The biggest threat to sanctity of life today is the voracious economic model that defines nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
This particular variant of market capitalism runs completely at odds with the teaching of the Church. Where the Church places the human being and sanctity of life at the centre of its concerns, the market capitalist model only sees value in the individual as a unit of exploitable labour. Increasingly, if an individual, whether a student or pensioner, cannot “benefit the system’” then they are seen as having no net worth.
The results of having pursued this un-Christian form of development over recent years have become recently apparent for all to see. A dislocated society, a loss of community and humanity, with individuals only seeing value in their own material possessions. In its most clear form this lack of values is typified in the looter who takes the flat screened TV or the politician who falsely claims the same item on expenses.
Gradually, each building block that makes up a sustainable community has been eroded by this form or economic development. Take the family. The economic system now decrees that both parents must work. This can have a destructive effect on the development of the child.
Rosemary Keenan, chief executive of the Childrens Society, highlights how a child can be shifted between different service providers. A child minder before school, a breakfast club at school, a child minder after school and finally the parent for, as one study found, the remaining 40 minutes of the day.” The child experiences different adults with varying ideas of what is and is not acceptable,” said Mrs Keenan. “Children need consistent care from an adult to whom they can relate.” A decent economic model would recognise the role of the parent and reward it accordingly.
Add into this mix that fact that one in five of those aged 16 to 24 do not have jobs and the failure of the economic model becomes all the more apparent.
Work is a central part of human life, yet the economic model today does not provide work for a growing number of people. It provides less than fulfilling work for an even larger group. The Church’s social teachings highlight the integral value in work to the welfare of human beings. There is a need for people to not only have work but retain a dignity in what they do.
Over recent years, people have increasingly worked longer hours for less money. The exploitation has been justified on the basis of the need for businesses to make ever more profits. Less and less of these profits are redistributed to workers and citizens in the form of wages and public services.
The common good has not been served by a growing elite of uber –rich individuals and corporations effectively making monies on the backs of everyone else and failing to pay the requisite taxes. There is an obvious impact of these policies on the common good.
The elderly are another group not valued by the economic model. They are seen in the main as a cost rather than an asset. There is the need to provide a pension, health care and care itself as the individual gets older. Given that the neo-liberal system is in crisis this has seen successive governments seeking to cut pensions. The needs of the elderly are all viewed as ‘costs’ to society.
The final solution ofcourse is euthanasia, which seems to be being quietly shephered in via the back door of the NHS. Once an individual has outlived their value to the system then they can be let go.
The Church has been outspoken in opposition to euthanasia, as it has with abortion. However, in this age particularly the Church needs to find a new voice that embraces the real attack on the sanctity of life that is the very system of economic development being pursued in this and other countries. The lack of value put on parenting, the failure to provide a future for children, unemployment, exploitative work practices and the attitude to the elderly should all form part of the life agenda.
The Church needs to develop its critique of the neo-liberal system, thereby redefining its declarations on life issues. Pope Benedict has begun this process with the encyclical Caritas in veritate but this needs to be continued. The teachings of that encyclical need to percolate down to the faithful, not be put in the safe with all the other social teachings that we rarely hear about from the pulpit.
The world needs to hear the voice of the Church on the question of economic justice, never has the system been in such turmoil or so in need of a moral compass. If the Church can recalibrate its voice on matters of what sanctity of life means, then it can play a greater role in the world on the side of the poor.