Evangelium vitae 57

"Your eyes be held my unformed substance": the unspeakable crime of abortion

(Ps 139,16)

58 Among all the crimes which canbe committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making itparticularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council definesabortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakablecrime".54

But today, in many people's consciences, theperception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance ofabortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a tellingsign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becomingmore and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when thefundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we neednow more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to callthings by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or tothe temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet isextremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (
Is 5,20). Especially inthe case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, suchas "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true natureand to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguisticphenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word hasthe power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberateand direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being inthe initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent inall its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, inparticular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminatedis a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocentcould be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered anaggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, evento the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignantpower of a newborn baby's cries and tears. The unborn child is totallyentrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in thewomb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes thedecision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes abouthaving it done.

It is true that the decision to have an abortion isoften tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herselfof the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out ofconvenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such asher own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of thefamily. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in suchconditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place.Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic,can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.

59 As well as the mother, there areoften other people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb. Inthe first place, the father of the child may be to blame, not only when he di-rectly pressures the woman to have an abortion, but also when he indirectlyencourages such a decision on her part by leaving her alone to face theproblems of pregnancy: 55 in this way the family is thus mortallywounded and profaned in its nature as a community of love and in its vocationto be the "sanctuary of life". Nor can one overlook the pressureswhich sometimes come from the wider family circle and from friends. Sometimesthe woman is subjected to such strong pressure that she feels psychologicallyforced to have an abortion: certainly in this case moral responsibility liesparticularly with those who have directly or indirectly obliged her to have anabortion. Doctors and nurses are also responsible, when they place at theservice of death skills which were acquired for promoting life.

But responsibility likewise falls on the legislatorswho have promoted and approved abortion laws, and, to the extent that they havea say in the matter, on the administrators of the health-care centres whereabortions are performed. A general and no less serious responsibility lies withthose who have encouraged the spread of an attitude of sexual permissivenessand a lack of esteem for motherhood, and with those who should have ensured-butdid not-effective family and social policies in support of families, especiallylarger families and those with particular financial and educational needs.Finally, one cannot overlook the network of complicity which reaches out to includeinternational institutions, foundations and associations which systematicallycampaign for the legalization and spread of abortion in the world. In thissense abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond theharm done to them, and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a mostserious wound inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who oughtto be society's promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families,"we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life ofindividuals but also to that of civilization itself".56 We arefacing what can be called a "structure of sin" which opposes humanlife not yet born.

60 Some people try to justifyabortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certainnumber of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact,"from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which isneither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new humanbeing with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not humanalready. This has always been clear, and ... modern genetic science offersclear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there isestablished the programme of what this living being will be: a person, thisindividual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined.Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of itscapacities requires time-a rather lengthy time-to find its place and to be in aposition to act".57 Even if the presence of a spiritual soulcannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientificresearch on the human embryo provide "a valuable indication for discerningby the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearanceof a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person?".58

Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that,from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a humanperson is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition ofany intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason,over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations towhich the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has alwaystaught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from thefirst moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respectwhich is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity asbody and spirit: "The human being is to be respected and treated as aperson from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment hisrights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is theinviolable right of every innocent human being to life".59

61 The texts of Sacred Scripturenever address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly andspecifically condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human beingin the mother's womb that they require as a logical consequence that God'scommandment "You shall not kill" be extended to the unborn child aswell.

Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment ofexistence, including the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings,from their mothers' womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, whoforms them and knits them together with his own hands, who gazes on them whenthey are tiny shapeless embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrowwhose days are numbered and whose vocation is even now written in the"book of life" (cf. Ps
Ps 139,1). There too, when they are stillin their mothers' womb-as many passages of the Bible bearwitness60-they are the personal objects of God's loving and fatherlyprovidence.

