Quality of life: What should Christians hope for?

March 08, 2009

This post has been written by the Associate Editor of Case,
Roberta Kwan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the term ‘quality of life’. I guess that’s what having an elderly, unwell relative does to you.

It seems that quality of life is part of the Australian experience. In 2007 we were ranked first in the Asia Pacific and fifth in the world by the IMD (International Institute for Management Development) World Competitiveness Yearbook for quality of life. In the same year, Sydney was ranked equal ninth (of 215 cities) by the Mercer Worldwide Quality of Living Survey on a list of 39 criteria including political, social and environmental factors (click here for more details).

This indicates that most of us in Australia have a lot to be grateful for. The quality of life most of us enjoy can be received by Christians with thanksgiving. And I have no problems with this. But I do have a problem when the expectation of a high level of quality of life is so embedded into the norms of our society that it becomes a measure of the value of a human life; when we judge the worth of another by their ability to contribute to or experience or enjoy (or whatever verb we choose to insert) life.

In her article in our latest Case magazine Dr Ruth Powys, a Staff Specialist in Palliative Care, identified the utilitarianism of modern ethicists such as Peter Singer as the world view that undergirds this belief. What a stark contrast to the Bible’s assertion that human life has an intrinsic value of its own; that is, a human life is always valuable, irrespective of current quality of life, because each person has been intentionally created by God to be human.

As Dr Powys points out, euthanasia is a ‘logical’ consequence of the utilitarian world view. If, according to the proponents of euthanasia, a person no longer has an acceptable quality of life, then the dignifying and compassionate thing to do is allow them to and aid them in ending a life that has been stripped of the hallmarks of ‘value’.

In February, the popular IQ2 debate in Sydney focused on the question: ‘Should we legalise euthanasia?’ Not surprisingly, an audience survey found that three-quarters were in favour of legalisation. In an article following the debate (here), The Sydney Morning Herald writer Lisa Pryor concludes her pro-legalisation reflections by suggesting that she would not mind becoming just like the ‘scary and demanding’ elderly people at the debate who apparently caused quite a commotion in vocalising their support for legalising euthanasia. No wonder Lisa Pryor wouldn’t mind being like them—these ‘oldies’, as she refers to them, obviously still enjoy a quality of life that means they have, according to Pryor, the ability to drive the legalisation movement. She reflects a thoroughly utilitarian worldview by commending them for what they are able to do.

Who should Christians hope we will be like in the latter years of our lives? The biblical writer to the Hebrews urges us (in all seasons of life) to be like a different group of ‘ancients’—to be ‘sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1). Sure that, regardless of my quality of life, regardless of whether or not I have the ability to protest or assert myself, my value lies in the fact that my Creator has made me and loves me. And certain of the unimaginably high quality of life—eternal life—he has in store for me.

CASE is running a conference entitled ‘Medical Ethics: Christian Perspectives on Life and Death’ at New College (Sydney) on Saturday 21st March. We’d love anyone interested in exploring a biblical perspective on medical ethics, including the issue of euthanasia, to join us. For more information click here.

A slightly different version of this piece has been posted on the Anglican Media website (here)

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