Prenatal testing revealed to Jane and Bob that their child would have Trisomy 21, Down’s syndrome. To spare the child the life-long “problems” it would have to face, they elected to have an abortion. Charles’ father is suffering with Alzheimer’s Dementia and is living in an Assisted Living facility. The expenses have already depleted his father’s small savings. Soon, the family home will have to be sold to help with finances. Charles was hoping that there would be a small estate left for him to reap at his father’s death. He reasons that life is really not enjoyable or meaningful for his father and decided to talk with his dad’s physician about physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. Grandma can no longer do the many things she once did for her family. The rocking chair is her constant companion. Is she less valuable now as a person than in her busy, active days?
How do we measure the value of life? If the source of life is determined by the ultimate Life-giver, our Lord Jesus Christ, then life has significance. If the source of life is blind, ignorant, undirected evolutionary forces, then you arrive at a different conclusion.
Is value derived from what can contribute to society? Is it linked with giftedness? Is it linked with my appearance, my attainments, or my personal appreciation of my experiences? Certainly, the contributions we make to our families, assemblies and society in general give us a sense of value and add significance to our lives. But is life itself, inherently, made valuable or, conversely, useless by what I do or cannot do? And does the cessation of my ability to contribute in some way, to appreciate life in some way, bankrupt my life of any value?
Is the value of life determined by our subjective evaluation? In ancient Greece, a newborn that was not desirable to its parents was placed in a basket and taken up to the mountains to be devoured by the wild beasts. In more recent decades, infanticide was practiced in cultures and countries where restrictions allowed only one-child families. Males being preferred over females (for cultural reasons), you were not desirable if you were a female newborn. And what of the millions slaughtered by abortion in our own lifetimes?
A number of events and factors have brought us to this crisis in estimating the value of human life. Although the story does not begin here, the Karen Ann Quinlan saga, spanning from 1976 through her death in 1985, brought to national awareness the issue of life-sustaining treatments. This coincided with the exploding technology that has made possible the extension of life and, in some cases, the prolonged vegetative states of some. Medical technology has also made possible intrauterine diagnosis of many conditions, some of with which parents do not wish to cope. Added to this are two non-medical issues: the burgeoning cost of health care, especially as it relates to end of life care, and the increasing secularization of society.
Insight into the value of human life can be gained by noting the command issued by God after the flood: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen 9:6 KJV). Two facts are underlined that indicate the value which God places upon a human life: man was made by Him, and man was made in the image of God. While sin has deeply marred the measure in which we represent the image of God, the statement from God was made after the Fall, and suggests that the entrance of sin into the world did not totally remove that image and did not lessen the value of human life in the sight of God.
In Colossians, amidst the thrilling description of praise concerning the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us that not only is He the source of all but everything that has been made has been made for Him (Col 1:16-17). Every human being, whether limited by birth defects, intrauterine mishaps, or life changing disabilities, has been created for His ultimate glory. Some may cavil as to how they can bring glory to Him in their conditions, but it is the eternal view which Paul had in mind in Colossians 1. In that day, every creature in heaven and on earth will be ascribing praise and worship to the Lamb (Rev 5:13).
But another vital truth begs to be emphasized: our response to those who are disabled, mentally challenged and handicapped for life, the elderly, the frail and demented loved one, will reveal our concept of the value of life. That value will in turn reflect our value of the Life-giver. But further, as we display our value of life by our attitude toward others, we are reflecting something of the character of God in His unconditional and unilateral love.
Is there anything more touching than seeing a husband of 60 years sit by the side of his wife with Alzheimer’s disease, hold her hand, and tell her how much he loves her? He does all this even when she ceases to recognize him and return his love. And what of the mother who daily cares for her disabled child who has a limited ability to appreciate and return that love? Here are expressions of love which rival the purest and truest imaginable.
The value of life cannot be determined by our subjective standards of giftedness, beauty or accomplishment. The value of every human life is rooted in the source of life and in its ultimate purpose of bringing glory to the Giver.
What has been written may serve as small consolation for some who have the burden as caregivers for those with end-stage dementia. Others whose lives have been devoted to the care of a physically and mentally handicapped child may find the answers lacking in many ways. Habakkuk wrestled with similar great questions of ethics and justice. In the end, he was confronted (and comforted) by the reality that while his concept of God did not match the circumstances he faced, “the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20 KJV). This is not an indication that it is wrong to ask “Why?” But it does mean that ultimately the Lord Himself is the answer.