Limiting Access to Medical
Treatment: Philosophical and
AS THE FOUNDATION OF PHILOSOPHICAL
AND CATHOLIC BIOETHICS
All philosophical, and certainly all Christian and Catholic, reflections on medical ethics ought to take as their starting point the unique dignity and value of the human person, regardless of age, physical or mental ability, race, or gender. Although almost all human beings, philosophers, and adherents of any religion possess some grasp of this dignity, there are countless degrees of experiential as well as of philosophical and theological clarity and depth with which the dignity of the human person can be perceived and theoretically understood. To summarize: Each person—whether man, woman, unborn child, or dying grandparent—possesses a higher and more sublime value, “dignity,” which demands, morally speaking, “absolute respect.” Such respect is not due to any nonpersonal entity, including animals. The qualitative content of dignity can only be grasped when we keep before our minds persons and the four roots of their dignity to be discussed below. The value of each person is an objective value of incomparable depth, which characterizes the person qua person and makes it absolutely and intrinsically wrong to trample upon this dignity in actions and crimes, such as those committed at Auschwitz. This same dignity constitutes the moral relevance of persons in intensive care units (ICUs), requiring many acts while absolutely forbidding others.
One might speak here of “negative absolutes” when dealing with the described absolute imperatives. Yet one should recognize the primacy of not harming or violating human dignity by certain actions as a positive absolute, one in the service of a positive value. Only the sublime positive value of human dignity can explain that it is absolutely forbidden to attack it. These moral absolutes, which forbid certain acts under all circumstances, throw into relief the positive value of human dignity. These moral absolutes require such a high positive respect for human life that actions directed against it are absolutely forbidden.1