As society incessantly gravitates towards secular ideologies, it becomes ever more desensitized to the inherent and inviolable dignity of the human person. Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) often and tragically falls upon deaf ears, leading to the spiritual blindness so prevalent in our cultures today. Like the rich man in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 16:19-31), many ignore the poor and downtrodden “Lazarus” at their “gate,” failing to recognize his inherent dignity. Society must be reminded that because we are made in the image of God – Imago Dei – every human life is precious and has inalienable and immutable dignity and value, without exception.
“If the right [to] life is an inherent and inalienable right,” says St. Teresa of Calcutta, “it must surely obtain wherever human life exists.” It is unjust, therefore, to deny, diminish, ignore, or deprive any human person of his or her fundamental human rights at any stage of life based on age, social status, health, or condition of dependency.
In a disposable society, the sanctity of human life is devalued. Its beauty and wonder are constantly under threat, especially at its beginning and end when it is most vulnerable. The violence of abortion destroys the lives of tens of millions of unborn children each year – a little over one million in the U.S. alone. Euthanasia grows more and more common as the value of the sick, elderly, and the disabled is minimized.
The “father of lies,” said Pope St. John Paul II, “relentlessly tries to eradicate from human hearts the sense of gratitude and respect for the original, extraordinary and fundamental gift of God: human life itself.
Our task in defending and serving life, whether we are debating healthcare or the right to life, is to peel back the layers of obfuscation and deception and to show to the world what – or rather who – is at the center of the debate: the human person. And the second part of our mission is to speak for every person whose voice has been silenced or compromised. For as we know, when government or any legal authority is given the power to bestow these rights, then that same authority can choose to withhold them.
Human life, no matter the circumstance, is a gift of immeasurable worth. It deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Human persons are not just individuals who serve our ends. They are ends in themselves. Each person, reflecting their God-given dignity, has basic rights and responsibilities that flow from our human nature, which cannot be negotiated or compromised regardless of any social or political structures. These rights are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his or her humanity and do not depend on the opinions or beliefs of anyone else.
At the heart of any discussion about universal human rights is the insistence that they apply to each and every human person, recognizing his or her inherent dignity. While godless and secular people try to dehumanize the human person, beginning in the womb, our task is to consistently and constantly keep the inestimable value of the human person and his fundamental rights front-and-center.
FATHER SHENAN J. BOQUET is the president of Human Life International (www.hli.org) and a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA.