(I apologize in advance for any typos or grammar mistakes. It’s been a long day.)
As I ate breakfast this morning I talked to my mother-in-law, trying to console her as she faces yet another difficult day. She has had an elderly friend living with her for two years whose physical and mental health is rapidly declining. This friend, I’ll call her “Eleanor, ” was swindled out of her substantial life savings by a sociopathic relative. Eleanor has no children and no other family, no money and nowhere to turn. And as her condition declines and she’s able to take care of fewer and fewer of her personal needs it weighs heavily on my poor mother-in-law.
Shortly after that I looked outside to see that our family dog, a beautiful Chow/Lab mix whom we’ve had for 12 years, had not eaten for the second day in a row and her legs had become so atrophied she could no longer walk. I took her to the vet and ended up deciding to put her to sleep. I’d known it was coming for a long time but that didn’t make it any easier. She was a wonderful dog.
When I returned home I came across this article (via the excellent Mary Meets Dolly). It’s a stunning display of pompous condescension, short-sightedness and ignorance by professor David Barash, in which he advocates for creating a human/animal hybrid for the sole purpose of upsetting Christians. He explains that “in these dark days of know-nothing anti-evolutionism…a powerful dose of biological reality would be healthy indeed” to dispel “the fallacy that Homo sapiens is uniquely disconnected from the rest of life.”
He thinks that such a hybrid would “[bolster] a ‘reality-based’ as opposed to a bogus ‘faith-based’ worldview…the powerful payoff that would come from puncturing the most hurtful myth of all time, that of discontinuity between human beings and other life forms.”
The two events from my morning immediately came to mind. I had a dog who could no longer take care of herself and whose life had become miserable, so I decided to end her life. But what gave me that right? Why couldn’t the dog take me to the doctor and have me put to sleep? And what about my mother-in-law and Eleanor?
Eleanor’s life is terrible. She has no family, no home, no money. Her mind is fading. She has difficulty taking care of her basic personal needs. Her life is “not worth living” by most people’s standards, and she’s a financial burden to my husband’s mother.
Yet I think most people, even atheists, would agree that it would no be OK for my mother-in-law to just take Eleanor to the doctor to have her euthanized like you’d do with a pet. But why? Well, the Christian answer goes back to the inherent dignity of each person, that the beginning and end of each human life, including Eleanor’s, is to be determined by God. And what is the atheist answer?
I spent some time thinking about this, about how I viewed the morality of euthanasia in my pre-God days. For an atheist, it’s hard to know where to draw the line in terms of what (or whom) to kill, but the general rule would appear to be that the more intelligence a being is able to display, the more worthy they are of life. If human life is nothing special than I suppose this system is as good as anything else. It’s no biggie to kill a gnat; you want to give pause before killing a dog; and you want to avoid killing a functioning adult human. The unborn and “brain-dead” don’t have much intelligence that we can recognize or relate to, so it’s OK to lump them into the same category with the lower animals and other beings whose lives we have the right to terminate.
The consequences of this are terrifying indeed and have been discussed more clearly and thoroughly in other places. But what interested me about this issue is that I finally realized why atheists are so obsessed with intelligence. We all want to be smart but it’s really what the anti-religion crowd lives for. I believe that the only reason they waste their time debating Christians and trying to destroy others’ faith is because they think it’s a good opportunity to appear smart. And now I finally understand why. Because, without God, the only yardstick with which we’re left to measure the worthiness of life is intelligence.
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