The Value of Human Life
- Sanctity of life – All life is sacred and God given
- Quality of life – A judgment on how ‘good’ a person’s life is eg can they care for themselves or do they consider themselves to be living with dignity?
Both of these concepts are highly relevant in relation to Abortion and Euthanasia.
Definition – the premature expulsion of the foetus from the womb, usually from an operation or procedure to cause this’ (i.e. the deliberate termination of a pregnancy)
The Law on Abortion in the UK
- Abortions can be carried out until birth if the mother’s life is in danger. (rare in UK)
- Aside from threat to life abortions must be carried out before the 24th week of pregnancy.
- 2 doctors must agree. Acceptable under the following conditions:
- The physical or mental health of the mother is in danger.
- The foetus has severe mental or physical abnormalities.
- Threat to the wellbeing of any existing children.
Church of England
- The Church of England strongly opposed abortion, believing that all human life, including life developing in the womb should be protected.
- However, the C of E recognises that there are some circumstances in which abortion might be acceptable. These include:
- The mother’s life was at risk or the pregnancy was a result of rape or the foetus is severely disabled
- Jesus taught both compassion and love – sometimes abortion might be the most loving option e.g. when a foetus is severely disabled. This is sometimes called the ‘lesser of two evils’. Abortion could be viewed as the most loving course of action.
The Roman Catholic Church
- RC Christians strongly believe that a human being must have the rights of a person ‘from the first moment of their existence’ i.e. conception
- The RC Church is Pro-Life and does not allow abortion, which is a grave sin.
- The Sanctity of Life is important. God gives life only God has the right to take it away.
- ‘The Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.’
- An abortion could only happen if it is a by-product of another surgical procedure, for example if the woman needs surgery to save her life and as a side effect, she loses a foetus. This belief is called the Doctrine of Double-Effect.
- The RC Church encourages pregnant woman to look at alternatives to abortion such as adoption
Genesis 1:27 “God said ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth [with your children].”
Mother Teresa : “Abortion is the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today.”
Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.”
Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
- Muslims believe that all life is sacred and God given. This is called the Sanctity of Life
- For many Muslims abortion is forbidden (Haram) but might be permitted in certain circumstances such as the mother’s life being in danger or keeping the child will bring mental or physical harm to the mother. The mother’s life is viewed more highly. In this case abortion may be the ‘lesser of two evils’
- Some Muslims believe abortion should be allowed if the foetus will be born with severe mental or physical disabilities or was conceived through rape
- Muslims would say that an abortion should ideally be carried out early and before ensoulment, this is when Muslims believe the foetus receives a soul. Some Muslims think this is at 40 days others at 120 days. In Islam, having an abortion after ensoulment is viewed as taking a life.
- ‘Do not kill your children for fear of poverty – we shall provide for them and you – killing them is a great sin’ (Qur’an)
Exam Tip – Make sure you know a range of arguments both for and against abortion and quotes to back up the religious views. How are the Christian and Islamic views similar/different?
Euthanasia literally means ‘easy or gentle death’. It is sometimes called mercy killing or assisted suicide.
There are different types of euthanasia. We are mainly concerned with the following two:
- Passive Euthanasia – when treatment is withdrawn or withheld e.g. a Do Not Resuscitate order
- Active, voluntary euthanasia – when a person chooses to die, but requires that someone takes action to help them to die e.g. a lethal injection
- ACTIVE VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA IS ILLEGAL IN THE UK
Different Christian Attitudes to Euthanasia
Most Christians would argue that euthanasia is wrong, making the following points:
- life is sacred and God-given, therefore only God should decide when we die
- Jesus healed the sick and the dying and always treated people with compassion – we should do the same
- A good example of this is the Hospice Movement which aims to help those who are dying to ‘die with dignity’ through the use of palliative care to relieve pain. It was established by Dame Cicely Saunders, a Christian who thought it was important to support people in their final days.
- Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder (kill).” – euthanasia is killing the most vulnerable members of society deserve to be protected with love
However, other Christians believe that euthanasia can be acceptable because:
- “Love your neighbour as yourself.” – isn’t the most loving option sometimes to help someone end their suffering?
- God has given us free will – we are able to decide when to die
Islamic Views On Euthanasia
- ‘Do not take life which God has made sacred’ (Qur’an)
- Islam is totally opposed to euthanasia. The Qur’an states that Allah created all life and everything belongs to him: ‘To Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He pleases. ‘(Qur’an)
- Because of this, Muslim people are forbidden to kill themselves: ‘Destroy not yourselves. Surely Allah is ever merciful to you. ‘ (Qur’an)
- The Prophet Muhammad said that anyone committing suicide would go to Hell: ‘Anyone who throws themselves down from a rock and commits suicide will be throwing themselves into Hell. A person who drinks poison and kills themselves will drink it for ever in Hell. A person who stabs themselves will stab themselves for ever in Hell. ‘ (Muhammad)
- If people are suffering badly they should ask Allah for help: ‘O ye who believe, seek the help of Allah through steadfastness and Prayer; surely Allah is with the steadfast…. We will surely try you with somewhat of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits; then give glad tidings to the steadfast, who, when a misfortune overtakes them do not lose heart, but say: Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him we will return.’ (Qur’an) Life is a test from Allah and humans must endure that test.
- No one has the right to decide when they will die: ‘When their time… arrives they cannot tarry for a single hour nor can they go ahead.’ (Qur’an)
Non-Religious Arguments For Euthanasia
- Euthanasia can quickly and humanely end a person’s suffering.
- Everyone has the right to decide how they should die.
- It would help others face death knowing they wouldn’t have to suffer if euthanasia was allowed.
- To help someone who is suffering is not an act of violence but an act of love.
- We do not allow animals to suffer so why allow humans to suffer?
Non-Religious Arguments Against Euthanasia
- There are many pain relieving drugs, which can help someone die peacefully without the need for euthanasia
- Many people do recover from illnesses, which doctors believed would kill them. To allow euthanasia would stop potential recoveries.
- Old people might feel a nuisance to society and choose euthanasia but really want to go on living. First step on a slippery slope towards killing people who are an expensive burden on the NHS.
- If there were better facilities for caring for the dying euthanasia wouldn’t be needed.
- The trust between doctor and patient might be damaged. The Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors is to preserve life not take life.