Christian Tradition-as the Declaration issued by theCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well61-isclear and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describingabortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. From its first contacts withthe Greco-Roman world, where abortion and infanticide were widely practised,the first Christian community, by its teaching and practice, radically opposedthe customs rampant in that society, as is clearly shown by the Didachementioned earlier. 62 Among the Greek ecclesiastical writers,Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women who haverecourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are stillin their mother's womb, "are already under the protection of DivineProvidence".63 Among the Latin authors, Tertullian affirms:"It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makeslittle difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death atbirth. He who will one day be a man is a man already".64

Throughout Christianity's two thousand year history,this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church andby her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions aboutthe precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given riseto any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.

62 The more recent PapalMagisterium has vigorously reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI inparticular, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, rejected the specious justificationsof abortion. 65 Pius XII excluded all direct abortion, i.e., every acttending directly to destroy human life in the womb "whether suchdestruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an end".66John XXIII reaffirmed that human life is sacred because "from its verybeginning it directly involves God's creative activity".67 TheSecond Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned abortion:"From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatestcare, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes".68

The Church's canonical discipline, from the earliestcenturies, has inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion. Thispractice, with more or less severe penalties, has been confirmed in variousperiods of history. The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion withexcommunication. 69 The revised canonical legislation continues thistradition when it decrees that "a person who actually procures an abortionincurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication".70 Theexcommu- nication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of thepenalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help thecrime would not have been committed. 71 By this reiterated sanction,the Church makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime,thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek without delay the path ofconversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is tomake an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then tofoster genuine conversion and repentance.

Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinarytradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchangedand unchangeable. 72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferredupon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on variousoccasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation,albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreementconcerning this doctrine-I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortionwilled as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder,since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine isbased upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted bythe Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.73

No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever canever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary tothe Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reasonitself, and proclaimed by the Church.

63 This evaluation of the moralityof abortion is to be applied also to the recent forms of intervention on humanembryos which, although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves,inevitably involve the killing of those embryos. This is the case withexperimentation on embryos, which is becoming increasingly widespread in thefield of biomedical research and is legally permitted in some countries.Although "one must uphold as licit procedures carried out on the humanembryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involvedisproportionate risks for it, but rather are directed to its healing, theimprovement of its condition of health, or its individualsurvival",74 it must nonetheless be stated that the use of humanembryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime againsttheir dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to achild once born, just as to every person. 75

This moral condemnation also regards procedures thatexploit living human embryos and fetuses-sometimes specifically"produced" for this purpose by in vitro fertilization-either to beused as "biological material" or as providers of organs or tissue fortransplants in the treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent humancreatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutelyunacceptable act.

Special attention must be given to evaluating themorality of prenatal diagnostic techniques which enable the early detection ofpossible anomalies in the unborn child. In view of the complexity of thesetechniques, an accurate and systematic moral judgment is necessary. When theydo not involve disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and aremeant to make possible early therapy or even to favour a serene and informedacceptance of the child not yet born, these techniques are morally licit. Butsince the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it notinfrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intentionwhich accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of childrenaffected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful andutterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human lifeonly within the parameters of "normality" and physical well-being,thus opening the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well.

And yet the courage and the serenity with which somany of our brothers and sisters suffering from serious disabilities lead theirlives when they are shown acceptance and love bears eloquent witness to whatgives authentic value to life, and makes it, even in difficult conditions,something precious for them and for others. The Church is close to thosemarried couples who, with great anguish and suffering, willingly accept gravelyhandicapped children. She is also grateful to all those families which, throughadoption, welcome children abandoned by their parents because of disabilitiesor illnesses.

"It is I who bring both death and life": the tragedy of euthanasia

(Dt 32,39)

64 At the other end of life'sspectrum, men and women find themselves facing the mystery of death. Today, asa result of advances in medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed tothe transcendent, the experience of dying is marked by new features. When theprevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasureand well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something fromwhich one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered "senseless"if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interestingexperiences. But it becomes a "rightful liberation" once life is heldto be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomedto even greater suffering.

