This past Christmas Eve, I strapped the smallest car seat I’ve ever seen onto my ambulance stretcher. In it would rest a 5.5-pound, two-month-old child with a rare chromosomal disorder, who had already outlived her prognosis by one and a half months. I had the privilege of bringing Sarah* home to be with her family, for her first Christmas. During the hour-long journey, I spoke with Sarah’s mother who shared a personal account of the profound struggle and joy of giving birth to a 1.5-pound child about whom the doctors initially used the words, “incompatible with life” and gave two weeks to live. Then, many weeks after these statements were made, her daughter was not only alive, but was also no longer on an external ventilator and on her way home to be with her loved ones. Through all of the profound, life-changing difficulty, this family experienced an outpouring of love and support from their community; a community filled with people willing to be there as they all fought for this little girl’s life.
A few hours earlier, another patient was on my stretcher, one of a very different background. The patient before Sarah was not strapped in a car seat, but rather, was shackled to the stretcher…one of the many incarcerated individuals who I’ve treated in my career, whose particular symptoms I can no longer remember. But the contrast between the two patients is relevant. I treated both Sarah and this man, who I had to pass through maximum security to reach, with the same hands, with the same dignity and with the same care. It is not in my job description, or my moral code, to discriminate regarding whose lives have more or less value.
Let me take a moment to address my background and bias before I go any further. I am a Paramedic and have worked in EMS for seven years in Connecticut, upstate New York and now the New York City area. I am also a practicing member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, a quiet branch of Christianity that has an absolute peace testimony based in the experience that there is “that of God in everyone.” I have traveled extensively around the world and throughout the country. I cried the day the world trade center fell, and I cried the night that Osama Bin Laden was murdered by US troops and my fellow citizens celebrated. I’m politically pro-choice and personally pro-life. But more than anything, I hold a firm belief that all people are inherently good, and that no life holds value over another.
In my seven years in EMS, I have witnessed both the beginning and end of life. I have saved lives and been unable to save lives. I have helped many people and I have failed to help others. I have taken care of premature babies the size of my palm and 400-pound patients struggling with profound medical issues. I have treated a teenager who, though unarmed, was shot multiple times by a police officer and I have treated police officers hurt in the line of duty. I’ve taken care of patients who immigrated to the United States from just about every country one could imagine, and I’ve hiked for five hours in the Himalayas to treat a boy with a head injury. I’ve had patients who depend on ventilators and feeding tubes just to live, and I’ve taken care of patients who just had their vents removed and now breathe on their own again. There is no limit to the continuum of life and I spend every day trying to preserve it. It is in my job description to be pro-life…to be pro-all-life. As such, I have a question for my fellow Christians who self-identify as “pro-life,” and thus align themselves with the Republican Party: At what point does a life lose its value?
I support life whole-heartedly, and as such, I oppose the death penalty. I support gun control, and the ways it will prevent lives lost to senseless violence. I oppose police brutality, and how some lives seem to hold more value than others. I support providing a refuge for people seeking asylum from violent and dangerous countries. I am terrified of a changing climate, and what that means for the future of human life. I support providing positive opportunity and education to children who come from violent upbringings. I oppose war, drones, bombs and the militarization of our society. I support the expansion of healthcare, to provide to all people (regardless of race, class, ability, gender) the basic human right to be treated, cared for and cured of illness. I could go on.
None of these so-called “political” issues can be seen in a vacuum. Life is life. And so I implore those who politically lean right, especially because of the issue of abortion, to return to your faith perspectives as you answer the question: at what point does a life lose its value? If you are going to identify as pro-life, I plead with you to be truly pro-life, whether that life be the life of an unborn child, a child born with a chromosomal disorder needing expensive long-term health care, the parents of a child born in poverty, a convicted murderer, a refugee from a hostile country, a black teenager, a police officer, a child of the inhospitable environment of the future, a Syrian woman, or an American soldier. Life is life. And if you do not stand up for all life, you are not pro-life, you are merely anti-abortion, and that’s not Christian, it’s political.
I’d like to bring you back to Christmas eve, when I sat in the back of an ambulance with the mother of a child who was not supposed to live, who quietly told me, “men like [the president-elect] believe that they are powerful, but that’s not power, it’s force. My daughter is powerful. She is barely six pounds, and she’s already deeply moved and changed the lives of innumerable people.” So I leave you with this message about power, and urge us as humans to choose the power of life over the force of intimidation. And insist that we forget our party lines to come together to be truly “pro-life” (or “pro-human” perhaps) because ultimately it’s not about picking a “side”; it’s about being a human among other humans.
*Name changed for privacy