On April 8, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published the Declaration “Dignitas Infinita” on human dignity in which it insists that euthanasia, gender theory or abortion constitute great threats to human dignity.

The new document, consisting of 68 points and signed by the prefect of the Dicastery, the Argentine theologian and Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, was approved by Pope Francis on March 25. Although it does not show substantial modifications with respect to the magisterium already established in the Donum vitae and Evangelium vitae, nor that expressed by Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis himself. The declaration specifies aspects that have been interpreted ambiguously by many sectors, even by the Church itself. The language is clear and concise, which is appreciated.

It seems that its drafting has not been easy and, since its approach in 2019, it has had to be revised and reformulated several times, at the request of Francis himself, until its final wording now released.

The document is based on the idea of the inviolability of the dignity of the human being, which every individual of the human species possesses throughout his life and in all circumstances, including immaturity, dependence or incapacity.

It distinguishes ontological dignity, which cannot be conferred or withdrawn, from other conceptions of dignity, such as moral, social or existential, whose assessment can be subject to circumstances such as the exercise of one’s own freedom even against dignity itself, injustice or vulnerability. But it emphasizes that the ontological dignity inherent in human nature is not diminished or affected by these circumstances, contrary to the interpretation of a large part of current society and throughout history.

Likewise, the document clearly reminds us that human rights are born from the need for recognition and respect for this dignity, and, therefore, they cease to be human rights when they violate it. This is of particular interest in cases involving appeals to alleged “rights”, which are also discussed in detail in the document. These are summarized below:

  1. There is no right to kill, under any circumstances: neither in abortion, or euthanasia, or suicide, or wars, or the death penalty, or human trafficking, or any other circumstance in which human dignity is violated. The termination of life is the maximum degree of aggression, irreversible as it is, that a human being can suffer.
  2. There is also no supposed right to redefine sex according to one’s own personal interpretation. And in this the document is clear: the supposed “sex change” cannot be accepted as morally permissible. It is impossible, given the biological definition of human sexual nature as masculine or feminine, as a way of existing and not as an accessory characteristic of one’s being.
  3. A clarifying remark is made about DSD (Disorders of Sex Development) cases, in which they are referred to as pathological situations involving dysfunctions that require treatment for the benefit of the affected individual. And it clarifies that it is not about “sex changes” but about addressing therapeutic needs aimed at trying to improve the health of those affected.
  4. The unequivocal relationship established between freedom and dignity must also be highlighted, so that the former is weakened if it is separated from respect for one’s own dignity or the dignity of others. It is on the basis of these that human beings establish relationships that give meaning to their existence. Giving up the search for truth and goodness are also, according to Benedict XVI, limiting factors in the exercise of true freedom.
  5. Also, as established in the document, economic, social, legal, political and cultural conditions constitute a requirement for the correct exercise of freedom. And here, it seems that Francis has insisted on this point: social, economic, legal, political or cultural inequalities can restrict the exercise of their freedom in the least favored. Once again, respect for the dignity of every human being is shown to be the key.
  6. In addition to those already mentioned, other serious violations of human dignity are qualified in the document. Emphasis is placed on poverty, war, emigration, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, discrimination in motherhood, prostitution, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the discarding of people with disabilities and gender theory. Surrogacy is unambiguously referred to as an attack on the human dignity of mother and child. The discarding of people with disabilities should include victims of embryonic selection and discarding carried out in assisted reproduction techniques and preimplantation and prenatal genetic diagnosis. In addition to the aforementioned gender theory and its proposals for the eradication of difference and supposed choice of one’s own sex.
  7. Finally, the final section of the document focuses on digital violence as a source of excesses that lead to isolation, addictive behaviors, manipulation or violation of privacy.

Julio Tudela

Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia

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