September 12, 2008


Human rights and dignity

We have been seeing and hearing a lot about human rights and human dignity lately.

We were pleased that President Bush spoke about human rights, both in Thailand on his way to China for the Olympics and in China itself.

He let Chinese leaders know that the United States opposes China’s repression of its people. In Thailand, Bush said, “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights, not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

In China itself, the president spoke up for freedom of religion. After attending church services in one of the Protestant churches approved by the government, he urged China to approve all religions.

“No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion,” he said.

Naturally, the Chinese leaders weren’t impressed. They, in effect, told Bush to mind his own business. However, progress toward greater freedom for all religions is beginning to make headway in China.

Bush hasn’t been the only one talking about human rights. That was the topic of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the United Nations last April. He emphasized that human rights “are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.”

He also said that people and governments must recognize that they are not the creators of human rights and they cannot limit them, and that religious freedom is an essential human right.

This was hardly the only time the pope has spoken about human rights recently. It has been a frequent theme in many of his talks, especially his emphasis that every person has an equal dignity by virtue of his or her creation by God and that, therefore, all people must have their human rights protected.

With human rights comes, naturally enough, human dignity. The pope said, in his address at the UN, that human dignity is the basis of human rights. Who can be against human dignity?

Well, one person is Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, whose article “The Stupidity of Dignity” was published in the May issue of The New Republic.

Pinker took exception to a report on human dignity published recently by the President’s Council on Bioethics, chaired by Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, former president of The Catholic University of America and a renowned medical ethicist at Georgetown University.

In his negative article, Pinker decreed that human dignity is a “slippery and ambiguous” concept that is being used to oppose such things as embryonic stem-cell research and cloning.

Yes, of course that’s why we oppose those things. It’s precisely why the President’s Council on Bioethics stated its opposition to research that requires the destruction of the human embryo. We believe that humans, no matter how tiny, have dignity because they were created in the image of God.

Proponents of abortion rights, who don’t have the same beliefs about human dignity as we do, seem to be organizing their forces to require those in the health-care profession to perform abortions.

That came about after an article in The New York Times reported on July 15 that the Bush Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services was planning to propose regulations that would protect doctors and nurses who refuse to perform abortions.

U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman and Planned Parenthood were among those who immediately opposed the proposed regulations, with Planned Parenthood accusing the Bush Administration of “an attack on women’s health care.”

That prompted a letter from Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia and the current chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. He supported the regulations, saying that health care providers must be free “to serve the public without violating their most deeply held moral and religious convictions on the sanctity of human life.”

At present, doctors and nurses can’t be forced to perform abortions, but those who say they’re pro-choice want to change that. They want to deny pro-life health care providers, including Catholic hospitals, the right to choose whether or not to perform abortions.

Those who advocate rights and dignity for all humans must be ever vigilant.

—John F. Fink

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