Sunday, October 2, 2011

Quantifying Human Value

Here's a hypothetical scenario.  There are twenty people lined up along a brick wall.  A commander with a pistol stands next to you and asks you to pick out 10 people from the line up to be shot.  The ages of these people vary from infancy to old age.  Their races, gender, and religion vary.  Some of these people were construction workers, teachers, convicts, military leaders, etc.  You know a few of these people.  Some because they are family; some were your neighbors.  The rest you don't know.  How do you decide which of the ten should the commander shoot?

I ask this question because Hubby and I got into a rather heated debate about the subject.  Because ultimately it boils down to this, how do you quantify human life?  Are those who are young worth more than those who are old?  Is one race more worthy of life than another?  Can a person's gender or religion make a difference in your decision?  Does their occupation factor into the value of their life?  What would you do for a person who is your family (say your own child) versus some stranger child?  Do these things make a difference and should they?

I ask these questions because it's the difference between the Canadian justice system and the American justice system.  In Canada, the years of imprisonment for murder is quantified by the years of life.  In other words, an infant who is murdered shortly after birth carries a lighter sentence than someone who is murdered at the age of 30.  In the United States, the age of the person doesn't matter.  However, the value of the person's life is based loosely on their worth to someone else.  In other words, people who murder the terminally ill receive lighter sentences than those who murder their healthy co-worker.  It's a matter of quantifying human life.

Can we as pro-lifers quantify human life?  Can we judge? Are we allowed to quantify human life and dignity or is all human life worthy of dignity?  Yes, things like Euthanasia, infanticide, murder, and abortion all aren't debatable.  But what about capital punishment and war?  Are we allowed a litmus test for the deaths of those people?

You all know my thoughts on this subject.  So I pose the idea to get you thinking about yours.  The reason is because I'm afraid that not having some sort of moral objectivity can lead a person down a slippery slope.  It's self-evident.  Look at the number of abortions.  If you ask a person who rides on the fence to seriously contemplate what their lack of action does, they will realize that they have made a choice to quantify human value.  The same can be said of the Holocaust.  There were thousands of people who knew what was happening, but chose to do nothing, look the other way, out of fear and apathy.  "They are Jews.  I'm a Catholic.  What do I care?  If I try, they will kill me and my family.  I don't know any of these people."  It's a bunch of excuses that ends with the deaths of millions. 

Edmunde Burke said: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

So regardless of what the American or Canadian justice system does to quantify the value of human life.  What would you do?  How would you choose the ten?


  1. I was really hoping someone wiser would comment on this. Well, my question is, doesn't the person have the option to not choose? Yes, the likely effect would be for all the people and you to be shot but it would not be against your conscience since your choice is that no one would die. How about choosing yourself, like St Max Kolbe?

  2. You're totally right about that. My husband read it later and mentioned that I should have said something like if you don't choose, then the commander would shot all of them and you too. I meant to add that later, but totally forgot. Thanks for the reminder!

    I hope that you got the point of the article (It was right to life weekend.) Sometimes it's hard to judge Canadian's judgement about the woman who strangled her infant and threw it into her neighbor's yard. America has it's own quantifiers when it comes to sentencing. Americans can't understand why Canadians view the age as being the factor when Canadians have a hard time understanding our death penalty system. It's a closer look at two different (yet closely related) societies.

  3. I've never fully understood the how letting everyone die means that it's not on your conscience. To me, refusing to choose is in fact making a choice that everyone should die, which is worse than just choosing ten. In the case of St Max Kolbe, that's a bit of a different situation since he was taking the place of someone else.
    If refusing to chose ten to die resulted in your death, but no one else's, then (to me anyway) choosing yourself is the way to go. But that's not the situation presented above.

  4. I thought maybe not choosing would fall under the law of double effect, you are choosing not to kill anyone but the unintended side effect is everyone dies. I thought maybe the issue in the Canadian case was that someone who had just given birth had diminished capacity(temporary insanity of some sort?) to be held responsible not that the victim was less valuable but I haven't actually read the verdict just the news reports. I have been thoroughly disgusted with the American system recently as my teen daughter got in an accident. Totally her fault due to being an inexperienced driver,(reached for her ipod, swerved, over-corrected, hit a parked tow truck). The issue is that in my state the ticket for reckless driving, which is issued in all single car accidents, is a criminal misdemeanor of the same level of drunk driving. The thing that irks me is that if I had about $2000, I could pay a lawyer to get it reduced and never have to appear in court or pay more and a couple hundred dollar fine. I don't have the money but we make to much for a public defender. SO my daughter and I must go to court undefended and see what the judge decides to do. It can carry 1 year in jail and $2500 fine. The accident happened in August and the court date where anything might be decided is not until November(we had one hearing in Sept to determine whether she would get a lawyer). So, if she were a serious criminal, not only would she likely have a lawyer but she would be free to continue her life of crime for 4 month before any limits were put on her. This is Justice?

  5. Sorry about your daughter's situation. Every state has it's outlandish rules. In Tennessee that had some sort of law that said you can't breastfeed in public children past the age of 1. There was no reason for it to say that. The law makers had no idea why it had the clause to begin with so a few moms talked to their law makers and they eradicated that bit of wording. I realize that in this case it's a bit late to change the law, but if you have a good judge, he/she may change things up a bit.

    The legal system works so slow. And it's totally wacky.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!