The Catholic Church's view of human dignity springs from human agency and free will, with the further understanding that free will in turn springs from human creation made in the image of God.
In scripture, we learn that man was created to be a social being, with abilities and responsibilities:
“The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
“Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”(Genesis 1: 26-27)
We can find this expanded and reflected upon in the bible and the teaching tradition of the Church. For example we learn
“You have made him little less than a god; with glory and honor you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand, put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8)
While St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the 4th century, said:
“God did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see…You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which surpasses all understanding…Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur.” (The Image of God in Humanity: Commentary on the Song of Songs, Homily)
The Catholic Church's view of human dignity springs from human agency and free will, with the further understanding that free will in turn springs from human creation made in the image of God. The human person, an intelligent being who has a soul, has been endowed with the ability to know and love God freely, thereby having a privileged place in the order of creation.
Does Human Dignity have any other “supports”?
Yes. Natural law.
Is Human Dignity is an Inalienable Right?
“Beyond the rights which man acquires by his own work, there exist rights which do not correspond to any work he performs, but which flow from his essential dignity as a person.” (CA, 11)
Are there any exceptions to this inalienable right of Human Dignity?
"When we invoke respect for the dignity of the person, it is fundamental that such respect should be complete, total and unimpeded, ... recognizing that we are always dealing with a human life", said Pope Benedict. "Of course, human life has its own development and the research horizon for science and bioethics remains open, but it must be reiterated that when dealing with matters which involve human beings, scientists must never think they are dealing with inanimate and manipulable material. In fact, from its first instant, the life of man is characterized by the fact of being a human life, and for this reason it has, always and everywhere, its own dignity". (Pope Benedict XVI, Address To participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 13, 2010)
What are my responsibilities, with regards to Human Dignity?
“Today too it is important for Christians to follow what is right, which is the foundation of peace. Today too it is important for Christians not to accept a wrong that is enshrined in law – for example the killing of innocent unborn children. In this way we serve peace”. (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Chrism Mass, 1 April 2010)
What are threats to Human Dignity?
"there is a growing inability to situate particular interests within the framework of a coherent vision of the common good. The latter is not simply the sum total of particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately, it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person" [e:CA,47]
Our understanding of the prime importance of Human Dignity is made extremely difficult today because of two, opposing viewpoints: "One maintains that human life is in the hands of man, and the other recognizes that it is in God’s hands." Benedict tells us only the second view ensures that human rights are protected: "When God is not present, man is not respected." (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Vatican parish of St. Anne, 5 February 2006)
Is there a fundamental problem with the modern conception of “Rights"?
‘Natural Rights’ vs. ‘Civil Rights’
What are the duties of law-makers, with regards to Human Dignity?
“Recognizing human dignity as an inalienable right has its first foundation in that law - unwritten by the hand of man but inscribed by God the Creator in man's heart - which all juridical systems are called to recognize as inviolable, and all individuals to respect and promote. Without the basic principle of human dignity it would be difficult to find a wellspring for the rights of the person, and impossible to reach ethical judgments about those scientific advances which have a direct effect on human life". (Pope Benedict XVI, Address To participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 13, 2010)
Benedict XVI highlights "the commitment that must be shown in the various areas of society and culture in order to ensure that human life is always recognized as an unalienable subject of law, and never as an object dependent on the whims of the powerful". In this context he pointed out that "history has shown how dangerous and damaging a State can be when it proceeds to make laws that touch the person and society, while itself claiming to be the source and principle of ethics". (Address To participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, February 13, 2010)
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