Human Life Matters

In the upcoming election, the principles upon which we make our choices will most probably display much about the authenticity and credibility of our witness as a Church in a country much in need of moral clarity. It is a matter of first principles, of which life itself matters most.

A common misunderstanding of Catholic moral teaching is that it is primarily articulated through religious or dogmatic formulas. While none of it is inconsistent with Scripture or tradition, our moral exhortation has always sought to persuade a wider audience than the Sunday congregation, recognizing how profoundly moral principles inform all human relationships, intimate and social, commercial and political.

In our moral teaching, we distinguish a number of factors that define the moral act and — without elaborating on the philosophical technicalities — motives, intentions and consequences do have bearing on the morality or immorality of any human act. A kiss between healthy persons, for example, might be a harmless enough exchange in itself, but, experience confirms, it can be innocent or seductive, a sign of affection or even (considering Judas) a sign of betrayal. The killing of another human being is never a good thing. In the most objective sense, it is an existential evil: one who could live, grow and (even potentially) breathe no longer can. Yet clearly not all killing is murder, as in the case of pure accident —even if the agent of death is human — or in an instance of self-defense when no other alternative is possible.

Some actions are so inextricably woven through with the intentions and motives of the actor that it is impossible to claim a moral defense proportionate to the grave immorality of the act. The deliberate taking of an innocent human life is such a case, regardless of at which end of the continuum of that life it might occur. Such acts are intrinsically immoral: The evil within them cannot be washed or “edited” out by any combination of “good” intention, exigency or expediency.

Thus, the taking of a life so as to put that human subject out of his or her misery — as in the case of “mercy killing” or assisted suicided — is never a moral option. Similarly, terminating a pre-born life at any stage of growth is never a morally justifiable “choice.” Public policy that would not only sanction such immorality but proactively force citizens to subsidize it under color of law through taxation or regulation is morally unsustainable. It follows that to support it would be material cooperation with evil and, therefore, sinful.

In “Forming Consciences and Faithful Citizenship,” our bishops instruct: “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”

The foundation of our teaching on the sanctity and inviolability of human life at every stage from conception to natural death needs no clearer specific biblical teaching than the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Throughout Christian history, abortion has always been condemned. Theologians, for the most part, and the magisterium have based the teaching on more than its biblical foundation, the main one being the nature of the human person.

In recent years, the sciences themselves tend to affirm the “seamless garment” of the continuum of human life. There is no point along it at which the human subject is more or less than human and, therefore, a being of moral worth. To put it another way, human dignity is not measured by the accident of status — race, sex, age, nationality, genetics or self-sustainability. Human life at every stage matters.