BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (209): How do we give respect to embryos, the sick and the dying?

Rev. José Mario O Mandía

Since man is made after God’s image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), it follows that every human being’s life – from conception to natural death – is inviolable and sacred. This also means that after death, the body, even if it is no longer animated by the soul, still deserves respect.

Protecting life from the moment of conception: Fulfilling the fifth commandment.

The fifth commandment requires society to protect every human being the moment he or she is conceived. “The inalienable right to life of every human individual from the first moment of conception is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation. When the State does not place its power at the service of the rights of all and in particular of the more vulnerable, including unborn children, the very foundations of a State based on law are undermined” (CCCC 472).

This commandment also obliges us to “take reasonable care of our own physical health and that of others but avoid the cult of the body and every kind of excess. Also to be avoided are the use of drugs which cause very serious damage to human health and life, as well as the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco and medicine” (CCCC 474).

The Church’s teachings on ethical organ donation emphasize respect and informed consent. (Image:

Does that mean that scientific, medical or psychological experiments on human individuals or groups are forbidden? Not necessarily. These experiments “are morally legitimate when they are at the service of the integral good of the person and of society, without disproportionate risks to the life and physical and psychological integrity of the subjects who must be properly informed and consenting” (CCCC 475).

Regarding the transplant and donation of organs, the Church teaches that it “is morally acceptable with the consent of the donor and without excessive risks to him or her. Before allowing the noble act of organ donation after death, one must verify that the donor is truly dead” (CCCC 476).

The Catechism also teaches that “kidnapping and hostage taking, terrorism, torture, violence, and direct sterilization” are “contrary to respect for the bodily integrity of the human person.” It adds: “Amputations and mutilations of a person are morally permissible only for strictly therapeutic medical reasons” (CCCC 477).

The Church also teaches us how to take care of the dying. “When death is considered imminent the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. However, it is legitimate to use pain-killers which do not aim at death and to refuse ‘overzealous treatment’, that is the utilization of disproportionate medical procedures without reasonable hope of a positive outcome” (CCCC 471).

It adds that those who are “dying have a right to live the last moments of their earthly lives with dignity and, above all, to be sustained with prayer and the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God” (CCCC 478).

How about after death? Does the Church give any specific guidelines? Yes, she does. “The bodies of the departed must be treated with love and respect. Their cremation is permitted provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (CCCC 479).

(Main image: RODNAE