Furthermore, when he denies or neglects hisfundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure,with the right to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and meansof deciding what to do with his life in full and complete autonomy. It isespecially people in the developed countries who act in this way: they feelencouraged to do so also by the constant progress of medicine and its ever moreadvanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated systems and equipment,science and medical practice today are able not only to attend to casesformerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain, but also tosustain and prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty, to resuscitateartifi- cially patients whose basic biological functions have undergone suddencollapse, and to use special procedures to make organs available fortransplanting.

In this context the temptation grows to have recourseto euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before itstime, "gently" ending one's own life or the life of others. Inreality, what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely isseen to be senseless and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the morealarming symptoms of the "culture of death", which is advancing aboveall in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupationwith efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabledpeople as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolatedby their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on thebasis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelesslyimpaired life no longer has any value.

65 For a correct moral judgment oneuthanasia, in the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia inthe strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself andby intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering."Euthanasia's terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in theintention of the will and in the methods used".76

Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision toforego so-called "aggressive medical treatment", in other words,medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of thepatient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expectedresults or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and hisfamily. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, onecan in conscience "refuse forms of treatment that would only secure aprecarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care dueto the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted".77 Certainlythere is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to becared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needsto be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectivelyproportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary ordisproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; itrather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.78

In modern medicine, increased attention is being givento what are called "methods of palliative care", which seek to makesuffering more bearable in the final stages of illness and to ensure that thepatient is supported and accompanied in his or her ordeal. Among the questionswhich arise in this context is that of the licitness of using various types ofpainkillers and sedatives for relieving the patient's pain when this involvesthe risk of shortening life. While praise may be due to the person whovoluntarily accepts suffering by forgoing treatment with pain-killers in orderto remain fully lucid and, if a believer, to share consciously in the Lord'sPassion, such "heroic" behaviour cannot be considered the duty ofeveryone. Pius XII affirmed that it is licit to relieve pain by narcotics, evenwhen the result is decreased consciousness and a shortening of life, "ifno other means exist, and if, in the given circumstances, this does not preventthe carrying out of other religious and moral duties".79 In such acase, death is not willed or sought, even though for reasonable motives oneruns the risk of it: there is simply a desire to ease pain effectively by usingthe analgesics which medicine provides. All the same, "it is not right todeprive the dying person of consciousness without a serious reason":80 as they approach death people ought to be able to satisfy theirmoral and family duties, and above all they ought to be able to prepare in afully conscious way for their definitive meeting with God.

Taking into account these distinctions, in harmonywith the Magisterium of my Predecessors 81 and in communion with theBishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violationof the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killingof a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon thewritten word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by theordinary and universal Magisterium. 82

Depending on the circumstances, this practice involvesthe malice proper to suicide or murder.

66 Suicide is always as morallyobjectionable as murder. The Church's tradition has always rejected it as agravely evil choice. 83 Even though a certain psychological, culturaland social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which soradically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening orremoving subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is agravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and therenunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one's neighbour,towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole.84 In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God'sabsolute sovereignty over life and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of theancient sage of Israel: "You have power over life and death; you lead mendown to the gates of Hades and back again" (Sg 16,13 cf. Tob Tb 13,2).

To concur with the intention of another person tocommit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called "assistedsuicide" means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual perpetratorof, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested. In a remarkablyrelevant passage Saint Augustine writes that "it is never licit to killanother: even if he should wish it, indeed if he request it because, hangingbetween life and death, he begs for help in freeing the soul struggling againstthe bonds of the body and longing to be released; nor is it licit even when asick person is no longer able to live".85 Even when not motivatedby a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering,euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing"perversion" of mercy. True "compassion" leads to sharinganother's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carriedout by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member withpatience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of theirspecific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the mostpainful terminal stages.

