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No matter how much politicians, “progressives,” and proponents of abortion and assisted suicide foster confusion regarding the value of human life, the Bible is clear: Every human life matters to God. Who will you trust—mere humans, or the God who created humans for a divine purpose?
It’s not the sort of question you consider every day. But modern society’s inability to answer it is wreaking devastation and chaos in humanity and its institutions.
What is the value of human life?
The lack of an answer is one of the leading causes of some of the greatest moral, cultural, and political fractures we see in the streets of our cities, the classrooms of our schools, and the halls of our governments. The destructive chaos caused by our collective confusion on this point is perhaps best illustrated at the two ends of human life—conception and death. Each of these points of the universal human journey represents a battleground of intense cultural conflict. And each represents, as well, points when human life is at its most vulnerable to the changing fads and whims of society.
Many decry the devaluing of human life and worry about a growing culture of death in Western civilization. Others celebrate what they see as a growing willingness to ensure “death with dignity” and to embrace suicide as the ultimate display of human autonomy and free will. And who’s to say who’s right? Are we growing into a new, enlightened age, or are we descending to dark places with horrifying and inescapable consequences?
Choosing death is turning out to be an increasingly popular way of life in Canada. And this is even after Canadian lawmakers in 2016 restricted assisted suicides—made legal by Canada’s Supreme Court the year before—to only those with terminal illnesses, for whom natural death was “reasonably foreseeable.”
In just six years, from 2016 to 2021, the number of Canadians choosing assisted dying grew tenfold, from 1,018 to 10,064—meaning that, in 2021, individuals in Canada asked for assistance in killing themselves at a rate of more than 27 per day. And the trend itself was certainly foreseeable; just look at Belgium, which decriminalized euthanasia in 2002, more than a decade before Canada did. In 2003, the rate of those dying via euthanasia in Belgium was 235 per year. That number has grown more than ten times greater in less than 20 years: In 2021, Belgium reported 2,699 cases of euthanasia—more than seven people every day—from a population about a third the size of Canada’s.
Belgian law stipulated that those choosing death had to be legal adults, conscious and capable of making their own decisions, and suffering from a “hopeless medical condition” that involves “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering” that cannot be relieved. But, over time, Belgian authorities’ sense of what qualifies as “unbearable physical or mental suffering” has expanded in troubling ways. In 2012, two deaf, 45-year-old twin brothers, diagnosed with glaucoma, were euthanized because regulators decided their fear of going blind constituted “unbearable mental suffering.” In 2014, the regulation was extended to include minors who, with their parents’ consent, wish to die. Since then, children as young as nine years old have been euthanized.
Sure enough, Canada has followed the Belgian trend. Last year, the 2016 standard was replaced with the looser standard that the individual be experiencing “unbearable physical or mental suffering” that “cannot be relieved under conditions that you consider acceptable.”
Concerned observers have already noticed an increase in suicides among Canada’s poor or disabled who find the cost of living too high, such as the famous case of a 51-year-old woman suffering from environmental allergies, who chose suicide because she could not get assistance to relocate.
And Americans should not think that this can’t happen in the United States. Many remember the furor over Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan doctor who in the 1990s started by assisting several dozen people in committing suicide—and became emboldened enough to actually kill a patient, for which he served eight years in prison. Today, assisted suicide is illegal in Michigan, but several states—including several that also legalize expansive rights to abortion, such as California, Oregon, and Washington, along with Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont on the east coast—have legalized this practice, which many found barbaric not that long ago.
In February 2012, ethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, demonstrating that the ethical reasoning that would allow the murder of a child in its mother’s womb necessarily grants the right to kill that child after it has been born and has become a growing infant. The idea of equating abortion with infanticide infuriated many, yet Minerva and Giubilini were not advocating for any policy or position; they claimed only that the morality of the two acts stand and fall together. Whether the acts are right or wrong, they could not say.
So, how can we determine what is right? When the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was reversed earlier this year, many still claimed a “right” to elective abortion. Indeed, many forget that the Dobbs decision in June of this year did not outlaw abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court essentially punted on the crucial question, “Is abortion murder?,” and merely put most abortion-related decisions back in the hands of individual states. Now the battle is being waged at the local level—and “battle” is not a mere metaphor. Since the decision, militant pro-abortion activists have vandalized and fire-bombed churches and crisis pregnancy centers, leaving spray-painted messages such as “If abortions aren’t safe, you aren’t either.”
The chaos in our society is all the evidence we should need that “rights” change from political cycle to political cycle, depending on the fancies and ideologies of whoever has power at the moment. And no nation’s constitution lasts forever.
