The principles of human dignity transcend time and culture, and cultural values related to human dignity are some of the most significant features of contemporary society throughout Europe and internationally. The phrase “human dignity” has become increasingly associated with values over various spectrums. However, it is not only a value, it is not a belief and it is not an opinion. Rather, human dignity is a principle that transcends the subjective and presents a reality that is of critical importance to every one of us. As a principle, human dignity is therefore unchangeable and relevant to all cultures at all times.
In Europe, the principle of human dignity is enshrined in the first article of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU: “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected”. Human dignity expresses the intrinsic value of every human being. In Christianity, this universal principle rests on the human being as created in the image and likeness of God. This defines the human being as a relational being. The Christian understanding of God is Trinitarian and therefore relational, so this is reflected in human existence. Politically, this means that human dignity is not just about the value and rights of the individual. Human dignity is not fully realised as long as the value of committed relationships is not appreciated and cherished. This includes valuing relationships and striving for right and just relationships in life, ethics, society and the economy.
The intrinsic value of the human being includes every stage of human existence. Excluding the beginning or end of a human life from being treated as human fundamentally undermines the intrinsic value of the human being and is therefore a violation of human dignity. We cannot exclude any stage of human life from human dignity. There is a particular need to protect vulnerable, disabled and unborn members of the human family.