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Putting a price (and expiration date) on life

| Friday, April 21, 2017

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ … God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

“It was very good,” this Scripture passage from Genesis 1 reads. Humanity is good, the words communicate. Creation is good; the earth is good; all of nature is good. But do we truly believe this? Do we treat it as such? Do we treat one another as such?

This past weekend, I attended the Easter Vigil Mass on campus at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The liturgy, celebrated the night before Easter Sunday, began in darkness to commemorate Jesus’ suffering and death and evil’s temporary victory over God’s goodness. The somber vibes were short-lived, however, as the worship space quickly filled with candlelight, a visible sign of hope, and our anxious awaiting of Christ’s rising on the third day. Not long after, “alleluias” echoed throughout the church and the celebration of Easter — Jesus’ Resurrection and triumph over sin and death — had officially commenced. The congregation beamed endlessly (myself included) as the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir led us in song, we welcomed 12 new members into the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, and rejoiced in recognition of our new life in Christ and the blessing that it is to exist on this earth.

Much like the Scripture passage quoted above, the Easter Vigil Mass (at which these verses from Genesis were read) in whole communicates the beauty of life — that of Jesus’ storied existence, as well as that of our very own, mortal, day-to-day lives lived in relationship with God and one another. Reminders of the beauty of our common humanity, and of our common home, lie all around us. They are gifts, and with them, each of us has a right and responsibility to respect the inherently good, life-giving nature that we possess. Unfortunately, that is not always easy and, in our culture, it’s something that is not often acknowledged.

In reflection of these Easter mysteries, these themes of new life and our simple “goodness” in God’s eyes, I pondered what a greater respect for the beauty of the gift of life might look like in a real world context. My mind was drawn to the most recent developments in a number of capital punishment cases in Arkansas. A quick summary of the situation: the state of Arkansas is currently fighting to execute eight inmates before the supply of a key drug used in lethal injections expires at the end of the month. At a time when most states are increasingly retreating from the practice, Arkansas has scheduled eight lethal injections to happen in the span of 11 days, a pace unmatched in the modern era. A “shortage” of the lethal drug is looming, the state claims, and the government would lose the thousands of taxpayer dollars invested in acquiring these injections if the execution windows were to pass. Thus, Arkansas moved forward in setting the execution dates for these eight inmates; that is, until a series of appeals and legal proceedings began delaying the carrying out of the state’s unprecedented injection backlog. Looking ahead, the future of the inmates’ cases and lives is unclear, while new updates on the judicial hearings are released daily.

As a pro-life student and member of Notre Dame Right to Life, I am saddened by this news. The death penalty is unnecessarily cruel and expensive; at its core, the punishment involves the intentional taking of human life by human life, i.e. murder. Despite these eight inmates’ “undisputed guilt,” I cannot consent to the reasons why their executions might be considered safe, just or warranted for the good of society. To think that the value and worth of a human life can be so easily decided based upon the expiration date of the drugs that take away that life is disturbing. The idea that these inmates, albeit convicted murderers, have been “priced” at the point where the cost of keeping them alive outweighs the cost the state of Arkansas would incur by allowing their lethal drug supply go to “waste” is demeaning and truly discouraging. It’s anti-human and it’s anti-the natural beauty of life, no matter the circumstances.

Later in the Genesis creation story, Adam and Eve commit the first sin, the same sin that all of us fall victim to every day of our lives. This sin sets us back in relationship with God and one another; but our sins, our mistakes, can never discount the love he has for us, the love he continually calls us to, and the love that is found in all of creation. Personally, I am challenged to love those who have hurt me, in the same way that our society is challenged to love those in prison and those on death row. I am inspired, though, by the gift of life, the right every human being has to it, and the inestimable potential of every life, regardless of what one has done, where one comes from, or what a government entity may believe should happen to him or her. As Cardinal Sean O’Malley puts it, our aim is to “help to build a culture of life in which our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. This cycle of violence diminishes all of us.” Further, a culture of life requires compassion, mercy and the continual affirmation of our unconditional dignity, all of which might more easily bring about a safe, just and peaceful society and world.

Hence, the pro-life mission and Notre Dame Right to Life stands for those on death row, those incarcerated and marginalized of society, and advocates for their value and right to live, simply because they are human. We attempt to see (and share!) that people are “very good”, as God says of His creation in Genesis, and that all humanity should have the opportunity to experience the abundant joy of life — the same joy of new life we are called to celebrate and witness this Easter season.

Michael Krebs


April 19

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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