I Googled “how much are we worth,” and this answer was the second result. This value was obtained by pricing out all the chemicals in our bodies and coming up with a sum total. From a chemical standpoint, (65% oxygen, 18% carbon, and so on all the way down to traces of zinc, copper, and aluminum,) $4.50 is the price tag put on a human being. The article said that our skin was the most valuable at $3.50, but they were only basing that on the price of cowhide.
Of course, this estimate is based only on a chemical perspective, and I’m sure we’ve heard stories on the Internet of people selling kidneys and other organs for a lot more. Still, this guess puts the value of our bodies below the cost of some cups of coffee these days. And while I’m glad that no one is likely to kill me to get at my zinc content anytime soon, such a surprising fact forces us to ask an obvious question.
How much are we worth?
An article came out this month in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled, “What Makes Killing Wrong?” The authors were Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Franklin G Miller. They argue that killing is only wrong because it permanently disables the person. It’s not that killing carries some inherent moral repugnance; it only takes away a person’s future ability. They then carry that argument to its logical conclusion. If a person has no ability, as is the case with new born babies or the severely disabled, we should be able to harvest parts from them, parts needed by those with “ability”. I am over-simplifying; their argument its long and you can read it here: (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/01/19/medethics-2011-100351.full)
While at first I was outraged by this study, it made me think. How could these gentlemen come to such a conclusion? Myself and many others are blown away by the conclusions these men reach, as evidenced in blog posts across the Internet. While many have articulated thoughtful and insightful reasons why these men are wrong, I wonder how they could even entertain such ideas. If I were to ask the authors this question, I can’t say they would understand what I was asking, since they see this as a purely theoretical pursuit, devoid of emotion. We parents and friends of the very people they see as “without value” come to the complete opposite conclusion, and with a strong emotional response.
I think that, at its very root, this is a question of how we understand the concept of “worth.” If we believe, as the website I described above says, that we are merely the sum of our parts; carbon, oxygen and trace metal, or even the organs we can sell, well, then we really aren’t worth much at all. As such we struggle to find value. I see this in our world today. In parts of Africa people are being slaughtered and enslaved to suit the purposes of warlords in pursuit of wealth and power. They see their own countrymen as something to use and dispose of as they see fit. We see the same pernicious mindset closer to home. Take, for example, the Utah father who was suspected of killing his wife a year ago and who took his life and the lives of his children last month. If the top of the scale of human value is only $4.50, then ultimately not all that much is being lost.
The Bible, however, tells us in no uncertain terms how wrong this whole method of valuing human beings is:
Matthew 6:26: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Matthew 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Here we are given a different scale by which we measure. The Bible tells us that the God who created the universe and all that is in it says we are valuable. In His scheme of things, we are so valuable we are worth dying for; not just some of us but all of us! If you believe His words, then we are all worth so much that not one of us, the least or the greatest, can perish without it being an enormous loss. We are no mass of chemicals to be hawked at $4.50, no conglomeration of parts to be harvested. The God of the universe calls us priceless, quite independent from the utility of our parts.
The two authors of the study certainly don’t see us as only worth $4.50, but their conclusions evidence that, to them, we are not worth much more.
Praise God, though, that the light of truth has not gone out completely, regardless of what we see in the Journal of Medical Ethics. A few authors may go off the rails. Deep down, however, by God’s mercy, we still believe that we are more, far more, than the sum of our parts.