Value of Life

Bio-ethicists have moved away from the idea of human life being sacred to where some humans are of less value than others -- i.e., a life not worth living.
  • If the quality of a life can be measured then the answer to whether that life has value to the individual can be determined.
  • Almost every advocate of euthanasia for the handicapped is able-bodied and healthy.
  • People have begun to think in terms of quality of life, instead of all life equally being sacred.
  • Peter Singer believes that when a life is so miserable it is not worth living, then it is permissible to give it a lethal injection.
In using 'value of life' terms, it follows that there is such a thing as a 'life, not worth living'.

The most extreme example of the "quality of life" mentality has been promulgated by 'bioethicist' Joseph Fletcher. Fletcher has drawn up a comprehensive list of 'positive' and 'negative' human qualities that define exactly what a person is and is not, as shown below.

Joseph Fletcher's Criteria for Humanity
Positive Human Criteria:
  1. Minimal intelligence: Anyone with an IQ under 40 is questionably human. Anyone with an IQ less than 20 is definitely non-human
  2. Self-awareness: Newborn babies are not self-aware and therefore not human. This quality develops at about one year of age
  3. Self-control: If a person lacks self-control, he is on a low level of life comparable to a paramecium [i.e., a single cell organism]
  4. A sense of time: Anyone without a good sense of the passage of time is not human
  5. A sense of the future: How 'truly human' is any man who cannot realize there is a time yet to come?
  6. A sense of the past: A focus on 'nowness' truncates the nature of man
  7. The capability to relate to others, particularly in relationships of the sexual-romantic and friendship kind.
  8. Concern for others: Lack of this ambience indicates psychopathology
  9. Communication: Completely isolated individuals are sub-persons
  10. Control of existence: Ignorance and total helplessness are the antithesis of humanness
  11. Curiosity: Without a certain amount of curiosity, individuals are not persons deserving legal rights and protections
  12. Change and changeability: If an individual is opposed to change, he denies the creativity of personal beings
  13. Balance of rationality and feeling: To be 'truly human,' one cannot be either Apollonian [extremely rational and logical in character] or Dionysian [of frenzied and emotional character].
  14. Idiosyncrasy: To be a person is to have an identity, to be recognizable and callable by name
  15. Neo-cortical function: Before cerebration [thinking] is in play, the person is non-existent. Such individuals are objects, not subjects
Negative Human Criteria:
  • Man is not non-artificial or anti-artificial
  • Man is not essentially parental
  • Man is not essentially sexual.
  • Man is not a bundle of rights. All rights are imperfect and may be set aside if human need requires it
  • Man is not a worshipper
Reference: Joseph Fletcher. "Indicators of Humanhood: A Tentative Profile of Man." Hastings Center Report. Volume 2, Number 5, November, 1972.

If implemented, Fletcher's criteria would cause more than 100 large groups of persons to automatically lose their humanity. These groups would include the following, and would comprise approximately one-fifth of the human population:
  • all infants under one year of age
  • twins and triplets
  • all celibate persons
  • the profoundly retarded
  • habitual drunkards and drug addicts
  • prisoners
  • all comatose persons
  • pro-life activists
  • emotional persons
  • all religious persons
Fletcher would casually kill hundreds of thousands of people who had a low IQ.

Peter Singer
Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, is perhaps the most notorious, admired, famous and controversial, modern thinker in bio-ethics.

His philosophical worldview is atheistic utilitarianism, (the doctrine that actions are right because they are useful. That the greatest happiness of the greatest number, should be the sole end of public action and policy: Oxford University dictionary), and how it can and should be applied to the hard questions of life in the modern world.
"Almost everybody accepts that some people can be killed, the concept of brain death' " the belief that people on respirators can legitimately be killed " shows that."


"Almost everybody accepts that some people can be killed," he says blankly. "The concept of brain death' " the belief that people on respirators can legitimately be killed " shows that. We have begun to think in terms of quality of life, instead of all life equally being sacred. That's why it is logical to now start thinking about severely defective babies, and whether it is always wrong to kill them."?

He continues: "All I say about severely disabled babies, is that when a life is so miserable it is not worth living, then it is permissible to give it a lethal injection. These are decisions that should be taken by parents " never the state " in consultation with their doctors". This is, he believes, already happening.

Read more about Peter Singer.