Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Expendable Lives of the “Morally Irrelevant”

From where do we derive our value, significance and self-esteem? A recent article, although it fails to establish such a standard, is nevertheless dogmatic that, for some, there is no value:

  • Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” [MI] and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued…The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life.”
If babies are “morally irrelevant,” who then is relevant? Is it adults? Productive citizens? Likeable people? People who look and think as we do? Perhaps everyone is an expendable commodity, socially valued according to their temporary usefulness? And babies are just not that useful!

Who then decides if another individual is “morally irrelevant?” The ruling class? The party in power? The majority? Do we want to live in a society where our ultimate value is determined by others who might deem us “morally irrelevant?”

By virtue of what criteria can they say that babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life?” Is it age? Why not also the unemployed, the infirm, the aged or the mentally ill? Some, like the renowned ethicist Peter Singer, assign value according to intelligence. Perhaps then we should all be accorded value and influence according to an IQ test. If you score 180, then you should receive a greater vote than those who score lesser, and if you score under 100, then you are socially expendable.

If babies can be put to death, why not others? Why not me? For how long can I feel safe in such a society? I read that the elderly fear going to the hospital in Holland, no longer knowing if their doctor is their advocate or their executioner.

These are very real questions. If babies are subject to murder, where does it stop? If there is nothing holy about their lives, by what arrogance can I convince myself that I have adequate, socially-assigned value – enough to insure that I will be reckoned “morally relevant” by my morally relativistic society?

When value is equated with convenience and profit, then anyone is fair-game – the unpopular, the vulnerable, and the weak. I don’t think that we realize what a great portal to hell we’ve cracked open when we replaced the Biblical concept of “sanctity of life” (Genesis 1:26-27) with a pragmatic assessment of the value of life. This has unhinged us from the Christian values that had once made the West great.

We’ve replaced the dignity of each human life with a cold-blooded, materialistic determination of who is relevant and who isn’t – a virtual survival-of-the-fittest, of-the- popular, and of any life that doesn’t look like our own. We are on a slippery slope. For example, euthanasia and physician-assisted-suicide (PAS) used to only apply to the terminally ill. However, now membership to the “morally irrelevant” has been liberalized:

  • The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) has released new guidelines for interpreting the 2002 Euthanasia Act that now includes “mental and psychosocial ailments” such as “loss of function, loneliness and loss of autonomy” as acceptable criteria for euthanasia. The guidelines also allow doctors to connect a patient’s lack of “social skills, financial resources and a social network” to “unbearable and lasting suffering,” opening the door to legal assisted death based on “psychosocial” factors, not terminal illness.
When pragmatism replaces principle – the transcendent measure of evaluation – only “choice” remains, whether it’s the individual’s choice or the State’s choice. When convenience and comfort are the measures, the value of all humanity is degraded and the lives of those at the margins are endangered. It is therefore not surprising that the margins are now being pumped full with those who lack “social skills, financial resources and a social network.”

The Oxford study deemed that “newborn babies” are “morally irrelevant.” But if newborns are MI, why not also two-years-olds? If two-year-olds, why not also four-year-olds or ten-year-olds? What principle will stop this steady slide?

If a society is measured by its care for the marginalized and defenseless, then we are going in the wrong direction. We were aghast at Hitler’s social experiment to build a new society by ridding itself of the undesirables. How is it that we no longer blink an eye?

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