The slippery slope appears to be getting much steeper.
I have spent a lot of time in this space lately describing the problems with a utilitarian (also called functionalist) approach to human life, where human beings are valued only to the extent that they are useful, functional, and productive, rather than as posessing inherent dignity as those made in the divine image.
I detailed how this mindset influences embryonic stem cell research in a previous post. It is now considered OK for human embryos (life!) to be created and used wholly for the purpose of research, raising the ominous specter of embryo farms. Human life becomes a commodity like any other product in the market. Shorty thereafter we learned of the Groningen Protocol – the procedures used in a major Amsterdam hospital to euthanize terminally ill babies. I wrote on that also.
Now yesterday’s Times of London quotes Baroness Warnock, whom it labels Britain’s “leading medical ethics expert” (I wouldn’t know), as pushing this envelope further. She suggests that elderly people who can no longer care for themselves should voluntarily submit to euthanasia so that they will not be a financial drain on their families. At least the Baroness, aged 80 incidentally, is consistent when she says, “If I went into a nursing home it would be a terrible waste of money that my family could use far better.”
In keeping with her theme, she also suggests that parents of premature infants should be held liable for charges (normally government pays for healthcare in Britain) incurred by using life-support machines if doctors “write off their chances of leading a healthy life.” She says, “Otherwise it will be an awful drain on public resources.”
Her ideas are disturbing on multiple levels.
The first question to ponder is the question of who is to determine what it means to live a “healthy” life. Presumably Down’s Syndrome kids are out, as are those with other birth defects. What if a child is born with a cleft palate? There are a thousand “what if’s” we could ask as we walk this road to infanticide. And they are all pretty ominous.
The other issue here, both in dealing with Warnock’s ideas regarding premature babies and frail senior citizens, is the commoditization of human life – the idea that human life, far from being inherently valuable, is becoming another commodity in our market-driven culture. Lives that are a drain on resources, whether of one’s family or on society in general, ought to be extinguished. You are only valued to the extent you affect the bottom line.
I ask again, is it too difficult to imagine a time in the not-to-distant future when insurance companies and HMOs will begin thinking like Barroness Warnock? Not known for sensitivity, compassion, or high morality, it’s not impossible for me to see these companies instituting such draconian measures.
The biblical picture is far different. Human beings posess special meaning and value, being uniquely made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). As such human life is to be revered and respected for this very reason (cf. Gen. 9:6). Each human life matters to God…. but not necessarily to Barroness Warnock and those who accept her worldview.