How Valuable is a Death?

A PPL blog by Martha Leatherman, M.D., PPL Board member.

Amid the worldwide waiting, watching, fearing, and mourning over the destruction created by the COVID-19 virus, questions of life and death have begun to enter mainstream conversation at an unprecedented level, depth, and frequency. These conversations are happening among families and friends in every household and community, and are prolonged rather than lasting for a brief 24-hour news cycle. Some of the questions are profound and complex such as how to allocate and utilize limited medical resources and whether the economic impact of shutdown is a greater threat than the virus itself. Other questions show how deeply we are mired in original sin such as the almost universal question of how much hoarding and preparation is “enough.” One question, though, which underlies all the others is “am I going to die?” Suddenly, every single one of us is faced with the fact that we truly are mortal. While it is true that at some level, we are all aware of our certain mortality, most of us are able to engage in sufficient mental gymnastics that we can usually avoid confronting it directly. Although some of us have stared death in the face and lost the innocence of seeing death as an abstraction, most have been able to live relatively insulated from death. Many don’t attend funerals, caskets are closed, people die in institutions, so we are not as aware of the reality of death as we were in previous generations. COVID-19 has changed that as our 24/7 news cycle and lightning fast social media allows each new death from the virus to be analyzed by vast online audiences. We scan to see if the deceased was young or old, in good or poor health, and whether they had traveled to a hot spot. Of course, in sifting all of these factors, we are merely trying to see how close death is to us.

Are some deaths more valuable than others?


But, what about the deaths that are not related to COVID-19? Why are COVID-19 deaths seemingly more important than these other deaths that remain obscure and unnoticed and unmourned by anyone but friends and family? How valuable is a death? Are some deaths more valuable than others? Is the “death value” dependent on the cause of death or the age of the deceased? Well, in fact, yes. Shamefully, the world does count certain deaths as more important than others. Death which threatens one’s own status quo is counted as more devastating than death which threatens another.

Consider the value of each individual life


All of this points to the truth that left to our own devices, we humans care about death only when it affects us. It shows us the great divide between the righteous love of the Sovereign God of the universe and our tiny and twisted human inclinations. Without the grace of God, we cannot love and cannot see the value of life. So, while the recent worldwide calamity of COVID-19 forces the world to consider the value of death, for more than 40 years, those of us in the life movement have exhorted the world to consider the value of each individual life. Of course, as Christians, we know the value. Each life is infinitely precious because each life was created by the Author of life and is stamped with His image. Thus, each death is infinitely wrong and is grieved and mourned by Our Father who hates the shedding of innocent blood. As the Preacher says:

“. . .the hearts of the children of man are full of evil and madness is in their hearts while they live. . ..” (Ecc. 9:3)

Pervasive evil is apparent in the contrast


Nowhere is this pervasive evil more apparent than in the contrast of the reaction of the world to death related to the COVID-19 pandemic with the indifference to the slaughter of thousands of babies in their mothers’ wombs. A conservative estimate of abortion deaths is 16,000 per week in the United States (https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-incidence-service-availability-us-2017) while the number of COVID-19 related deaths over a three-week period was reported to be 110. (https://abcnews.go.com/US/coronavirus-live-updates-us-death-toll-surpasses-100/story?id=69636160)

Even during a pandemic that has people literally afraid of losing “untold lives,” Planned Parenthood is operating its abortion industry largely unabated with little public outcry. The multi-million dollar corporation ceased many non-abortion services in the wake of COVID-19, but has continued to offer abortions. In addition, although other “non-essential” surgeries are being curtailed in many states and worship gatherings are banned, the National Abortion Federation (which oversees abortion facilities across America) has been insisting that abortions are an essential part of health care. The National Abortion Federation writes, “As we navigate COVID-19, it is critical that leaders treat outpatient abortion providers as essential businesses, and that hospital systems ensure the continuation of abortion care as an essential service.” (https://twitter.com/NatAbortionFed/status/1239945699682328576). Even where some life-minded civic leaders have attempted to curtail abortions, there has been tremendous push-back, and courts have blocked the attempts to curtail abortions along with other elective medical procedures.

God is Sovereign


God reminds us that even in a worldwide pandemic, as in all things, He is sovereign.

“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ecc. 11:5)

Christians must pray, Christians must point to Christ in every circumstance, Christians must sacrificially love our neighbors, and Christians must love as Christ did. We love those whose lives are unlived and whose deaths are unmourned.

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