What is the importance of a human life? Everyone has their own answer.
It’s relatively easy if you were asked what the value of your life was. You would say it was worth everything to you, right? There is nothing you would not do to save your life, is there? You would kick, and fight, and claw, and literally do everything in your power to keep someone from being able to take your life from you, would you not?
What about other people’s lives? Are they as important as yours? Well, in most instances you would probably say that they were not. By that I mean, if a madman held a gun to your head and told you to choose between keeping your life or the life of the perfect stranger standing next to you, for most of us the answer would be painful to make, but the answer would be obvious. Our self preservation instinct would kick in, and the vast majority of us would choose to save our own lives. True, there are a few of you that would feel an unbridled sense of heroism or compassion for your fellow man. Thankfully the gunman will be removing your dumbass from the breeding pool shortly.
What about a convicted murderer or a serial rapist? Are their lives worth as much as yours? Aren’t all human lives of equal value, or is the value of someone’s life lowered that performs such heinous acts. If you have read any of my pieces before then you know my stance on such an issue. I have no more difficulty in dismissing the value of such persons than I do in dismissing the value of the life contained in a pool of pond scum. In fact, I would say that the pond scum serves a useful purpose and makes the world a better place, whereas these individuals are a blight to mankind. This article is, however, not intended to discuss the merits of capital punishment, but rather has a different path to take.
So you would not be willing to ever surrender your life for a cause? Would your desire to live at all costs prevent you from doing that? That’s not always the case, is it? What person, who considered themselves a good parent, would not sacrifice their life for that of their child? Would you sacrifice your life for someone you love? The Bible tells us in John 15:13 that ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ What about the soldier who bravely lays down his life for his country? Is it for love of country, or the love of his family and friends that he does this? Clearly there are several reasons that we would surrender our lives. You would not be chastised if you freely and willing gave your life in one of these instances, no, you would be heralded as a hero, a good person.
We know that life is a precious thing, and not to be easily made forfeit, but are there other times when surrendering one’s life is an acceptable thing to do? What about surrendering your life for what some would call selfish purposes? What if you were dying? What if all the best specialists agreed that your time on this Earth was short, and despite all the drugs, your final days would be painful and torturous? Would it be okay then to forfeit your life? Our laws, which are based upon imposing some moral code, say no, that it is not okay. What if you were in a horrible accident, and despite countless hours of agonizing surgery, you are completely paralyzed? You will never move, or speak, or do anything more than simply lay in a bed until the day you die staring up at the ceiling. Would it be okay to end your life then? There are those who believe that life in prison without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment. Which is truly crueler? What if you were elderly and your body was slowly failing you? You were forced to live out your life in a hospital bed, wearing a diaper, counting on an oxygen tube, and a mountain of drugs which give you a sour stomach and loose bowels. Should you have the right to end your life then?
Medical science is a great thing and though still in its infancy, it has made great strides. We can prolong the length of one’s life almost indefinitely. Through medical science we can keep you on life support long after your life, as any normal person would define it, is over. Yes, through medical science we can maintain your life almost indefinitely, but we cannot maintain the quality of your life.
I watched my father wither away until he was just a shadow of a man. This man, once full of life and pride, was reduced to a helpless shell that depended on others to wipe his butt. Where is the dignity in that life? Drugs, oxygen, and breathing treatments kept his blackened lungs working. I remember spending one night in the hospital with him. He wore a machine which forced him to breath. It also dried him out horribly. He had to be strapped down and he begged me all night long to take it off of him and to give him something to drink. More drugs and dialysis kept his kidneys working. A pacemaker kept his heart going. Insulin kept his blood sugar in check, and constant monitoring kept him from going into a diabetic coma. Near the end he could not drink liquids like you or I. His drinks had to be thickened up to the consistency of a sandy stream bed to keep him from swallowing liquid into his lungs because his throat muscles were deteriorated away. He would smile and nod his head, and at times, I think he knew who I was. Boy, now that’s living!
I was ready for my dad’s life to end long before the Lord took him. This may sound horrible, but he was no longer the man who raised me. I could see him die a little inside each time his baby boy had to clean his butt and put on a new diaper on him. What man wants to experience such an existence? Had it not been for my mother’s unending determination to nurse him back to health, I am confident that my dad would have left us long before. Her persistence and unceasing efforts nearly took her from us before him. Had she continued her dogged efforts much longer we surely would have lost them both. If she had preceded my dad in death, I believe I would have provided a different type of assistance to my dad. I would have explained to him the situation, asked him what he wanted, and when he said a big cold glass of iced tea, as I know he would, I would have got it for him.
My mom is now looking down the barrel of a similar gun. She has pulmonary fibrosis, so her lungs are filled with scar tissue. A hiatal hernia puts so much pressure on her lungs that she cannot take a deep breath. Her throat muscles have also weakened to the extent that she has to drink thickened liquids. She will spend the rest of her days on oxygen and wear a forced air breathing machine each night. Each day she gags down a mountain of pills through her throat that is closing up. The other day I stood at the foot of her bed in the skilled nursing center and she started coughing. She suddenly got real quiet and still, and then began to spasm. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped to the side. I panicked thinking I had lost her, but after a little attention her eyes opened and she kept on. I watched her struggle today to do therapy. She is so weak that she can only walk a few feet before becoming completely exhausted.
I have absolutely no desire to lose my mother. She is without question the best one I have ever had. However in my prayers each day, I ask God to let her recover, and if he has other plans for her, then I ask to let her simply go to sleep one day, and never wake up. I do not want my mother’s final days to be a compilation of her gasping and struggling for breath, unable to eat or drink, weak, and so incoherent that she has no concept of the world or those around her.
Why is suicide illegal? I realize my segue to this topic was not a smooth one, but it does not dismiss the question. Why must a person continue their life past the point that they no longer wish to bear it? Why does the government or society have the right to bar me from an action which does not bring direct harm to others? Would I be harmed if my mom were to opt to end her life? In a way, yes, but in another way, this is not the existence I want for her. She misses my dad, and longs for him daily. Why does she not have the right, if she so chose, to go be with him?
Life is God’s greatest gift, some will say. God’s greatest gift must not be squandered or thrown away, for that is a sin against God, these people will tell you. Let’s examine this concept for a moment. Let’s say you give me a pair of gloves, and I throw them in the trash, right in front of you. You would be offended would you not, but why? You gave me a gift. I accepted it and said ‘Thank You’. The transaction has now ended. The purpose of the gift was that you wanted to express your feelings for me by giving me a present – you did this. I said thanks, and showed my gratitude, what difference does it make what I do with the gift now? If you gave me a pair of gloves, and then one day found them in my closet, still with the little cardboard binder holding them together, indicating that I had never used your gift, would you be somehow less offended? Now let’s say one day, and for a reason I cannot explain, you are rummaging through my trash, and find the gloves. They are completely worn out. There are holes in the fingers, and duct tape wrapped around the palm. It is obvious that I have made the most out of your gift. Would you be offended that I now threw them away? Of course not! You would be pleased that I was able to make such good use out of your gift. Why then, would God be offended if I, in a sickened and dying state, were to want to surrender my life back to him when I had so thoroughly worn out the gift he gave me?
Well you no doubt have your own ideas on the quality and value of life. We are each entitled to our own opinion, no matter how incorrect it may be. As for me, I’ve always joking said that I wanted to die when I was ninety-seven years old, shot by the jealous husband of a twenty-something year old, completely sexually satisfied bride, as I climbed out her bedroom window. Those who know me, know that more than likely I will die doing something stupid, but that’s okay. I would rather die enjoying my life, than live my life begging to die.