Christopher Smith fears for the future of our common humanity

I wonder whether any of our readers remember a little video clip that hit the news last year of a young baby, seven weeks old at the time of the recording, called Lachlan Lever. In the video, Lachlan is fitted with a pair of hearing aids, having been born quite severely deaf. He grizzles a bit as the first hearing aid is fitted, then they turn it on. And he hears properly for the first time, and he looks a bit puzzled, then puzzlement turns to interest, then interest turns to delight, and his eyes light up and a smile breaks across his little face. I would defy anyone not to be moved, and, big softy that I am, I can’t watch it without a tear in my eye. And then Lachlan becomes still, and he begins to listen. He is able to listen to the voices around him – his mother, his father, and the nurse who has fitted the hearing aid. And he smiles again, even more beautifully: a new world has opened up to him.

The clip came back into my mind recently when I was preparing a sermon on that gospel reading we had the other week from Mark 7, where Jesus opens the ears of a deaf mute. ‘Ephphatha’, says Jesus to the man. ‘Be opened.’ And a sense of opening to the world is exactly what was visible in that baby’s face. Presumably, this early medical intervention will not only mean that Lachlan can hear, but also that the development of his speech will not be affected by his early deafness.

If we are moved by that child’s healing, then that is because our humanity moves us. We care that a child should be deaf, and so we are delighted, not only for his sake but for our own in our common humanity, that he can be given his hearing through the medical technology that is now available.

How extraordinary, then, that our common humanity seems to fly out of the window when we are dealing with what are nowadays called ‘end of life issues’. That’s dying to you and me, and readers may have been relieved to note that the recent Assisted Dying Bill, which rehashed a Bill of Lord Falconer from just over a year ago, has fallen at its first hurdle in the House of Commons. It didn’t take long to have a second go, did it? When the establishment doesn’t get the answer it wants, it usually keeps asking the question until it does. And the commentariat is getting into full swing.

I am quite a fan of the political weeklies, and I regret the passing of the Listener, but my breath was taken away last month by two articles in the same edition of the Spectator lamenting the falling of the euthanasia Bill. The first was, I think, one of the weakest pieces of journalism I have ever read. It attacked the slippery slope argument, using the worst kind of school debating society point-scoring. The writer assured us that she has ‘faith in the everyday common sense of most of my countrymen and their capacity to understand precisely when and where to apply breaks’. Tell that to the Dutch and the Belgians, now a long way down the slippery slope to euthanasia on demand.

But worse was to come over the page. Matthew Parris, no friend of the Christian Faith, had written a column headlined ‘Soon we will accept that useless lives should end’. It may be that he has no influence over the text at the top of his articles, but that banner was not an unfair summary of what he had written below. Apparently, is all the fault of the ‘faith community’ (a term he disparages even though no member of it has ever sought it) that we don’t have euthanasia yet, but never mind: ‘Darwinism’ requires it for the betterment of the tribe. ‘Already the cost of medical provision in Britain eats into our economic competitiveness’. Yes, he actually used that as an argument to demonstrate why we will soon ‘look more benignly upon the termination of life when life is fruitless’. Soon it will be thought ‘selfish of some individuals to want to carry on’.

I’ve written before about Huxley and even Trollope in relation to the euthanasia question, but C.S. Lewis might have predicted it too, in The Abolition of Man and in the third of his science-fiction trilogy, That Hideous strength. What makes us care about life, what makes us not want to dispose of a deaf baby or an elderly grandparent, is something we have traditionally called the natural law. We are not animals, and we are not mere Darwinian (or, rather, Dawkinsesque) beings for whom values, conscience and emotions are mere chemical phenomena that need to be cast aside in the name of ‘progress’. Good and bad continue to mean something for most of us, while the Parrises of this world have stepped outside the natural law and into what Lewis called ‘the void’. ‘I am very doubtful’, he said, ‘whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.’ Man’s conquest of nature has, he says, ‘proved to be the abolition of man’, and those who would take us into the brave new world seek to abolish our ‘chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness’.

The pathetic, duped clergyman in That Hideous strength thought that ‘where we see power, we see the sign of His coming’. The opposite, of course, is true. More than ever, we need to defend the weak, from the unborn and newborn to the sick and the dying. There is no such thing as a ‘useless life’. ND