Life and Dignity of the Human Person

The human person is the clearest reflection of God’s presence in the world; all of the Church’s work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person.  For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God’s creative work and the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry.” (US Bishops The Challenge of Peace, #15)

"… whatever the progress in technology and economic life, there can be neither justice nor peace in the world, so long as people fail to realize how great is their dignity; for they have been created by God and are God’s children." (From Pope Saint John XXIII’s 1961 Encyclical On Christianity and Social Progress, #215)

 Catholic Social Teaching is based on our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, is invaluable and
worthy of respect as a member of the human family. From the moment of conception to natural death, each person has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment. (USCCB)

“Human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image.  Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are.” (From Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1991 Encyclical The Hundredth Year, #11)

US Catholic Bishops Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching:

  • Do I respect the life and dignity of every human person from conception through natural death? 
  • Do I recognize the face of Christ reflected in all others around me whatever their race, class, age, or abilities?
  • Do I work to protect the dignity of others when it is being threatened?
  • Am I committed to both protecting human life and to ensuring that every human being is able to live in dignity?

"We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill," says Living the Gospel of Life  "or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem." From both divine revelation and natural law, we know that there is something special about human life. We are made in the image of God. Protection of human life and dignity is a natural instinct of all people and stands at the core of Catholic Social Teaching.

The life and dignity of the human person is foundational to Catholic Social Teaching precisely because without it, no other rights have meaning.  “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights – for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture – is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination”. (From Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1988 Encyclical The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, #38)

As Catholics, we cannot support:

  • Abortion because it involves the direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life, ultimately denying the "inviolable right of every human being to life." CCC 2270
  • Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia because "whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons" which "constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator." CCC 2277, 2279
  • Reproductive Technologies such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy and Embryonic Stem Cell Research because "it is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material." CCC 2275 The principles used to guide scientific research and the development of new technology cannot be practiced at the expense of others. CCC 2294
  • Capital Punishment because government’s non-lethal options to defend and protect people from an aggressor are &quotmore in conformity with the dignity of the human person.&quot CCC 2267
  • Artificial Methods of Birth Control (such as the Pill, Norplant, IUDs, and Morning After Pills like Plan B) because these can act as abortifacients in the "very early stages of the development of the life of a new human being," (Gospel of Life) usurping God’s central role as Creator and Giver of life and creating a utilitarian view of the person as object, thus destroying human dignity and the principles of chastity.

As Catholics, we can support:

  • Programs and ministries which support women in crisis pregnancies, provide healing for post- abortive women and men, and educate people about the truth of abortion.
  • Palliative care for the dying, including the use of painkillers to manage and alleviate their suffering if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. CCC 2279
  • Medical research and therapies using adult stem cells and cord blood stem cells which ensure there is no threat to, or intentional destruction of, human life.
  • Family planning methods which rely on the body’s natural fertility cycles, respect the chastity and dignity of the human AS PERSON, and ultimately respect God as the sole Lord of Life.

* Sources: "The Gospel Of Life," in Theology of the Body. John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997; The Catechism of the Catholic Church; "A Tale of Three Encyclicals", J. Augustine Dinoia, O.P., US Catholic Conference, 1999.

Here are also a few Internet links to check out for more information:

For pro-life services and support to women in crisis pregnancies: