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Your Turn, NH: We need a new cultural ethic regarding the value of life

January 27. 2013 4:57PM

Watching the close of 2012 was like watching a film clip from "The Bourne Identity." It was as though we had a series of sleeper agents stationed around the nation. One by one, each received the signal to activate some assassination mission. Responding in robotic fashion, off each went, one to the movie theater, one to the mall, one to the elementary school. Adam Lanza hit the nation the hardest, as his chosen targets were 20 innocent little school children.

Around the country, politicians and pundits offered their chosen solutions to "patch" the growing national violence. Through it all, however, one question, perhaps the first and most important question, became the unanswered question: "How?" Not "how" in the physical and mental sense did these young men accomplish their deeds. The critical and yet unanswered question remains: How are we as a society breeding a generation with such a large proportion of cold-blooded killers?

I believe the question remains unanswered because the cultural self-examination proves too painful. It is easy to dub this a mental health issue. If we fail to address the culture-wide ethics question, however, we insure the violence will continue.

There is a primary rule of cultural ethics that sheds light on the situation: In every society the value of a human life is a 0-1 proposition. Either each person has one unit of value, or each has none. This is because once you negotiate away anyone's value; the value of each and every one becomes negotiable.

There it is: plain, simple and obvious. Yet it is a reality we, as a culture, struggle to rationalize and to avoid.

In America, for three generations a third of the preborn population has been exterminated. For three generations, across this land, young people have been told that they are entitled to make life and death decisions over the future of another. In our own little city of Manchester, on Pennacook Street, each Thursday, week in and week out, 20 would be a modest number for the innocent lives that are slain. Last year the reported total was more than 1,300, and this is repeated in town after town all over the nation.

What Adam Lanza and the others have done is to provide an object lesson to the nation. Their acts vividly demonstrate the first rule of cultural ethics. Once we devalue any life within the culture, we in effect devalue all. Because when we usurp the first inalienable right for some, the logical consequence will eventually follow, and it has.

The next question: Does there remain enough moral strength in this nation to turn it around, or will we sit and wring our hands over and over again as more young men act out our cultural example?

In truth, we are long overdue for a new cultural ethic: Let peace begin within the womb and spread throughout the land.

C. A. McCormick of Manchester is a bioethics consultant and a former faculty member at the University of Vermont Medical College.

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