A GOOD LIFE AT ANY PRICE: New Threats to Human Life in Our Times
by Anita Dowsing
Paperback: 224 pages
Reviewed by Joe Carolan
Anita Dowsing, who has held various roles in Catholic adult education in Britain, addresses each topic methodically from the philosophical, religious and legal perspectives. The book is intended for the general reader but does address each of the topics relating to human life in considerable depth.
Dowsing frames each of the threats to human life as being rooted in misconceptions of what “a good life” means. She says a good life is a life lived in truth; which will inevitably involve sacrifice and hardship as well as joy. It is the life exemplified by the Good Samaritan and above all by Christ.
With the decline of the influence of Christianity on society, not only do many people now disagree on what constitutes a good life, but increasingly there is a view that there is no objective truth at all about what a good life is. This relativistic worldview gives rise to a system of subjective ethics where individuals’ actions are motivated by their own private view of what a good life is. All too often this leads to treating some lives as expendable for the sake of one’s own “good life”.
In relation to each of the threats to life, Dowsing provides the scientific and secular arguments for the protection of human life, as well as references to Scripture passages that bolster the Christian position that innocent life should be protected. Nevertheless, she points out that it is only the Catholic Church that has consistently upheld the right to life from conception until natural death.
A brief but important exploration is provided of the positions of other faiths that offer varying degrees of protection to innocent life in different contexts.
Dowsing describes the insidious reappearance of the eugenic mindset, in which a person’s value is judged based on their health status or utility to society. This mindset includes not only current assisted-suicide and euthanasia laws but newer technologies such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which allows detection of “defective” embryos so they can be discarded during IVF.
Pre-natal genetic screening has also not only provided the “choice” to abort unborn children with genetic conditions, but is increasingly placing an expectation on parents that such babies should be aborted.
One particularly thought-provoking aspect of the book is the inclusion of terrorism as one of the key new threats to human life in our times.
The pro-life movement tends to focus on the protection of humans at both the early stages and at the end of life, as this is when people are most vulnerable. Abortion, destruction of embryos in IVF and euthanasia are all widely seen as standing within the medical sphere that provides them with a veneer of respectability.
As Dowsing points out, another trait that these three practices share is that they are widely accepted as “compassionate” in one way or another. Dowsing includes terrorism, noting that, in terms of numbers of lives, it is a much lower threat than the others.
Perhaps other threats to life could have been included, such as the lethal practice of drug trafficking that is now an international scourge? It could be argued that those profiting from this trade are also motivated by a perverted view of what makes “a good life”
Overall, the inclusion of terrorism along with a characterisation of its differences from the other threats to life provides a useful contrast that helps the reader to consider the fundamental nature of each of the threats and the motivations that underlie them.
Ultimately, each of the threats to life is characterised as stemming from a lack of hope and Dowsing articulates how each of us can help to create a society built on hope rather than despair. Inspiring anecdotes throughout the book about people who have offered hope to others, such as Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who invented modern palliative care, make for an uplifting read.
Importantly, the modern threats to life at its beginning and end are not (yet) being imposed from the top-down, as was the case in Nazi Germany, but rather are within the control of individuals. This means that each of us holds the power to protect life through our own decisions and through offering hope, especially Christian hope to others.
A Good Life at Any Price is a valuable and easy-to-read book for anyone wanting to learn about the major threats to human life in our society. The multitude of fully referenced and up-to-date facts and figures makes it a useful resource for those who are familiar with these topics but wish to stay up to date on the quickly changing landscape of life issues.