Human DignityIn previous articles, we discussed when human life begins and whether human life constitutes a human being. Today, we will explore the dignity and worth inherent in human beings. This is an important consideration given the pressure recently to legalize “assisted suicide”, abortion, and various other practices that exist based on the assumption that human life only has value under certain conditions. Peter Singer and others have even gone so far as to admit that if abortion is a legitimate practice, so too must be infanticide, since there is no significant difference between two people just because one of them resides in the womb. You would think that with an argument like that, he would be against abortion and infanticide, but that is not so.

Dignity and Worth Based on Physical or Mental Attributes

Many if not most of the secular culture assumes that the value of life is determined by the degree of perfection of the physical and mental abilities of a person. This is clearly evidenced by the abortion rate of about 90% for children with Down Syndrome. One fundamental problem with this view is that everyone has some physical or mental shortcoming. We are imperfect creatures, aspiring toward the imitation of God’s perfection, but constantly falling short. Any attempt to assign lower dignity or worth to a certain imperfection is necessarily arbitrary. Some of us can run a mile in under 4 minutes. Some of us have an IQ off the charts. Some are more physically appealing.

Which of these attributes is desirable? Clearly some attributes are more desirable to some that to others. There are obviously gradations in these attributes among the human populace. At which point is a life worth living? Which combination of imperfections is acceptable and which are not? If God deigned it necessary to create someone, why do we have the arrogance to reject that gift of life? In creating the world, we know that God looked upon His creation and called it “Good”. Why would we doubt the goodness of one of His highest creations – man?

Dignity and Worth Based on “Quality of Life”

The other criteria frequently held up as a standard for assisted suicide and abortion are related to the attributes of a person, though distinct: the quality of life of the person. Imperfections make life more difficult for some. Of course as Catholics, we know that there is value in pain, suffering, and trials in our life. For the uncatechized, however there is significant confusion about the value of life lived in a trying way. They tend to ignore the blessings found in every life, looking at the difficulties instead and failing to see the beauty of life itself – the experiences, emotions, ups and downs. As much as humans try to minimize difficulties, (and rightfully so), a life lived without challenges will rarely if ever result in happiness. The fundamental question is whether it is the ease of living that produces a higher quality of life, or the experiences and choices of life itself that lead to a higher quality of life. Regardless of the criteria used to determine the quality of life, we can clearly identify the arbitrary nature of assigning a point at which a life is not worth living. The concerns invariably should become insurmountable when this decision is made by one person for another, as is the case in abortion.

The Catholic View of Human Dignity

Catholics believe that every human being has inherent dignity and worth. We believe that every human being is created “in the image and likeness” of God. This is not the case with animals, plants, or the other components of the created universe. Humans occupy a special place of distinction among the other creatures. There are certain attributes that set us above the animals and plants, such as an intellect and will, and the subordination of the impulses to the intellect and will.

In Genesis 1:28, we see an important distinction made between man and the rest of creation,

And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

God gives us the authority to have dominion over the fish, birds, and every other living thing. We also are given the command to “subdue” the earth. This is a critical passage to help us understand our place in the physical world. We are above the other animals and plants.

Not only are we a higher order of being than the animals and plants, but we occupy a special place in God’s affection. The whole earth was created for us, but beyond that, we know that God loves us in a special way, promising eternity in the midst of His glory if we can only love Him with our whole heart. Throughout history, God has bestowed blessings on us, correcting us when necessary, and extending His grace to aid us in our journey toward him. In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus tells us our value to God, expressing how much he cares for us, holding us in existence and providing for our needs,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

God loves us beyond comprehension. He created everything to be “good”, and we know that God is perfect love, mercy, justice, wisdom and power. The only thing that is outside of His power is to do something in a less than perfect way. “God doesn’t create junk”, the common saying goes, and there is incredible truth in it. If God created it, as He did with all of us and the world around us, then we can only know that it has a purpose and its existence is of value. We all have inherent dignity and worth – God wouldn’t have created us otherwise. It may be difficult for us to grasp, but every human life is worth living. There are no exceptions.


Other Articles You May Like

When Does Human Life Begin? (The argument from Catholic Faith and Science)

Human Life Vs. Human Being (Is a Fetus a Human Being?)

Is That Really What You Believe