This January marks the forty-third anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This anniversary presents a perfect time to reflect upon what it means to have a whole life pro-life outlook, valuing those made in the image of God. We begin today, by working to undermine one of the greatest assaults on human dignity, the “quality of life” argument.
Most people have heard the term “pro-life” before, and many have heard the phrase “quality of life” regarding someone’s medical prospects, e.g. the surgery has the possibility of significantly enhancing the patient’s quality of life. But when these become ethical maxims, the vast distinction between a pro-life and a quality of life ethic becomes most pronounced.
We must first define terms. When discussing issues typically related to the end of life, quality of life means that one measures a life against some set of standards to determine whether or not that life is worth continuing. Thus a person in their prime would have a high quality of life because they can still do a great number of things and have the potential for more. On the flip side, an older person who is no longer able to do many of things that they once enjoyed or make a contribution to a larger group can be deemed to possess a low quality of life.
A pro-life ethic, contrary to popular belief, is not just anti-abortion, it is pro-life at all stages (hence whole life pro-life). This position understands life to have inherent value at all stages for the sole reason that it is human life. Regardless of the perceived quality (high or low) that any life may possess, the life is sacred and worthy of protection.
The fundamental difference between these two positions lies at the level of value — is human life inherently valuable or does its value derive from something outside itself? This fundamental question stands at the center of the entire debate between these two systems.
Simply stated, if you value any human life for any reason other than the fact that it is human life, then you value no human life. For example, if we value the life of a person because of their ability to contribute to society then we do value that person’s life, we value their contribution. Should they become unable to continue contributing to society, the value of their life has diminished according to a quality of life ethic. However, a pro-life ethic emphasizes the value of every person regardless of their contribution and believes that all worthy of the same rights and protections.
If we follow the logic of the quality of life ethic, we will find ourselves facing horrible consequences as we deem some to be unworthy of the care needed to sustain their lives. This view could even consider some medical treatments as a waste of resources because the end state of the person would be less than the full potential quality.
The devaluing of life in this way can even be driven by hate and prejudice. We need only look to Hitler’s Germany and the Third Reich’s designation of some as lebensunwertes Lebens (life unworthy of life). The only safeguard against such an atrocity is a comprehensive pro-life ethic.
The warning stares us straight in the face. If the value of life is determined by some external measure rather than its inherent value as life, then the inevitable outcome always ends in death.