Ethics – We Are Not Called to Determine a Person’s Worth

Note: This posting uses the Biblical Essay titled, The Value and Dignity of Human Life, by Chee-Chiew Lee, as she has made a reasonable attempt at summarizing what the Bible says about the worth of persons.[1]

The idea of a meaningful or worthwhile life has become an important consideration in medical decisions. When a patient has a severe head injury or stroke, it is not uncommon to hear, as part of decision making, “he/she will never return to a meaningful life.”  Even if such decision making is legitimate, it is fraught with difficulty because people often think differently about what is meaningful.  It can be very distressing for families faced with doctors suggesting, since their loved one’s life will never be meaningful, that treatment should be stopped.  It can  be tempting  to question the meaning or worth of a person suffering a severe disability, even to the point of considering euthanasia (assisted death).

The good news is that we are not called to determine if a person’s life is worthwhile or meaningful. The Bible is clear and agrees with writer Chee-Chiew Lee who writes,

The value of human life is intrinsic, for it derives from God, who made human beings in his own image (Gen. 1:26–27).

The significance of each person’s value can be seen in the Biblical prohibition against the taking of a human’s life. Lee writes,

the person who takes the life of another will be held accountable and punishable by God through his human representatives (Gen. 9:5–6; Rom. 13:1–7). The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), and its explanation in Exodus 21:12–32 clearly teaches this. The Hebrew word for “murder” (ratsakh) in Exodus 20:13 not only refers to intentional killing (e.g., Jer. 7:9; compare Ex. 21:12, 14, 20) but also to human death caused by carelessness or negligence (e.g., Josh. 20:3–6; compare Ex. 21:13).

Of human life, Lee writes,

Life is a gift from God. Adam became a living being by the breath of God (Gen. 2:7), and if God were to withdraw his breath from humans, they would perish (Job 34:14–15). Since life belongs to God, humans do not have absolute autonomy over their own lives but are stewards of the life given to them by God. The lives of all humans, both their own and others’, are to be cherished and guarded.

This does not mean there is no place to make decisions about treatments, even about stopping treatments.  It means the worth or meaning of life should not be the primary determinant in making treatment decisions. Those who consider a person’s life to be meaningless or worthless, or to have less meaning or worth than others, do not understand life from the perspective of the creator of life.

According to the Bible, all things, which includes all people, are created by the Lord God and for Him. (Colossians 1:16-17)  Every thing the Lord does is good. (Psalm 119:68, 145:17)  This means every moment of life, no matter how distressing it might be to us, has a good purpose.  Every person who is born,  or becomes, disabled, no matter to what extent, has a good purpose.  “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)   It is the Lord God’s desire that all come to experience his goodness for He does not desire that any should perish (1 Peter 3:9).  We see the significance of this it the fact that he takes care of even the sparrows and in God’s eyes we are of greater value then these. (Luke 12:4-7).

Consider David’s thoughts, recorded in Psalm 139,

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; (Psalm 139:14-18)

David understood that all of his days were in the Lord’s hand and had a good purpose.  If you are tempted to think this only applies to the likes of King David, I encourage you to read the Lord’s response to Job recorded in Job chapter 38 through 41.  Far beyond our ability to understand, all the workings of all God has made have a purpose.  What we are tempted to view as worthless, especially each human life from conception onward, has worth beyond are understanding.

Lee concludes,

The value and dignity of human life is derived from God the Creator and is rooted in the fact that all humans have been created in God’s image. As stewards of the life God has given, we are to uphold its sanctity from conception to the grave. Ending someone’s life in order to relieve suffering or inconvenience is not only unjustifiable; it violates God’s clearly defined moral order. Suffering should bring us not to end life prematurely but to entrust ourselves more completely to our faithful God no matter what befalls us or those whom we love (1 Pet. 4:19). We can find strength and ultimate hope in Christ, who has conquered death and can sympathize with human suffering (Heb. 2:14–18; 4:15). Based on God’s love, Christians are to extend self-giving compassion and care to those who are suffering or vulnerable—unborn or born, young or old.

Rather than figure out whether a person’s life is worth the effort, we are called to care for all with undivided thankfulness, compassion and love, until God’s time for them on earth is completed.

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[1] Link to article by Chee-Chiew Lee titled, The Value and Dignity of Human Life – I encourage you to read this short essay. Lee considers what the Bible says about the intrinsic value of human life in the womb, when nearing the end of life, and in suffering and disability.

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