|Dr. Daniel Daly|
As a high school volunteer in my local children's hospital, I remember standing in front of a plaque emblazoned with the patients' bill of rights. It began with:
______ Medical Center affirms each patient's right to receive care delivered in a considerate, respectful, dignified and comforting manner.Why? I wondered, as I stood there in my candy-striper polo. Why dignity? Where does dignity come from? Where do documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights base their claims on dignity?
That was the beginning of a many-year period of frustration with secularized healthcare that insisted on human dignity. I was glad, of course, that they maintained human dignity. However, I could not discover a source of that dignity, consistent with an agnostic or pluralistic worldview.
And, in fact, it is not to be found. Dignity without God is a relic of a post-Christian society. (A good relic, but an inconsistency.) Dr. Daniel Daly discussed the source of human dignity very lucidly. We are made in the image of God (“imago Dei”): we have intellects, imaging his omniscience; we are social, imaging his Trinity; we have free wills, imaging his will; we have inherent value, imaging his essential goodness. Because we image God, men have transcendent value which cannot be taken away. Moreover, we are all equally valuable, because we all share equally in human nature.
This value is different in kind from the value of the rest of enmattered creation. Non-rational animals, plants, and non-living creatures have intrinsic value--that is, they are good in themselves and should be loved as creatures of God and means to him. Men have this, and more. Men are persons. What is a person?
Dr. Daly defined "person" as "an embodied soul." A few observations about this definition:
- By this definition, neither the Persons of the Trinity nor angels are persons.
- If "soul" be taken strictly ("anima") this actually defines all animals (including humans).
- If "soul" be taken in the more colloquial, human-only sense, this actually defines "rational animal."
- Any other rational life (i.e. aliens) can be persons under this definition. (Which is fine.)
- This definition does not make clear that "person" is one thing.
- The Persons of the Trinity are persons.
- Angels are persons.
- Aliens are persons. (If intelligent aliens are found, by the way, they would be "rational animals" and hence human, unless we wish to add another adjective to the definition of "man" which has stood for four millennia.)
- This definition makes very clear that a "person" is a united whole; however, the philosophy that this definition belongs to also makes clear that all substances are united wholes. (Unity is not unique to persons; this makes sense: one kangaroo is one thing.)
- This definition implies the "imago Dei" by the words "rational nature."
However, She does teach that the embryo could be a person. Because of this, however, abortion and other practices which kill fetuses are never permissible because
- Murder may never be risked
- Matter awaiting a soul of transcendent value is valuable in itself! At the least, it should be treated as other living things are (like kangaroos and trees).