Our culture is at a crossroad about the value of human life, argues author and human rights activist Wesley J. Smith in an interview with Kevin Allen on the “Illumined Heart” podcast (Ancient Faith Radio). Do we value human life simply because it is human, or do we value it based on notions and definitions of “personhood” including such characteristics as sentience, awareness, stages of biological development and others factors? The former allows for a universal definition of human rights. The latter reduces human beings to “subjects” that are bound to shifting and often capricious standards that determine who lives and who dies.
It’s a heated battle (one that even spills over into the comments of this blog on occasion). Often, the the level of vituperation in the attacks against religious defenders of human life arise because the utilitarians understand their view allows for no coherent defense of any human rights, Smith says. “They try to avoid thy weight of their own ideas by diverting [the argument] into, ‘Well, it’s just a matter of religion.'” Yet, “They are the ones obsessed with religion…”
Nevertheless, human rights can be defended on more than religious grounds, and in some cases should be approached, apart from the Church, as more than a religious argument, Smith says. He came to, and argues for, his defense of human exceptionalism on an ethic of universal human rights, drawing in large part from the cultural legacy of Judeo/Christianity. Further, the hedonism afflicting culture reaches farther than questions about the start and end of life. Wesley points to the WalMart worker trampled to death by shoppers trying to score a cheap product a while back.
I’ve mentioned before, and it is worth repeating, that anyone interested in how the philosophical dimensions of this great conflict play out in real life must read Smith’s books. It will open your eyes to the fact that the debate has concrete ramifications in how policy is made and implemented in our hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and any other place where decisions about the value of human life have a direct application. Start with Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder. Read my review of the book (2003).
Read Wesley J. Smith’s Second Hand Smoke blog.