The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when ittakes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has in no wayrequested it and who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness andinjustice is reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators,arrogate to themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought todie. Once again we find ourselves before the temptation of Eden: to become likeGod who "knows good and evil" (cf. Gen Gn 3,5). God alone has the powerover life and death: "It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt32:39; cf. 2 Kg 5:7; 1 Sam 1S 2,6). But he only exercises this power in accordancewith a plan of wisdom and love. When man usurps this power, being enslaved by afoolish and selfish way of thinking, he inevitably uses it for injustice anddeath. Thus the life of the person who is weak is put into the hands of the onewho is strong; in society the sense of justice is lost, and mutual trust, thebasis of every authentic interpersonal relationship, is undermined at its root.

67 Quite different from this is theway of love and true mercy, which our common humanity calls for, and upon whichfaith in Christ the Redeemer, who died and rose again, sheds ever new light.The request which arises from the human heart in the supreme confrontation withsuffering and death, especially when faced with the temptation to give up inutter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy andsupport in the time of trial. It is a plea for help to keep on hoping when allhuman hopes fail. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us: "It is in theface of death that the riddle of human existence becomes most acute" andyet "man rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors andrepudiates the absolute ruin and total disappearance of his own person. Manrebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannotbe reduced to mere matter".86

This natural aversion to death and this incipient hopeof immortality are illumined and brought to fulfilment by Christian faith,which both promises and offers a share in the victory of the Risen Christ: itis the victory of the One who, by his redemptive death, has set man free fromdeath, "the wages of sin" (
Rm 6,23), and has given him the Spirit,the pledge of resurrection and of life (cf. Rom Rm 8,11). The certainty of futureimmortality and hope in the promised resurrection cast new light on the mysteryof suffering and death, and fill the believer with an extraordinary capacity totrust fully in the plan of God.

The Apostle Paul expressed this newness in terms ofbelonging completely to the Lord who embraces every human condition: "Noneof us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live tothe Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live orwhether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rm 14,7-8). Dying to the Lord meansexperiencing one's death as the supreme act of obedience to the Father (cf. Ph 2,8), being ready to meet death at the "hour" willed and chosenby him (cf. Jn 13,1), which can only mean when one's earthly pilgrimage iscompleted. Living to the Lord also means recognizing that suffering, whilestill an evil and a trial in itself, can always become a source of good. It becomessuch if it is experienced for love and with love through sharing, by God'sgracious gift and one's own personal and free choice, in the suffering ofChrist Crucified. In this way, the person who lives his suffering in the Lordgrows more fully conformed to him (cf. Phil Ph 3,10 1 Pet 1P 2,21) and more closelyassociated with his redemptive work on behalf of the Church and humanity. 87 This was the experience of Saint Paul,which every person who suffers is called to relive: "I rejoice in mysufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking inChrist's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (Col1:24).

"We must obey God rather thanmen": civil law and the moral law

(Ac 5,29)

68 One of the specificcharacteristics of present-day attacks on human life-as has already been saidseveral times-consists in the trend to demand a legal justification for them,as if they were rights which the State, at least under certain conditions, mustacknowledge as belonging to citizens. Consequently, there is a tendency toclaim that it should be possible to exercise these rights with the safe andfree assistance of doctors and medical personnel.

It is often claimed that the life of an unborn childor a seriously disabled person is only a relative good: according to aproportionalist approach, or one of sheer calculation, this good should becompared with and balanced against other goods. It is even maintained that onlysomeone present and personally involved in a concrete situation can correctlyjudge the goods at stake: consequently, only that person would be able todecide on the morality of his choice. The State therefore, in the interest ofcivil coexistence and social harmony, should respect this choice, even to thepoint of permitting abortion and euthanasia.

At other times, it is claimed that civil law cannotdemand that all citizens should live according to moral standards higher thanwhat all citizens themselves acknowledge and share. Hence the law should alwaysexpress the opinion and will of the majority of citizens and recognize thatthey have, at least in certain extreme cases, the right even to abortion andeuthanasia. Moreover the prohibition and the punishment of abortion and euthanasiain these cases would inevitably lead-so it is said-to an increase of illegalpractices: and these would not be subject to necessary control by society andwould be carried out in a medically unsafe way. The question is also raisedwhether supporting a law which in practice cannot be enforced would notultimately undermine the authority of all laws.

