Throughout history there have been different discussions in which the equality or radical inequality among human beings has been elucidated. It was discussed whether women, or whether blacks, Indians and slaves in general were persons or not. Today, such discussions seem aberrant, although we cannot say they are outdated. Today, we are once again questioning the dignity The personal dignity of human beings at the beginning and at the end of life, where personal determinations are more fragile, either because the potential of the subject is not yet expressed at the personal level or because the subject risks falling into a simple state of biological life. Therefore, even today it is necessary to seriously address the question of the radical equality of all human beings and to affirm the equality of rights and nature of unborn human beings, or those born with some notable deficiency, of the sick who are a burden on the family or on society, of the mentally handicapped, etc. This is the question we will address.
At present, the question of dignity is answered from an immanent point of view, based on an individualistic, materialistic and subjectivist anthropology that entails making the dignity of the human being depend exclusively on visible bodily manifestations, forgetting the spiritual dimension of the human being. It is clear that in the shadow of materialism, man will never become more than an illustrious ape or the individual of an egregious species, but that, because he is nothing, he can be cloned, manipulated, produced and sacrificed, at the beginning or at the end of his life, for the sake of the collectivity, when the well-being or the simple will of the majority or dominant minority seems to require it. In this vision, the person in the limit states of its existence is nothing more than an accident of the other person, today of the mother's body, tomorrow of this or that social, political or cultural group.
In the face of subjectivism, we must object that reality is not something subjective, but that there is in every reality something objective, which will mark the axiological plane. The dignity of the person does not depend only on his visible body, but on his invisible spirit, which makes him singular, unique and unrepeatable, that is to say, every person is someone who has something unspeakable, mysterious, that configures an inviolable sacred space.
Man, by the fact of being a person, possesses a true and unfathomable excellence. And he has this excellence or dignity regardless of whether or not he is aware of it, and regardless of the judgment he has formed on the matter, because it is not man's judgment that makes reality, but reality that fertilizes thought and lends veracity to his judgments. He who exists in himself, even the conceived, has no need of permission to live. Every decision of others about his life is an offense against his identity and against his being.
The person, on the one hand, is an individual entrusted to the care and responsibility of his own freedom. On the other hand, because his social condition is rooted in his constitutive structure, we can affirm that the human being is never alone, nor can he assert absolute ownership of his life. Therefore, the relationship between the physician and the patient must take into account that his decisions not only belong to the private sphere, but also have a double responsibility to society: the physician, being the depositary of the profession par excellence, has an enormous social, political and human responsibility; the patient, not being an island in the middle of the ocean, but a member of human society, must bear in mind that above the individual good is the common good, which includes respect for the physical integrity of the life of all persons, including his own.
A mentality that does not defend man from the purely technical and turns him into just another object in the domain of technology does not serve to respond to the new ethical challenges posed by technological progress, nor to humanize a society increasingly threatened by selfishness and far removed from the spirit of the Good Samaritan.
At the same time, as the document of the elderly states and the Pope never tires of repeating, we need a society that places the elderly at the center and prevents the continued imposition of a throwaway and consumer society where the weak are rejected and the human person is subjected to the power of desire and technology.
In conclusion, we can affirm that today no one denies in theory that man is a person and, because of his personal being, has a dignity, a unique value and a right to be respected. The problem in the current bioethical debate is to verify whether the reference to the dignity of the person is based on an adequate and true vision of the human being, which constitutes the fundamental principle and the criterion of discernment of all ethical discourse.
Bishop of the Canary Islands. President of the Episcopal Subcommission for the Family and Defense of Life.