Reflection: The Sanctity of Life
One of the driving themes throughout the Wells and Quash chapter for this week, and for the topics of abortion, contraception, assisted conception, euthanasia, and suicide in general discussion, is that of the “sanctity of life.” I’m sure not all would agree with me, but I felt like this was the core of the different arguments. It is central to the abortion debate, where it realistically will probably never be settled because there is no agreed-upon definition of what begins “life.” It is central to the euthanasia debate and to the suicide debate because we have to ask whether people have the right to end their own life. It is central to the assisted conception and contraception debates, because it somehow intuitively feels like an improper beginning and thus seems to some as disrespectful of life.
I’m left with two general streams of thought when it comes to this phrase “the sanctity of life.” On the one hand, I do not believe that human beings have only physical life. I agree with the sentiment expressed in the text that death is not the end and thus we should not fear death. One annoyance I did encounter was when it claimed that once (many) people stopped believing in Hell, that was what encouraged suicides because death was less of a big deal. I can understand this as a secular statement where most don’t believe in any concept of Heaven either. From the perspective of Christians who have theoretically experienced the perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear should not be motivating our ethical decisions anyway. Yes, that can be seen as just one extreme form of consequentialism of the eternal variety, but I’d argue that there is a big difference between considering the options and scaring people into otherwise-unexplained positions. Regardless, for the Christian, death is not the worst thing that can happen by any means.
On the other hand, I am a pacifist. I oppose violence at all within the Christian life, believing we are called to live in a way that implements the higher non-violent kingdom of Jesus. On the contrary, I think that one of the greatest acts for a Christian is to not only avoid killing but “we ought to lay down our lives” for others (1 John 3:16). As the text points out, most Christians aren’t pro-life for all situations because they allow judicial or militaristic violence. I typically stay out of most things political, but I have noted the irony of the Religious Right of the United States which claims to be pro-life when it comes to fetuses but is also typically much more eager than average to carry out capital punishment and war. I’d be in that category that Wells and Quash recognize as consistently against violence.
The big difference between these two ideas for me is obvious: are we talking about ending the life of another or of yourself? As I thought about the debates, I generally found myself feeling somewhat comfortable about the questions regarding taking your own life with an important qualifier: when for the sake of others. Euthanasia I could understand justifying when it is able to be chosen and especially if it is chosen not just for ending their own pain but also out of considerations of family (emotional or financial toll of a long hopeless hospitalization, for example). Taking another life in any way I’d be opposed to, though. I’d also be opposed to taking your own life when it is likely to do a lot more harm to others than good, as is often the cause with the grieving caused by suicide. The in-between scenario of ending your own life with no effect, positive or negative, on others, I’d be torn on, but realistically it is purely hypothetical and unrealistic anyway.
I haven’t touched on the issues of creating life through “unnatural” means of assisted conception. I found myself generally neutral on it. I don’t see any harm done by it, and in one way I think it is no different than any other medical advance that enhances life. The only consideration against it that comes to mind for me is how many children are left searching for adoption. I tend to think that adoption is a very under-rated option, both for women to give up children (instead of abortion) and for couples seeking children. So on that subject, I concluded by saying that assisted conception is good or at least neutral, but adoption is better as it actively solves the needs of others and not just your own.