Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person

Learning More About Catholic Social Teachings

Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person

Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion. Other direct threats to the sanctity of human life include euthanasia, human cloning and the destruction of human embryos for research.

Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture*, unjust war and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort, always seeking first to resolve disputes by peaceful means. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God.

*See Catechism of the Catholic Church #2297 below

These themes are drawn from a rich tradition of principles and ideas that are more fully described in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Washington, DC: U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005).

Scriptural Foundations

Every social decision and institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the life & dignity of the human person.


Quotes from Official Church Documents

  • “All offenses against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person…all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons: all these and the like are criminal: they poison civilization…and militate against the honor of the creator.”

-          Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), no. 2.

  • “Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church’s heart; it cannot but effect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk. 16:15)”

From: Leader’s Guide to Sharing Catholic Social Teaching (USCCB, 2001).

For further reading:

References from the Catechism

  • 1934 - Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.
  • 2270 - Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
  • #72 - Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. #
    74 - My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
  • 2297 - Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

Practicing Faithful Citizenship

Prayer for Life*

Eternal God,
Creator and sustainer of life,
bless us with the courage to defend all life
from conception to natural death.
Bless us with the strength to respect
all peoples from east to west, from north to south,
so that we may truly follow
the call of Jesus
to be neighbor.
we ask this in the name of Jesus,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit.

*From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB, April, 1998