Alfie Evans is a toddler whose government has decided that it’s not in his best interest to continue medical treatment to keep him alive. While Alfie is not currently playing in mud, climbing onto the kitchen counter, or running with friends like his peers, he is also not unresponsive or vegetative. dependence
Alfie requires oxygen to live and this dependence has been deemed too much to continue to fight to protect his life. Sadly, Alfie passed away after being denied the treatment he depended on for life.
Over the last month, we’ve looked at the S.L.E.D. Test and today we come to the final letter: D – Dependency.
Pro-choice rhetoric says that because the unborn is completely dependent on the mother, and would die if the two were separated, the unborn is not, in fact, a full-fledged human being, and therefore abortion is not murder. The same rhetoric is increasingly applied to the elderly or critically ill person who requires the assistance of machines to live. “Look,” the logic goes. “This dependent being is an unreasonable strain on the mother/the state’s resources/etc. This dependent being is only leeching life off of someone or something else and would die without intervention, so there are more important moral considerations at stake than its death.”
Lest we err, we should also remember that this logic is a kissing cousin to the line of reasoning that says, “The jobless single mother is a burden on the resources of society.” The impulse that wants to do away with the 80-year-old on a ventilator is the same impulse that regards the homeless man on the corner with a measure of righteous disgust for his perceived shiftlessness. In both cases, a person’s degree of dependence can put them at risk for being perceived as less valuable, and therefore a drain on society. And, in the cases of abortion and euthanasia, it can put them at risk of death.
Is Independence Required for Life to be Considered Valuable?
So, where is the line? How do we determine who is too dependent? Who is it that would determine this? If the question is whether life could survive without medical intervention, the question then becomes, how long? How long are we willing to support life?
Robin Cavendish was a British polio victim, a ‘responaut’ who was utterly immobile and entirely dependent on a ventilator to breathe. He had to be fed, changed, cleaned, and cared for his entire life, from the age of 28 to his death at 64 – a degree of dependence very similar to little Alfie Evans’.
Eventually, with the help of a friend, Cavendish invented the first wheelchair with a built-in respirator. Burgeoned by this success, he went on to invent a long series of devices designed to make the lives of polio victims and other paralysis victims more bearable and more independent. Was he too dependent for his life to be valuable?
Of course, one could argue that Cavendish made serious contributions to society that outweighed the polio victims’ degrees of dependence. But, then we’ve butted up against a frightening idea: are we really saying that life is valuable as long as it adds something to society? Or are we saying that the more inconvenient one’s life is to society, the more one’s contributions must at least be equal to the inconvenience?
All of these conclusions are ghoulish: either life is valuable enough on its own to protect, even when dependent and weak, or life is only as valuable as its contributions at any given moment.
What Does God Think?
Those who hold to abortion (elimination of the unborn), eugenics (elimination of the weak), and euthanasia (the elimination of the elderly), look at life pragmatically and socially. They ask “what is the greater good?” In their mind, the cost of carrying the weaker members of our society—the physically weak, the mentally handicapped, the old, the poor, the sick—is unhealthy for society as a whole; they think it better to rid ourselves of that weight.
Yet, according to the Bible, a person’s level of dependency means that they require greater protection, care, and kindness. Scripture commands us to care for the poor, the weak, the widows, and the orphans (Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 31:20; Matthew 19:21; James 1:27). It does not have a category for the idea that dependence ought to lead to one’s destruction – quite the opposite. God’s Word actually insists that we cultivate an awareness of our own total spiritual dependence on Christ. Without His sustaining power, we, too, would fall and fail utterly. And in this way, every human being on the planet is dependent on God for life, health, and peace. Who are we to judge fellow humans’ lives as less valuable because of a differing degree of dependence?
If we allow dependence to be the grounds upon which someone can lose their right to life, we invite a cold, cruel pragmatism—a radically anti-Gospel mentality—to rule our morality. For the church to defend the dependent, we must be involved in adoption, foster care, elder care, hospice care, and care for the needy and the sick. In this way, we can put the Gospel on display by imitating the God who sustains and keeps the dependent, the weak, and the sick in the power of His saving grace.