The march of technology in the medical arena means that life, or probably more accurately signs of life, can be preserved for quite some time. But this for me raises the question of do we value life as a series of electro-chemical impulses or do we value life for the qualities it might provide including the risk to life that we sometimes experience.
What kind of life do we value – biological or experiential?
Legal norms and values would appear firm that biological life should and must be preserved. That potentially we could be in a living death as it were kept ‘alive’ by machines and techniques external and alien. The cessation of our ability to breath and think seems no longer a barrier to being alive provided of course we live in one of those wealthy developed nations with the means to prolong life in a mechanical and medical way.
Almost if not every hospital in the land has the equipment and expertise to keep people alive in this way. Heartbeats and pulses are maintained whilst the loss of brain function goes unchecked. We do not have the technology to change the loss of brain function, and we pointedly refuse to accept that the body is dead so long as the machine does its job. Physicians fear the liability implications in deciding that flicking the switch is actually in the best interests of all concerned, not least the living dead who is in all probability way beyond an opinion on the matter. The very essence of cardio-pulmonary life becomes a grotesque excuse for the living as we knew them.
And still we are encouraged by those on the less than liberal right to think about the sanctity of life, how precious it is. Their assertions are not based on quality of life experience, suffering, the imminence of death itself or the burden on others and the wish of the person to either live on or die but more likely based on a religio-emotional response to the imminence of death, a fear no-less of death even by proxy.
So where do I stand on the matter?
Well I believe wholly in the sanctity of life, that the value of life exceeds all others, that no other value overrides the value of life except that of more life! But I am not in the life is created at conception camp, no, a life is a life when it can be viable.
I do not believe that all lives are equal on the other-hand. Those who are in fear of their life from another have the right to take the others life. Those who have practiced evil, encouraged evil and supported evil have no right to life (Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol-Pot…) and those who are functionally brain dead do not have a right to expect their bodies to be preserved in a vegetative state indefinitely.
However, it is more difficult than to give simple rules about what is a good life and what isn’t. Quality of life will be a different experience for everybody and it can be simply put that the value of life varies with the quality of life experienced. Whilst this is simple to articulate, in fact it is almost impossible to measure for another, its a personal thing. Nonetheless the concept that life may not be worth living goes hand in glove with the quality of life approach. Life can and must be divergent for the experience to be worth living.
Notwithstanding there are vast populations across the globe where simply having enough to eat is at the center of existence, we in the developed and broadly speaking sophisticated populations have choices. There are some among us who will live a simple life, no too exciting who will work hard and provide for their dependents and then there are those who want and strive for something with a bit more risk attached. I count myself in this latter group.
I am reminded of a film I watched some time ago in which a young man discovers that a life of work and reward for work was not actually what he was looking for. In it he is told of an old Arabic saying which goes along the lines of ‘throw your heart out in front of you and then run to catch it’.
Of course the trouble with this approach means that you have to run the risk, life might not work out as you’d like. If it were all to go wrong and some how I suffered a great accident during one of my adventures I’d like the machine turned on, my organs that are working harvested for the benefit of others and then the machine turned off.
I will be happy to expire one day, but not before I’ve had a life worth living!