Sanctity of Human Life

This is the big weekend for the annual March for Life and Sanctity of Human Life Sunday events across the country. These events will be celebrated by many who believe in the sanctity of life and lamented by others who champion other priorities. These are complicated and deeply personal topics so as the events draw our attention, may we be compassionate and thoughtful in our approach to abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and other issues surrounding the end of life questions.

Sanctity and dignity are two closely related concepts in the abortion debate. Sanctity requires a concept of the sacred and God. Sanctity refers to the intrinsic value we have as humans based on our creation in the image of God. Under this view, a divine authority–higher than our own–imparts value to each of us. “Dignity of human life” is similar to sanctity, though without necessitating a belief in God. With some exceptions, people have an intuitive understanding of how human life is special. While sanctity of life allows very little room for abortion or physician-assisted suicide, people disagree about the implications of human dignity in public policy.

The cultural arguments around abortion and physician-assisted suicide are very different. They change from being questions about when life begins to questions about when it is justifiable to end a life. Abortion ends a life before the baby experiences the world outside the womb. The justifications for abortion range from inconvenience to physical threats to the mother’s health. Some also argue that the potential quality of the life of the child is a relevant factor in determining the appropriateness of an abortion.

Physician-assisted suicide preemptively ends a life that is expected to end in suffering. Because no one wants to suffer, an argument is proposed that one has the right to choose the time of his or her own death. However, both sets of arguments–for abortion and assisted suicide–fall well short of overcoming the sanctity and dignity principles for protecting and preserving human life.

The Declaration of Independence, emphasizes our rights (among others) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While we do have a right to life, we do not have a guarantee to the particular lifestyle we desire. We have the liberty to pursue happiness, but the end result is not assured by the Declaration nor the Constitution. And, most importantly, the right to privacy doesn’t override another’s right to life.

Some pregnancies are inconvenient and terminal illnesses are tragic. Babies are costly in terms of sleep, money, and career opportunities. Unplanned pregnancy, whether inside or outside of marriage, has a substantial impact on one’s plans for the future as does a cancer diagnosis. However, the inconvenience of a child does not justify his or her death. Nor does the fear of suffering justify the taking of one’s own life.

The sanctity of life raises difficult questions about abortion and assisted suicide. As we work towards legal changes to end abortion, we can also encourage making the adoption and foster care systems places where children are well-loved, safe, and provided for.

Hopefully, the events this weekend will lead to more pondering and reflection on the sanctity and dignity of human life. God loves all of us, and we all have important work to do in protecting and preserving His most valuable gift to all of us–life.  Over this weekend, let us take some time to rejoice in the solidarity of the pro-life movement, to grieve the loss of millions of lives and stories that will never be told, and to re-energize our efforts for protecting all human life.