Value of Life
Someone asked me a question a while ago that has gotten me to thinking. The question was “Do you think your life has more value than a child molester?” It seems like a simple question, but the implications of your answer are intense.
My immediate response was “no.” However, I have found that the more I have thought about this question, the more muddied the waters have become and the more difficult it is for me to give a black and white response. Before I get into the implications of that question, let me talk a bit about what my thinking was behind that answer immediate response. That and I have to point out that the real question being asked is “do all lives have equal value?” Because that is the real question, it is that question that I will speak to.
First, I think it is important to separate the value of life from the actions that a person has taken. Life is sacred and should never be taken without need. Killing an animal to eat is not a sin. The continuation of life requires things to die. Additionally, killing to protect yourself or your loved ones is also not a sin. Life is programmed to protect itself (for good reason). Because life is sacred, there is no way that one life can have more value then another.
That being said, the actions people take do have different values. People choose to do good or evil. I feel I have made better choices than the murders, rapists and molesters. I feel I have made a better contribution to society. But that does not change the inherent value of my life. It’s a set currency rate.
But with this question there comes the implications of how you would make other decisions in regards to other people. Because I think that all life is sacred, I will not commit murder or similar terrible sins. Doing so would make me no better than they are, even if that is done in the name of justice or social stability. If we condemn a murderer to death, we become the very thing that we have condemned. We are taking it upon ourselves to decide that the murderer’s life has no value. Isn’t that what the murderer did?
Then it led me to thoughts of triage. I work as a nurse and a good portion of what I do is based upon the principles of triage. The reality is that I only have a finite amount of resources and time that I can give to the people who I care for. Thus, I constantly have to evaluate the status of my patients and decide who should get what resources and who should get my time. This is done based upon ideas of need and with the goal of saving the lives of the most people as possible. So, if someone is seriously injured to the point that I cannot save their life while there is another person next to him that has a good chance of surviving, the 2nd person gets my time and resources.
The principles of triage are based upon the idea that all lives are equal. However, there is a trend in society to give more of our resources to our children. I personally do not think that this is wrong, but it is the beginning of choosing which lives have more value. In the grand scheme of things, giving our children higher value ensures the continuation of our species as a whole. It makes sense. So, I have to admit that I don’t think that all lives truly are equal then. Because if there were 2 patients with similar degrees of injury and one was an adult and one was a child; I would help the child first, simply because they are a child. Thus, I take my first step into the grey…
Then I started to think about social crisis states. Sometimes, a society’s resources are so limited that there is not enough for everyone. When that happens, how do you decide who receives those resources and who goes without? Do you simply divide things evenly so that no one has enough and hope that the little they have will sustain them until more resources become available? This is fair, but risky. If those resources come to late or never come at all, you will most likely lose all of your people.
But if you are going to give to some and not others, how is that decided? All too often, it is money that decides. Clearly, I think this is the wrong answer. But what is the right one? There is the option of looking at your people and giving to those that are most likely to survive. That would give your community the best survival rate in the immediate sense. But if you let all the farmers die, there will be no more wheat. If you let the doctors die, there will be no one to ward off illness. So, do you begin to choose who gets resources based on what functions they serve in the community?
Does the value of life come down to the amount of contribution a person makes to the continuation of a community? After all, those who demand resources, without providing any are a burden to the community and put the community at risk of failure in a time of crisis. We already discussed why children are generally viewed as exempt from this idea of “earn your keep.” But what about the old? Or the disabled? How much are they able to contribute? Are there people, other than children, that are also exempt?
This line of thinking really puts me way into the realm of grey. If the measure of life is based upon if it contributes to the continuation of life; then there is a great deal of difference in value between various individuals. But that means that the ends justify the means. And I am not in that camp. I truly believe it is better to allow the human race to fade away into history then to survive at any cost. I cannot justify killing the Earth in order to save the human race. Rather extreme, I know, but I personally think that we have to draw a line someone. And we need to be rather careful where we draw that line…
At the end of all this consideration, I come back to my original response: all lives have equal value. If we give resources and time to people based upon the principles of medical triage, I think we will do alright. Save as many people as you can, for as long as you can. Give respect to all people in equal measure.
Life is sacred.
Our bodies are of the Earth.
The waters are our blood.
The wind sings through a breath.
Our souls are fire.
We are as embedded in life and creation.
Our existence is Divine.