Let me start with a basic idea: If we believe that all human life is God-given, we should also believe that it is precious, sacred, inviolable. Any reduction in or setting aside of this truth, and therefore any thought of an attack on human life, ought to be horrifying….
And yet, in most ‘developed’ nations there is widespread acceptance of at least some of the following ideas:
- Procured / induced abortions are necessary in certain ‘hard cases’ (such as pregnancies resulting from incest or rape).
- Mothers with a baby in their womb should not always be expected (often expressed as ‘forced’) to carry their baby to birth, because to do so would cause the mother suffering or loss of future opportunity, economic disadvantage, etc.
- A pregnant woman has a ‘right’ to choose to procure an abortion (often expressed in the catch-cry ‘my body, my choice’).
- Some babies in the womb will find life too difficult or too hard to endure because of one or other genetic condition or issue, and therefore ought not to have to endure such a life by being born ‘into this world’.
- Some human conditions (e.g. terminal illnesses, incapacitation, chronic conditions or situations Involving ‘unbearable suffering’) are such that a choice to end one’s life by euthanasia or assisted suicide is warranted.
These are all reductions in or setting aside of the inherent sacredness of each and every human life.
Yet it is pretty easy to see ‘good’ within some of these ideas, and therefore allow them to take root in our own thinking; have I unwittingly yielded to relativising human life in some way?
What does human dignity mean?
The phrase ‘human dignity’ is often used when discussing matters of human rights. What does it mean?
We are beings created by God (we are certainly not the result of biochemical happenstances – an evolutionary accident!). Further, we are created to know and love our creator God, and to share in his life.
This understanding, that our human dignity is the result of God’s will and intent, is the primary principle underpinning all Catholic teaching on social justice. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses it in Paragraph 365:
“Of all visible creatures only man is “able to know and love his creator.” He is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for himself,” and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:
What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para 365 [emphasis mine]
[Para 365 of CCC – emphasis is mine]
What that means is that our worth as individually created human persons is derived from and found in God. Therefore no-one (whether another person, family, social grouping, society, governmental organisation, or tyrannical despot) has any say or power over our God-given right to life. It is a true human right that is inviolable and inalienable.
While I have highlighted the religious nature of the principle of human dignity (by pointing to the teaching of the Catholic Church), faith is not actually necessary to arrive at the same conclusion.
No Room for Relativistic Thinking
Reviewing the relativistic ideas listed earlier in this article by use of reason alone, it becomes readily apparent that every human life can only be of equal and unchanging worth. If it were not, then for whatever expedient purpose, one or more human person becomes subject to the will of other more dominant persons in positions of power. The powerful then determine the value of the weak – the very definition of a ‘social construct’!
Human history is littered with many examples of such power plays, such as unjust incarceration, forced prostitution, slavery, genocide, child labour and other forms of economic exploitation. Over and over again the problem of not recognising the inviolable dignity of each and every human being has resulted in terrible crimes against humanity.
The conclusion is therefore inescapable; there is simply no room for accepting anything less than the absolute worth of every human person – just as God intends. Human life is sacred – every human person has true dignity.