative state,” or a deficient “product of conception” who genetic testing has indicated, will most likely be born “defective – if at all.
Why waste resources, then, on someone who lacks the fundamental ability to ever make a “meaningful contribution to society?” That’s the argument used by pro-abortion legislators. That’s the logic employed by Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael, in deciding to deny her food or water. And that’s the rhetoric behind an OB industry which pushes routine panel screenings and amniocentesis testing for pregnant women, lest they discover too late the deficiencies of their own offspring.
I wonder what arrogance has led us to believe that we – that you, or I, or anyone else walking the streets or wandering Capital Hill – are actually qualified to make an executive decision on the merits of one life versus another. If we are all created equal – which even the most withered anti-theist will claim to believe – then what could possibly entitle one person to assign value to another?
Age? That’s a common rationale for the pro-abort crowd. Mom’s lived experience trumps baby’s inconvenient existence, hands down. Fair enough. Except the logic doesn’t carry. Because if baby does survive to the ripe old age of 47, then eventually she’ll be calling the shots on mom’s hospice care… despite mom’s obvious chronological advantage. At some point, the tables turn and suddenly the “younger, fitter, stronger” argument trumps “but I was here first.”
Maybe the value of a human life hinges on accomplishment, and we can somehow work ourselves into worthiness. If that’s the case, then, I can think of a few prominent national leaders I would personally nominate for a discontinuation of existence… but I don’t think that’s quite it, either.
Maybe it’s experience. Maybe a cumulative body of accomplishments is what it takes to merit one’s next breath. Then again… see above.
The truth is, each and every human being who has ever existed or who will ever exist has worth. Inestimable, infinite worth. More crucial to the planet than the most precious of natural resources, more critical to history than the greatest of social movements, and more enduring than the universe itself.
The moment we reduce this reality from an absolute to an abstraction is the moment we cease to be fully human, ceding our intellects and our wills to the trends of our time. In so doing, we are trading our humanity for a passing fad that has us each playing the part of little gods, choosing life or death for our neighbors, often under the pretext that we “know what’s best:”
“I know best,” says the family member persuading a teen mother to end her pregnancy.
“Science knows best,” intones the obstetrician grimly relaying test results to a terrified expectant couple.
“Our culture knows best,” insists a guidance counselor, pressing a Planned Parenthood brochure into the hands of a shaking 15 year old sophomore.
“The doctors know best,” agree all three siblings, signing over the release forms to deny dad hydration and nutrition for the rest of his hospice stay.
“The Reich knows best,” nodded Nazi soldiers to one another, herding passengers onto boxcars.
Different stories, same tired line. All in defense of a lie as old as the human race: you will become like gods.
But we’re not gods. We’re people. Broken, defeated men and women pushing our own concept of “right” onto those who cannot speak for themselves. Those whose silence leaves them vulnerable to our violence. Because the honest to God truth is this: every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.
Take your pick. Because you cannot have it both ways.