So, where do our “rights” exist? Many in the political sphere like to talk of “human rights” and “women’s rights” and the “right to life” and the “right to bodily autonomy.” They defend laws that protect those “rights” and fight against laws that deny them. But what is the source of these “rights”? Where can one go to prove whether they truly exist? Science can explain how rare in the universe human life might be, as astrobiologists did in their classic book Rare Earth, but it cannot tell you why human lives would truly be any more valuable than, say, the life of an octopus or an African elephant.
In fact, some very prominent biologists have declared that human life is not more valuable, stating that to claim otherwise is “speciesism.” In Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer’s collection The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, none other than evolutionary luminary Richard Dawkins describes his belief that claiming humans occupy a more special position than that of animals is a moral evil equivalent to apartheid, musing that genetically engineering a human-chimp hybrid might help disabuse humanity of any sense that we have value over animals. On Twitter, he even mused at the benefit of culturing “meat” from human cells so as to help human beings overcome their moral revulsion against cannibalism.
The One who created human life—the transcendent and almighty Creator—reveals what scoffers refuse to see, and He reveals wisdom and truth when philosophers offer only conjecture and possibility. Concerning the value of human life, God makes His position explicitly and unquestionably clear in the pages of His revealed word. From the creation of mankind, Scripture declares plainly:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26–27).
This fact—that every human being uniquely manifests the image of his or her Creator—is the very basis God gives for why murder is a sin (Genesis 9:6).
Every human being possesses a value that transcends that of any animal. Killing animals is no sin, yet killing another human being carries profound moral weight. Murder is so contrary to the character and nature of God that He immortalized its prohibition in the sixth of His Ten Commandments. While philosophers and lawyers debate the question of human value, the Creator and Designer of all life declares the nature of human value unequivocally.
The value He sees in human life is also reflected in the eternal and glorious purpose for which He created humanity. Every living human being has the opportunity to one day become a glorified member of God’s own Family, enjoying eternal life with Him in majesty and joy, inheriting all things alongside our elder brother and Savior, Jesus Christ (1 John 3:1–3; Revelation 21:7; Hebrews 2:10–11).
Human life has value because the transcendent and eternal God gives it value. And no philosopher, court, or social activist can abrogate His divine decree, design, and purpose.
God values every human life from its beginning—from its earliest days in its mother’s womb. Throughout Scripture, we see children in the womb described as human beings (e.g., Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:41). God, through the speakers whose words He inspired, personally takes credit for the formation and development of life in the womb (Job 31:15; Psalm 139:13–14).
God made plain to ancient Israel that causing the death of a child in the womb would exact a high price under the Old Covenant: “Life for life” (Exodus 21:22–23). Some have tried to twist the clear meaning of this passage, but even that twisting cannot hide the truth. Yes, children in the womb are not yet what they will be at birth—they are still growing and developing in the womb, just as they will develop for years after birth. Both in the womb and after birth, they are growing and developing human beings.
Disability, affliction, and poverty do not diminish the value of human life. God declares Himself the creator of the infirm and the disabled (Exodus 4:11) and reveals Himself as the defender of the poor (Isaiah 25:4). This means that the value of our lives extends to our final days, as well. A recurring theme of Scripture is that God wants us to honor the aged in our midst—a value reflected in His command to ancient Israel, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32).
These plain statements of God’s own desires, priorities, and values can help us clarify the questions swirling in the rancorous debates and protests of our day. They cut through the ethical equivocations of scholars and philosophers in our universities, they reveal as nonsense the countless signs and screams of so many protestors in our streets, and they condemn the laws and legislations of politicians who try to build a society outside God’s sovereignty.
Jesus warned us that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” while, in contrast, “broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13–14).
That way becomes all the more difficult to find when we lose sight of the fundamental principles that should provide a light to our path. Recognition of the true value of human life—a value determined by the Almighty God, who created and loves us and whose ownership of and sovereignty over all life is absolute—is one of those fundamental principles.
And whether we struggle with these questions as a society or wrestle more intimately with them as individuals in desperate straits, the shadows of confusion are cast aside only when we turn to light’s true source: “For You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28).
All human lives have value. Each and every one.
A world is coming soon in which the Creator of those lives will restore that understanding to humanity. Until then, we should ask God to help us see every individual around us—the mighty and the weak, the rich and the poor, the joyous and the afflicted, the aged and the unborn—in the same way that individual appears in His own eyes: as a person of value, made in His own image and created for a purpose that will one day be revealed to make all of this life’s suffering worthwhile (Romans 8:18). And the more we see others as He does, the more we will see the eternal value within them.