What's the worth of a human life? If it's my life, can I do what I want with it? Do I have the right to end it when I feel like it?
Listen to John Wyatt, emeritus professor of ethics and perinatology at University College, London, writing in the current issue of Catalyst, published by CARE:
Many insist that we are like chimpanzees with extra brain, just one more species on the planet. Others believe we are basically machines, with brains like computers made of flesh instead of silicon and wires.
Another common attitude is narcissism or the elevation of the self, which is a form of idolatry. 'Everything that improves my life is great. Anything that diminishes it is negative. I have the right to choose how to live my life and also when it should end.' This mindset sees suffering as something to avoid, dismissing the idea that it could ever be of positive value. We see young people caught up in addictions that deaden the pain in and around them.
In secular thinking, human beings can be 'categorised' according to their value with high achievers and celebrities at the top all the way down to those who are totally unproductive and burdensome. Just think where this leads. 'Provided I am independent and able to choose, life is worth living but once I become frail, vulnerable, limited, I become less valuable - putting me out of my misery might be doing me a favour.'
Genesis 1 is clear that every human life is made in God's image. Psalm 139 describes us as 'knit together in our mother's womb. . . fearfully and wonderfully made.' Ephesians 2:10 says 'we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.' Jesus became human like us, choosing to be vulnerable, experiencing human fragility.
God chooses for us to live in a web of dependency on Him and others. We did not choose the circumstances of our birth and arrived completely helpless. As we grow, others may rely on us, and later we might need looking after again. In love, God calls us into existence by name; His plan for us reaches beyond the grave. For someone with dementia, this is crucial. They may forget who they are, but God knows, and remembers, holding their identity safe.
Christians should be particularly concerned about protecting the most vulnerable! The brain-damaged, the disabled baby, someone severely harmed by life's circumstances, a frail older person - are they not made in God's image - all equal, special beings?. . .
Palliative care is about living, helping to maximise someone's final days positively. I know of many who have 'died well' - finding time to restore relationships, say goodbye and let go as they focused on meeting God, many receiving Christ as saviour. Vulnerably ill people sometimes express suicidal thoughts but skilled and compassionate caring support transforms the situation. Dying can, by God's grace, be a great adventure and an opportunity, right up to the end, for a person to find purpose in their life.