The Value of Life

I’m sure that when the Greggs took their family to the Cincinnati Zoo, they had no idea what an uproar their three-year-old son, Isaiah, would cause. But when the young boy climbed over the railing surrounding the gorilla habitat, and then fell into it, the ensuing encounter with Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla, left the gorilla dead, and many people outraged.

Zoo staff made the decision to shoot the gorilla using lethal force, they said, because non-lethal means, such as a tranquilizer dart, would have caused Harambe to get agitated while it took effect, and further imperil the boy’s life. But still, despite the fact that the story ended with young Isaiah Gregg alive and well, many people are unhappy.

Petitions popped up all over the internet, demanding some variation of “Justice for Harambe.” (One such petition included just a shade under 500,000 signatures as of this writing.) People lined up outside the zoo, protesting what they called the “senseless death” of the “beloved” gorilla, which had arrived at the zoo just one year earlier.

PETA, predictably, put out a release decrying the death, saying he “shouldn’t have died this way” and that “[g]orillas have shown that they can be protective of smaller living beings and react the same way any human would to a child in danger.”

But Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of the zoo, and someone widely considered as one of the foremost experts in the field, disputed that assertion. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he stated, “that that child would not be here today if they hadn’t made that decision at the Cincinnati Zoo.”

The question as to whether they should have killed the gorilla to save the boy’s life is a nonstarter, to anyone who has even the littlest bit of sense. As Hanna put it when he backed the zoo’s decision, “What choice was it? [It’s a] human life, or animal life.” But apparently, for some people, that’s a hard choice to make.

For organizations like PETA, this kind of position is nothing new. Back in 2003, when the organization was still considered a fringe group — and not one that media turn to for comment on issues of animal rights, as they do these days — they made it clear where their priorities lay. When Palestinian terrorists tried to kill innocent civilians at a bus stop in Yerushalayim using an explosive-laden donkey (an attempt that, b’chasdei Hashem, failed), PETA sent a letter to Yasser Arafat, asking him “to leave the animals out of [the] conflict.”

When The Washington Post asked if they’d ask him to stop blowing up innocent humans as well, PETA’s president responded by saying “It’s not my business to inject myself into human wars.”

The fact that PETA has been able to inject itself into the mainstream, and that a disturbing number of people seem to question what the right course of action should have been in the case of Harambe, is, in and of itself, a frightening development. But when some thought is given to why this might be the case, one can only draw conclusions that are troubling.

The Midrash in Koheles (7:33) explains the connection between Shaul Hamelech’s allowing the women, children and animals of Amalek to remain alive and the fact that he killed all the women, children and animals when he wiped out Nov Ir Hakohanim. “Kol mi shenaasah rachaman bimkom achzari — anyone who becomes merciful in place of being cruel (when cruelty is called for), sof shenaasah achzari bimkom rachaman — their end is that they will be cruel in place of being merciful (where mercy is called for).”

The two go together. Misplaced mercy goes together with cruelty. It’s how one can refuse to condemn the murder of humans while caring so much about the donkey who is being used to kill them. It’s also how one can even think that there is a reason to take a chance with the life of a young boy in order to save the life of a gorilla.

But there is a little more to it. The degradation of the value of human life in this country goes hand in hand with the “animal rights” movement picking up steam. While organizations like PETA and their frankly insane campaigns go more and more mainstream, the country cares less and less about human life. For example, Obamacare now forces insurance companies to pay doctors to have “end-of-life” discussions with their patients — which many experts see as a way to convince seniors to forgo lifesaving treatment in their golden years.

Perhaps it is the religious void more and more people in this country seem to be grappling with that leads them to not understand why a human life is an absolute value, and an animal’s life is on an entirely different plane. But whatever the reason for this misplaced priority, it is important to realize that it is not only wrong, but destructive. n