Ripples of a Short Life
David BurchettDavid Burchett's weblog
- 2006 Mar 16
A little background is in order. Brett had a big sister that he never knew. Katie was born with a terminal birth defect and died when Brett was just a baby. Yet he is aware of the amazing impact of Katie's short life. She would have been twenty-one this month. Her story is detailed in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and you can read the first part of story online. Here is Brett's note.
P.S. Katie's life affected a lot of people tonight when I shared her story after a guy was struggling with seeing God's purpose for everything. It also made me realize how valuable her life has been in sharing God's word. Think about the speeches you have given about her and the amount of people that have read about her in your books. God works in amazing ways.
As I reflected on Brett's note I remembered an article I had written about a man who has a very different view of lives like Katie's. In December the Dallas Morning News ran an op-ed feature called ‘10 ideas on the way out’. Here are excerpts from that post.
The subtitle of '10 ideas on the way out' confidently proclaimed that by 2040 many of the things we take for granted will no longer exist. I quickly scanned the list to see if major league baseball’s designated hitter would be an idea that would not endure. Sadly, that did not make the list. The list was a mixture of intriquing and frightening. According to these experts monogamy will be a quaint ideal from a less enlightened era and it will no longer be the norm. I am glad I will be dead before my wife finds that out. Another predicts the demise of the British Monarchy. But the one that rocked my world was seeing the number one item on the list was an article on the sanctity of life penned by a man named Peter Singer. I believe he is one of the most dangerous people on the planet. That seems like a pretty bold statement because he is a rather average looking academician at Princeton University. He is ironically the Chairman of the Ethics Department at Princeton and his ideas are widely accepted by those with bigger brains than you and me.
Let me quote some of Mr. Singer’s predictions for the future about the sanctity of life. My thoughts are italicized.
“During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments. By 2040, (here comes a good part) it may be may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct.”
Since there is a good chance I will have checked out by 2040 I am considering forming a secret organization to maintain the “rump” of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists. Let me know if you would like to be a charter member of the “Rumps of the Know-Nothings”. For Monty Python fans we will be the knights who say no, not ni. But in all seriousness, it is dismaying for Mr.Singer to dismiss all who believe in the sanctity of life as know nothings. I believe that Peter Singer knows a lot. I just believe he is wrong. Could he not extend at least that much courtesy to me and the other rumps? Continuing with Mr. Singer’s piece…
“When the traditional ethic of the sanctity of human life is proved indefensible at both the beginning and end of life, a new ethic will replace it. It will recognize that the concept of a person is distinct from that of a member of the species Homo sapiens, and that it is personhood, not species membership, that is most significant in determining when it is wrong to end a life.”
Who determines “personhood”? If it is always in the hands of the family you can get very different views. If it is in the hands of the government I shudder. Does a doctor determine “personhood”? I have had a very personal stake in this debate. Surprisingly, so does Peter Singer. More on that in a moment. Singer makes an interesting concession that may be the future argument about the beginning of life.
“We will understand that even if the life of a human organism (note the terminology) begins at conception, the life of a person – that is, at minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness – does not begin so early.”
My cynical side reacts that if we took out everyone without a level of self-awareness we would thin the herd significantly. But the tacit admission (sort of) that there is no other logical point except conception for the beginning of life is interesting. The argument now becomes the elusive point at which the “organism” achieves “personhood”. And that is a frightening judgement to make apart from some standard.
Now for the personal side of the argument. Twenty years ago a daughter was born into our family. Katie was born with a birth defect that caused an absence of brain development. By Mr.Singer’s standards she was not a “person” because she could not achieve a level of self-awareness. According to Mr.Singer Katie should have been aborted or euthanized after birth (yes, he has advocated that for some) because she had no potential for personhood. But the fourteen month life of Katie was an amazing blessing for our family. In retrospect I shudder at the prospect of aborting her life. Yet it might have seemed the right thing to do in the emotion of the moment. Katie's inspiring story is told in full in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. But my reaction to Katie’s life is just the emotional response of a religious rump…right? Let’s see what happens when Mr.Singer had to apply his theories to real life.
Peter Singer’s mother is suffering from Alzeiheimers. By his own definition she no longer has the measure of self-awareness that defines personhood. So how has Mr.Singer responded? Like a person who deep in his being believes in the dignity of life. He has poured thousands of dollars into her care when there can be no return for the greater good of society. That money would be far better spent on those who have societal value and not just, as Mr. Singer described, possessing species membership. This is money wasted in Singer’s ultilitarian worldview.
Peter Singer addressed the dilemma. “I think this has made me see how the issues of someone with these kinds of problems are really very difficult. Perhaps it is more difficult than I thought before, because it’s different when it’s your mother.” Now it is personal and Singer’s ideas don’t work. Peter Singer’s mother has value and deserves to be cared for until her last natural breath. Our daughter had value and deserved the same. That is my worldview. I can live with mine.