Dignitas personae (the dignity of persons): the Vatican's latest bioethics document.
"The December 2008 instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled Dignitas personae," states Bishop Gianpaolo Crepaldi, "is not a document regarding bioethics alone, but also contains numerous considerations of a political and social nature." He continues: "After John Paul II's Evangelium vitae (1995) the theme of life has been tackled on a regular basis not only as a chapter of personal morals-a dimension it does have--but also as a fundamental dimension of public ethics."
FUNDAMEMENTAL DIMENSION OF PUBLIC ETHICS
"Life ... human sexuality, marriage and the family are at the origin of society itself. Dignitas personae also follows this same line and not only assesses new technical possibilities in the field of procreation and genetic engineering, but also situates all that in a much broader context, first and foremost theological and anthropological, but likewise social and political. Readers will therefore find in the instruction words and concepts like equality, justice, peaceful coexistence, common good, slavery, etc., all of which have pride of place in social and political discussions."
The dignity to be acknowledged to each human being constitutes the core of the instruction. Denying that dignity in procreative procedures through in vitro fertilization and the voluntary elimination of human embryos leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being. Recognition of such respect is, on the other hand, promoted by the intimacy of husband and wife nourished by married love (No. 16). If respect fades away in such a key sector, the awareness of the dignity of the person will tend to become fainter and fainter in other sectors of human endeavour as well (the economy, the world of labour).
"It is above all in the conclusion (Nos. 36-37), however, that the instruction sets the social and political contours of its argumentation. Opportunely reiterated is the well-known passage from Evangelium vitae recalling Rerum novarum (1891) and drawing an analogy between workers--the poor back then--and the human fetuses not allowed to be born--the poor of today. The Church speaks out today as it did then to protect the most defenceless, well aware that human resources are unfortunately used all too often for evil instead of good.
"Among the attacks on human life, the instruction recalls poverty, underdevelopment, the destruction of the ecosystem, weapons and warfare (No. 36). Among the prohibitions widely accepted today, and which seek to protect the dignity of man, the instruction recalls those against racism, slavery, and discrimination of women, children, ill and disabled persons (No. 37). This instruction ... therefore tells us that the value of life and of the dignity of the person is indivisible, and hence bioethics is part of the social issue." (Zenit, Feb 25/09)
Bishop Gianpaolo Crepaldi is the Vatican Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and president of the Cardinal Van Thidn International Observatory for the Soda/Doctrine of the Church.
[For the full text of Dignitas personae, see www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/ rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html.]