BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (208): What are our duties towards human life?

Rev. José Mario O Mandía

Man and woman were created in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). That being so, human beings deserve respect and veneration. “Human life must be respected because it is sacred. From its beginning human life involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. It is not lawful for anyone directly to destroy an innocent human being. This is gravely contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the Creator. ‘Do not slay the innocent and the righteous’ (Exodus 23:7)” (CCCC 466).

Hence, this commandment considers the following “as gravely contrary to the moral law:

direct and intentional murder and cooperation in it;

direct abortion, willed as an end or as means, as well as cooperation in it. Attached to this sin is the penalty of excommunication because, from the moment of his or her conception, the human being must be absolutely respected and protected in his integrity; 

direct euthanasia which consists in putting an end to the life of the handicapped, the sick, or those near death by an act or by the omission of a required action; 

suicide and voluntary cooperation in it, insofar as it is a grave offense against the just love of God, of self, and of neighbor. One’s responsibility may be aggravated by the scandal given; one who is psychologically disturbed or is experiencing grave fear may have diminished responsibility” (CCCC 470).

How about when one is defending himself from an aggressor and, as a result, hurts him? This is called “legitimate defense” and is not opposed to the commandment. Our duty is to defend life, especially our own. Hence, “in choosing to legitimately defend oneself one is respecting the right to life (either one’s own right to life or that of another) and not choosing to kill. Indeed, for someone responsible for the life of another, legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty, provided only that disproportionate force is not used” (CCCC 467).

CCCC (no 469) teaches: “The punishment imposed must be proportionate to the gravity of the offense…” (Image:

This is why legitimate public authority can impose a punishment on those who harm the common good with “the aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense, of defending public order and people’s safety, and contributing to the correction of the guilty party” (CCCC 468).

Can the legitimate authority impose any kind of punishment? CCCC (no 469) teaches: “The punishment imposed must be proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Given the possibilities which the State now has for effectively preventing crime by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm, the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent’ (Evangelium Vitae). When non-lethal means are sufficient, authority should limit itself to such means because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good, are more in conformity with the dignity of the human person, and do not remove definitively from the guilty party the possibility of reforming himself.”

We must also remember that the fifth commandment not only commands respect for bodily life. It also requires us to respect the spiritual life of others. We know that sin harms that life, so when we lead a person to commit sin, we are going against the fifth commandment. This sin is the sin of scandal. The CCCC (no 473) teaches: “Scandal, which consists in inducing others to do evil, is avoided when we respect the soul and body of the person. Anyone who deliberately leads others to commit serious sins himself commits a grave offense.”

Our Lord spoke clearly against this offense, saying that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.… For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7).

Furthermore, we should not limit ourselves to avoiding scandal. We should make a daily effort to lead others to virtue through words and deeds. Baptism calls us to the apostolate, to spread the Good News, and we do that especially with our behavior in daily life.

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