This week’s Spirit addresses the question of why the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is morally wrong. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Human life is sacred because from the beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator” (2258).* In other words, all human life is sacred because it is a gift from God the Creator. Every person has dignity as a child of God, and the taking of life is the worst affront to this human dignity. Further, the Catholic Church teaches, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (2270). Since an embryo is a person and a sacred life from the moment of conception, abortion is wrong.
Because abortion is such a hot button political issue, and Catholics are known for their staunch support of the pro-life movement, it can be easy to forget that the Catholic teaching of the sacredness of all human life does not apply only to the issue of abortion. For instance, the Catholic Church only supports the death penalty “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” (2267) noting that bloodless means of defense are better in line with the dignity of human persons. Similarly, the Catholic Church considers euthanasia, that is, the act of killing someone who is hopelessly sick or injured, a morally unacceptable act since even life that is at its end is sacred (2277).
Issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia can seem far removed from our daily lives. But the idea that all human life is sacred relates to other issues that might hit closer to home. As one example, the idea that all human life is sacred means that people who do not agree with me, people who hold differing religious and political views, and people who come from different places and backgrounds than me also carry in them dignity as human beings. While I do not have to agree with them, I do owe them the respect that is due to them as fellow human beings. As the debates heat up on the way to the November 2012 elections, it is helpful to remember that Jesus did not come to endorse one political party over another. Jesus came to teach us to love God and to love each other, including those people in whom it may be most difficult for us to recognize the image of God.
Another example: the idea that all human life is sacred has implications for our sexual lives, as well. When someone treats another person as a sexual object, this is an affront to human dignity. In fact, the Catechism teaches that pornography “does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public)” (2354) and that rape “deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right” (2356). Any form of harassment—sexual, emotional, physical—is an offense against the dignity of a human being. In our intimate relationships, we are called to remember that other people are never just means to the end of our personal pleasure but rather are human beings to be treated with the utmost respect.
A final example: in their letter “Economic Justice for All,” the U.S. Catholic Bishops enumerate basic human rights, including “the rights to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and basic education. These are indispensable to the protection of human dignity” (80). In other words, all people because of their inherent dignity as human beings have a right to certain basic necessities. When we think about people around the globe and closer to home who lack access to nourishing food, clean water, and proper medical care and education, we can see that the dignity of human life is being challenged everywhere.
The problem is big, there is no denying it. But as Catholics, we are called to protect the sacredness of human life, in whatever small way we can.
Think about your daily life and your community.
What affronts to human dignity do you witness?
How can you be a protector of and advocate for the sacredness of all human life?
* Note: The numbers in parentheses refer to the paragraphs in which quotations from the Catechism can be found.