A Vital Guide to Human Dignity

Demography is destiny. Children literally embody the future. A culture that does not welcome, encourage, protect and support children is on the way to its own extinction. Using that standard, the nations of once-Christian Europe have already selected themselves for the dustbin of history.

The standard fertility rate for population replacement is 2.1 children per woman over a lifetime. The overall European birthrate is now 1.6, with some countries as low as 1.1. Europe, as we know it from history, is undergoing the sharpest population decline since the Black Death 700 years ago. Of course, Europe will not die; but a new and very different Europe will arise in its place, fueled by immigration and a European Muslim birthrate that is three times higher than the non-Muslim birthrate.

Islam, unlike the dead European secularism it replaces " and despite its historic friction with the Gospel " has not lost its sense of purpose, or God's sovereignty, or the preciousness of children. Watching the demise of old Europe is a lesson. When we attack life, we attack our own identity and future. God is the Lord of life, not us. The only thing we can control about the future is whether we'll be part of it.

The headlines this month have shown how deeply the culture of death has infected European thought. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia for competent and willing adults older than 16 in 1985. But over the past few years, more and more sources have acknowledged that Dutch doctors have also "euthanized" critically ill children and adults without their consent.

The Associated Press confirmed earlier this month that at least five unreported infant "mercy killings" occur in the Netherlands for every one that is acknowledged. In France, one study found that 73 percent of doctors reported using drugs to end a newborn's life. According to the AP, "43 percent of Dutch doctors surveyed " and between 2 percent and 4 percent of doctors in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany and Sweden " reported doing" the same.

Meanwhile, with striking and unintentional irony, the New York Times ran a story one month ago with the headline: "More Dutch plan to emigrate as Muslim influx tips scales." The Times reported a "darkening mood" and "general pessimism" in the Netherlands. Foreign embassies in Holland "have been swamped by (emigration) inquiries in recent months" and by a "surge of interest among the Dutch in leaving" as their aging society rapidly changes.

Actions have consequences. A nation that undervalues and attacks life secures its own erasure from history.

Here's my point: Americans are no more exempt from God's laws governing the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person than anyone else. The sober realities now dawning in Europe can easily happen here " and they will happen here if we continue down the road paved with 40 million legal abortions.

When our mass media lionize the "mercy murder" in films like Million Dollar Baby or report the suicide of public figures like Hunter Thompson in the language of a "triumph" or flatly lie about the purported health benefits of embryonic stem cell research and cloning " we're headed for serious trouble.

Disciples of Jesus Christ understand that human life is sacred, from conception to natural death. For Catholics who know and love their Christian faith, abuse of the human embryo and abuse of the terminally ill adult have similar moral gravity. Both forms of violence " even when done with the alibi of science, or the greater good, or mercy " are attacks on the dignity of the human person, and therefore on God himself.

Right now, more than ever, we urgently need to deepen our respect for human life. To further that goal, on Thursday, April 7, our Denver, Colorado archdiocesan Respect Life Office will offer an invaluable seminar on "What the Catholic Church teaches on stem cell research from a scientific, ethical and moral perspective." The beginning of life is a good place to begin our own understanding of, and commitment to, the sanctity of the human person. So much is at stake, and Catholics can make a difference. I hope you'll be there.

"What the Catholic Church teaches on stem cell research from a scientific, ethical and moral perspective" will be presented by Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, on Thursday, April 7, at St. Anthony's Central Hospital, 4231 W. 16th St., Denver, at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput


Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage