The Value of a Human Life
How do you determine the value of a human life? For those of us with a Biblical worldview, of course, the answer is clear. Every human being is precious, having infinite value, on the basis of having been made in the very image of the Creator. This inherent worth of human life is further declared by the price that Jesus was willing to pay on behalf of these image bearers, giving up His own life for us.
Others, however have their own points of view. There are variations from culture to culture, but in many cases people are valued for what they contribute, or devalued based on the perception that they have nothing of value to give. In a cultural setting where many people are struggling just to get by, this tendency to value people based on their earning potential, or their capacity to contribute to the work that needs to be done, can seem like a practical necessity from a purely human perspective.
We see this played out all the time, but a couple of recent experiences highlighted for me the dramatic contrast between these opposing world-views.
What are “they” worth?
The first story happened when I received a message from the founder of another organization asking if we could evaluate a young lady who had been rescued from a begging ring. Allegedly, she had once been a healthy, typically developing child. However, she was intentionally injected with a noxious substance that caused neurological injury similar to cerebral palsy, so that the begging ring could make more money from people’s sympathy for her condition.
Now in her early 20’s, she appears to be coherent and capable of understanding clearly what is happening around her, but she is trapped in a body that makes it a challenge for her to communicate or to care for her own basic needs. Because she was not valued for who she was intrinsically, her life was tragically altered to make her more “useful” to those who exploited her. Clearly people who could do something so vile would have no problem simply discarding her once her needs outweighed her usefulness to them. This is the extreme outcome of a utilitarian view of human life.
A New Kind of Story
Contrast this situation with a child who had been in Children In Families’ foster care program for more than 8 years. This little girl was born with cerebral palsy and had been receiving love and care from a foster family who did recognize her intrinsic value, despite the reality that her physical challenges were not a benefit to them, but a cost – a sacrifice of time and energy that they were willing to invest.
Sadly, this sweet little girl had so much difficulty with swallowing that getting enough food into her was a daily challenge, and always carried the risk of her aspirating some of it into her lungs. Cambodia still does not have a healthcare system adequate to address her needs, so her health began to steadily deteriorate. Each bout of illness caused her to lose weight she couldn’t afford to lose, and to become weaker and more frail. Finally it became too much. She passed away last month.
The Definition of Bitter-Sweet
That story might seem almost as sad as the first, but there’s a key difference. That little girl experienced genuine love throughout the majority of her short life and it showed in her personality. She was unable to speak, but the brightness in her eyes and the warmth of her smile spoke volumes.
At her funeral, a testimony to the value of her precious life was broadcast to the whole community. Some who have not had the blessing of knowing and loving a child like her might be surprised that her death would be such a loss: surely life would now be easier for this family, no longer having to invest so much time and energy into providing for her needs? But the unreserved grieving of her foster mom made it evident how greatly she would be missed. Also, all of her foster parents’ adult children travelled to be at her funeral because she had been such a significant part of their family. It was readily apparent that her life mattered – in her brief time on earth she had made a positive difference in the lives of others.
And that’s why we do what we do at Children In Families. Because these little lives do matter, every single one, and they all need to know the love and affection of families who will affirm the value of who they are, and help them to develop into the people they were meant to be. Not because the value of a human life is a nice idea, but because it is a true one.