Guest Post: The Value of a Life

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It is astonishing how quickly key foundations of education and society can become twisted or subverted. A genuine proponent of education advocates important foundations; question everything, critique everything, suggest and evaluate counter scenarios (and other “experts”), ask who gains and who loses from particular actions, attack the argument and not the person. Children, youth and indeed all citizens need to apply these principles to current events and what appears to be deep moral confusion.

Everyone dies. It is maybe the least digestible fact of life but the rate of death in every generation is 100%. I complained about this to my mother once and she placated me by saying that it wouldn’t happen to me. I was 8 years old and, at that stage accepted my immortality. In NZ in 2018 33,225 human-beings died. That is a little over 91 people per day. Apart from reporting on road deaths and murders these deaths, by and large, pass unnoticed except for those close enough to attend the funeral.

In 2020 we have suddenly decided, as a society taking part in a global emergency, that these lives are more important than ever before. We have decided this to the extent that we have destroyed significant sections of the economy, drastically restricted human rights, and allowed a very small sector of government to create edicts without due process or challenge.

New Zealand is a tiny country and if we were a US State we would rank approximately 24th by population – making all comparisons of Ardern’s job to that of Trump fatuous at best. Her role is closer akin to a small State governor. We are highly disconnected geographically and uniquely placed to make our own decisions. We are resource rich and relatively well educated. We should be looking at the big health picture and not being dragged into an international bunfight to prove that we can deprive citizens of their rights better than any other for very little relative gain.

As at the 8th of May this year 21 NZers have died from Covid-19. It could be argued that without actions it could be more. You could argue the same if you chose not to have a speed limit enforcement or mental health services for their relevant statistics. If 2020 is reasonably typical we will see around 670 people die from suicide (2.5 men per each woman – and disproportionately Maori). We will see approximately 70 homicide deaths. If this year is typical around 200,000 of us will get influenza (even with the vaccine being widely available) and between 400 and 500 will die either “with” or “because of” this virus.

Around 30% of our premature deaths will involve cancer and many of those will have associations with lack of early detection, alcohol and an unwillingness to seek help. At the other end of life we have thousands of babies born each year with foetal alcohol syndrome; suffering that we could surely ameliorate with the right spending and education for pregnant women.

Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth” (UN Convention of the Rights of the Child – which NZ is a signatory to). In New Zealand, where we have suddenly decided that every life is of incredible value and yet we ignore this declaration by the United Nations and recently Andrew Little looked uncommonly gleeful when changing the abortion law and telling Kiwis that they did not deserve a say through a referendum. There were 13,282 unborn children who lost their lives in 2018 in our life-valuing nation. It is also more that ironic that in this year’s elections – when we are desperate to save every life – that we are voting on euthanasia.

In terms of suicide alone. A very high credibility US study has concluded that the correlation between unemployment and suicide is that for every 1% increase in unemployment there is a 21 per 100,000 increase in suicides. In New Zealand brilliant mental well-being campaigners like Mike King and Paul Whatuira have struggled to get a sideways (excuse the pun) glance from government to support their wonderful work. Valuing life as we now have chosen to these two men – and others like them – should never have to ask again. We are all touched by suicide (by birth dad’s choice of exit was a shot-gun to the head) – it is time to do ALL that we can.

John Donne was brilliantly right:

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

I miss my parents and so many others. We are right to take a strong stand to value life and be against premature death. What we should now ask of our leaders is that they be consistent and value the risks for all people – physically and mentally – equally. One of the important roles of teachers in a crisis situation is to hear students’ questions and concerns with an open mind and allow them to work their way through things. Squashing this can only lead to conformity for the sake of it and a deep sense of helplessness.

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