The Dignity of the Human Person and the Sacredness of All Human Life
By David Tamisiea
North Dakota Catholic Conference
The fundamental principle governing all Catholic social teaching is the dignity of the human person. The dignity of the human person refers to the immeasurable value and worth of every single human being, from the first moment of conception until natural death. Human dignity is not something that can be earned or taken away but rather is intrinsic to every person and a gift from God.
The dignity of the human person is rooted in the fact that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26–27). The Incarnation and Redemption testify to the pricelessness of human life – God loved us so much that he became a man like us and underwent excruciating suffering and death on the Cross to redeem us from slavery to sin and eternal death. No other creature is valued so highly by God.
Above all, the dignity of the human person is based upon every person’s calling to share in God’s own divine life for all eternity. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the human person “alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity” (CCC 356).
The corollary to man’s transcendent dignity is that all human life is sacred, from “womb to tomb,” since every person is a living icon of God, an imago Dei, whom God wills to share in his own divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). The lofty dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life demands we treat other people with honor, respect, and love, uphold and defend basic human rights, and work to establish conditions in society for the full flourishing of every person.
The principle of human dignity touches upon virtually every public policy position of the Catholic Church, including issues like immigration, euthanasia, human trafficking, religious liberty, transgenderism, the death penalty, and other contemporary social issues. While each of these is no doubt important, the one issue that has a certain pre-eminence among them all is abortion.
The Church teaches that the intentional and direct taking of innocent human life in the womb by abortion is an intrinsically evil act that can never be justified. This has been the consistent position of the Church from the first century onward and, as St. John Paul II makes clear in his encyclical on the life issues, Evangelium Vitae, an infallible teaching according to the Church’s ordinary and universal magisterium (EV 62).
At the same time, no one can deny the difficult circumstances many pregnant women face, including extreme poverty, abusive relationships, pressure to abort the child, and even life-threatening conditions caused by the pregnancy. For this reason, the Church provides practical help to pregnant women in need and extends forgiveness and mercy to those women who may end up choosing abortion.
During the last legislative session, the North Dakota Catholic Conference introduced a comprehensive set of legislative proposals to provide practical assistance to pregnant women and babies called Responding with Love. With the full support of our two bishops, my predecessor and co-director, Christopher Dodson, worked tireless with legislators to successfully pass these proposals into law and help build in North Dakota a sanctuary for life that is pro-family, pro-woman, and pro-child.
The Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade in summer 2022 was a major pro-life victory. But the struggle is clearly not over and has morphed into a state-by-state battle for life. While no legal abortions are currently being performed in our state, the North Dakota Supreme Court last year found a fundamental right to abortion in the state constitution in cases where it is deemed necessary to preserve the mother’s life or health. This should serve as a warning to us that much work remains to be done to defend unborn children and build a culture of life in North Dakota. Please intensify your prayers and penances for the legal protection of unborn children in our state and country as we strive together to uphold the dignity and sacredness of all human life.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.