Live GreaterUnconditional Human Dignity

On March 31, 2005, 41-year-old Terri Schiavo died in a Florida hospice, nearly two weeks after the removal of the feeding tube that had been keeping her alive for over a decade.  Despite the obvious violation of Terri’s constitutional right to life, the US Supreme Court refused on multiple occasions to hear an emergency appeal from Terri’s parents.  Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, had spent the last seven years fighting in court to remove the feeding tube, claiming that Terri would not want to live in her brain-damaged condition, which had resulted from heart failure 15 years before.  In doing so, Michael displayed a flagrant disregard for Terri’s dignity as a human person.

Violations of human dignity are clear in the euthanasia of people such as Terri Schiavo, in the countless abortions performed every day, and in the abuse of the human body through the misuse of alcohol, drugs, and sex.  As people do these things, they are forgetting the dignity they have as human persons and treating their bodies as mere objects, rather than as temples of the Holy Spirit, holy dwelling places of God, and reflections of the divine.

How can so many blatant violations of human dignity be committed every day?  Why does our society sit back and indifferently watch what is happening, rather than crying out in protest and outrage, as it should?  The answer is that our society is contributing to the problem by setting forth certain conditions to determine a person’s value.  Anyone who fails to meet these conditions is rejected as having less or no value to society.  Our culture is constantly putting pressure on people to reach certain standards of wealth, power, popularity, and physical appearance in order to have any dignity.

This constant pressure to be valued by society creates a distorted sense of self-worth, which can lead to disrespect for oneself and others.  Millions of teenagers have developed eating disorders in an attempt to obtain the perfect Hollywood body.  A desire to become rich and powerful has led to greed and corruption in businesses throughout the world.  And horrible evils such as abortion and euthanasia have become accepted norms.

But amid a culture of confusion and lies, we can look to our Catholic faith to tell us the truth about the unconditional dignity that we possess.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God.” (CCC 1700)  This means that every human person has value no matter how much money or how many friends they have, no matter how they look or how popular they are.  All human persons have value because they were created by God in His image and He loves them.  Our dignity, therefore, comes from the divine image that is present in each one of us.  And although our society can lie to us, pressure us to act immorally, and even allow us to be deprived of our basic needs, as Terri Schiavo was, it can never give or take away the worth that we have as beloved children of God.

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