‘Life at the Center’ Statement Reflects on Human Dignity in Post-Roe World
Offering a blueprint for the pro-life movement, prominent Catholics sign on to a letter that fleshes out the inherent dignity of human life.
A new document signed by prominent Catholic theologians and thought leaders titled “Life at the Center: A Pro-Life Statement” is included in the November issue of First Things and is currently available online.
Written within the context of a post-Roe world, the authors present “both new challenges and opportunities in the wake of the June 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.”
Written by Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White, university rector of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum; Jesuit Father Kevin Flannery, professor of philosophy emeritus at the Pontifical Gregorian University; O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame; and Christopher Tollefsen, philosophy professor at the University of South Carolina, the statement first references Church teaching on the dignity of the human person:
“Basing her teaching upon Scripture and sacred tradition, the Catholic Church affirms in its Catechism that ‘the dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God.’ This image of God is present in every human being, and it is rooted in the whole person, body and soul. Concurrent with divine revelation, sound philosophical reasoning can ascertain that the human person is a rational animal, endowed with a biologically specific living body and a rational spiritual soul. Each person possesses intrinsic powers of intellectual knowledge, volitional love, and free choice, which typically manifest themselves gradually and develop throughout life. Human personhood does not depend on the development of these capacities but is rooted in our very nature, even from its beginning. Human beings who are unable to develop all the virtues of human flourishing due to disability, or other circumstances, always are and remain persons made in the image of God, equal and identical to others in their irreducible dignity.”
The authors and signatories acknowledge where life stands in our post-Roe world, where “cultural trends feed an already existing indifference, callousness, or even disrespect toward the good of human life, which is viewed by many as having merely instrumental, and not sacred, value,” while at the same time “there is a growing awareness of the biological reality that life begins at conception and thus that abortion ends the life of a human being.”
Building on this understanding of an individual’s uniqueness, the authors point to the need for relationships and family: “This personal image of the triune God in us is also something corporate: Human beings develop in and through relational dependences of love and shared knowledge, in families and communities of education, work, and artistic creativity.”
“Each person, from his or her conception, is made as well for communion with God and destined by God for eternal beatitude,” the statement adds. “In view of the human person’s nature, origin, and destiny, the Church teaches that every human life is sacred from conception to natural death, and that it is therefore always and everywhere wrong to intentionally take innocent human life,” it continues, adding: “A human society can only create an adequately just social order and inclusive common good if it first recognizes the intrinsic natural dignity of every human person. This dignity is given by God and by our created nature; it is not conferred by social convention or the mere legal apparatus of the state. For these and other reasons, the Catholic Church is committed to the civic legal protection of innocent human life from conception to natural death as an exceptionless norm.”
“Thus,” it explains, “a society that defends innocent life must do so consistently wherever it is threatened: by unjust forms of punishment; by poverty; by economic exploitation or human trafficking; by discriminatory treatment of the cognitively or physically disabled; by practices of assisted suicide and euthanasia; by unjust acts of war and terror. Our defense of life must be consistent and integral.”
And they acknowledge where devaluing unborn life can tragically lead: “It is not surprising then that a culture where people are habituated to ‘controlling’ the ‘problem’ of pregnancy by taking innocent life is one where there may be an extended use of euthanasia to control the problem of pain and death, or to eliminate the unwanted, the poor, the physically and/or intellectually disabled, or the terminally or mentally ill.”
“Such a state of affairs is itself a corruption of law, the first task of which is to provide equal protection to all of a state’s inhabitants. The rule of law is thereby made a casualty of the failure to protect human life.”
The authors point to the need for honest dialogue about life issues, explain the concept of human ecology and champion legislation focused on “protecting innocent human life as a fundamental or central good of society in all circumstances.”
“The Church constantly recalls publicly that God, the Holy Trinity, creates all human beings in view of eternal beatitude,” the statement continues. “Therefore, no human life is inconsequential. The natural gift of every human person is an invitation for others to grow in understanding and love. The Church likewise supports those who wish to advance a culture of life, both in theory and in practice, by cultivating a culture of learning, evangelization, and family life, and by her assistance to the poor and vulnerable. Catholics can and must privilege the defense of the right to life from conception to natural death as a most fundamental social right for the good of all other civic rights. But they must also seek the good of each human person in ways that accord with Catholic social teaching.”
Reflecting on the need for mercy, the authors end by calling on the faithful and all people of goodwill to understand their own role in promoting a culture of life:
“Mercy is not something opposed to truth or to justice, but it is integrally related to each of these. For mercy is life-giving, and knowing that God is merciful is key to our belief that society as a whole can change, can acknowledge the truth, and can move effectively over time to acknowledge the dignity of human life in the fullness of justice. This dignity is at the center of all we do, and so we aim to promote in the Church today an integral witness to her social doctrine, as one that rightly protects many human goods, and that always places life at the center.”
The signatories include Helen Alvaré of the Antonin Scalia Law School; Ryan Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Erika Bachiochi, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute; Charles Camosy of Creighton University School of Medicine; Mother Mary Concepta, superior general of the Sisters of Life; and Robert George of Princeton University, among others.
- church teaching on the dignity of life
- dignity of the human person
- culture of life