Is Life Sacred?

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Is Life Sacred?

The phrase "Life is Sacred" serves an important part in arguments concerning the moral and legal permissibility of euthanasia (and abortion as well). Since this claim is so pivotal, we should take some care to see what it means. One way to uncover what the claim, "life is sacred" means is to ask: what is the source of life's being sacred? What lives are sacred?

Some might think all living things are sacred; that the mere fact that something is alive makes it sacred.. If you think this, you are a vitalist. Vitalists place no value distinctions on living things; all living things (trees, mold, bees and humans) are equally sacred. Some might think that it only some living things are sacred. Typically, the privileged living thing is a human being (humanists believe human life is sacred). Suppose then that what "Life is sacred" really means is "Human life is sacred" (suppose, that is, that in the euthanasia debate, when someone says, "Life is sacred" what they really mean or have in mind is that human life is sacred).

Now we can ask: But why is human life sacred? That is, consider the claim:

Human life is sacred.

Either that claim is justified (and there is an answer to the question, "Why is human life sacred?") or it is unjustified (and there is no answer to the question, "Why is human life sacred?"). Notice, however, that if the claim,

Human life is sacred

is unjustified, then a perfectly legitimate question to ask is:

If human life is sacred, why not a dog's life, why not a cat's life?

and so on. That is, if the claim that human life is somehow special can't be justified, th...

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...eing capable of self-awareness.

However, keep in mind that, even if we accept life is sacred, it is not clear what the best expression of that belief is. That is, if we accept that "life is sacred" it is not clear what action is then recommended. For one, we can't possibly mean by "life is sacred" that the life of e.g., a rational, self-conscious being must always be preserved no matter what. For if we thought that, then we would think that, not only was euthanasia (preformed on e.g., a rational self-conscious person) morally impermissible, but so too would be hang-gliding, flying in airplanes, driving an automobile and so on. After all, these all pose risks to life and presumably, if "life is sacred" entailed that life (of a rational self-conscious being) must always be preserved no matter what, then taking risks with life would have to be unjustified.
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