Finally, the more radical views go so far as tomaintain that in a modern and pluralistic society people should be allowedcomplete freedom to dispose of their own lives as well as of the lives of theunborn: it is asserted that it is not the task of the law to choose betweendifferent moral opinions, and still less can the law claim to impose oneparticular opinion to the detriment of others.

69 In any case, in the democraticculture of our time it is commonly held that the legal system of any societyshould limit itself to taking account of and accepting the convictions of themajority. It should therefore be based solely upon what the majority itselfconsiders moral and actually practises. Furthermore, if it is believed that anobjective truth shared by all is de facto unattainable, then respect for thefreedom of the citizens-who in a democratic system are considered the true rulers-wouldrequire that on the legislative level the autonomy of individual consciences beacknowledged. Consequently, when establishing those norms which are absolutelynecessary for social coexistence, the only determining factor should be thewill of the majority, whatever this may be. Hence every politician, in his orher activity, should clearly separate the realm of private conscience from thatof public conduct.

As a result we have what appear to be twodiametrically opposed tendencies. On the one hand, individuals claim forthemselves in the moral sphere the most complete freedom of choice and demandthat the State should not adopt or impose any ethical position but limit itselfto guaranteeing maximum space for the freedom of each individual, with the solelimitation of not infringing on the freedom and rights of any other citizen. Onthe other hand, it is held that, in the exercise of public and professionalduties, respect for other people's freedom of choice requires that each oneshould set aside his or her own convictions in order to satisfy every demand ofthe citizens which is recognized and guaranteed by law; in carrying out one'sduties the only moral criterion should be what is laid down by the law itself.Individual responsibility is thus turned over to the civil law, with arenouncing of personal conscience, at least in the public sphere.

70 At the basis of all thesetendencies lies the ethical relativism which characterizes much of present-dayculture. There are those who consider such relativism an essential condition ofdemoc- racy, inasmuch as it alone is held to guarantee tolerance, mutualrespect between people and acceptance of the decisions of the majority, whereasmoral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead toauthoritarianism and intolerance.

But it is precisely the issue of respect for lifewhich shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terriblepractical consequences, are concealed in this position.

It is true that history has known cases where crimeshave been committed in the name of "truth". But equally grave crimesand radical denials of freedom have also been committed and are still beingcommitted in the name of "ethical relativism". When a parliamentaryor social majority decrees that it is legal, at least under certain conditions,to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a "tyrannical"decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless of human beings?Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of whichour century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to becrimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they werelegitimated by popular consensus?

Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making ita substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracyis a "system" and as such is a means and not an end. Its"moral" value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to themoral law to which it, like every other form of human behaviour, must besubject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends whichit pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see an almostuniversal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to beconsidered a positive "sign of the times", as the Church'sMagisterium has frequently noted.88 But the value of democracy stands or falls with thevalues which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity ofevery human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, andthe adoption of the "common good" as the end and criterion regulatingpolitical life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored.

The basis of these values cannot be provisional andchangeable "majority" opinions, but only the acknowledgment of anobjective moral law which, as the "natural law" written in the humanheart, is the obligatory point of reference for civil law itself. If, as aresult of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience, an attitude ofscepticism were to succeed in bringing into question even the fundamentalprinciples of the moral law, the democratic system itself would be shaken inits foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for regulatingdifferent and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis. 89

Some might think that even this function, in theabsence of anything better, should be valued for the sake of peace in society.While one acknowledges some element of truth in this point of view, it is easyto see that without an objective moral grounding not even democracy is capableof ensuring a stable peace, especially since peace which is not built upon thevalues of the dignity of every individual and of solidarity between all peoplefrequently proves to be illusory. Even in participatory systems of government,the regulation of interests often occurs to the advantage of the most powerful,since they are the ones most capable of manoeuvering not only the levers ofpower but also of shaping the formation of consensus. In such a situation,democracy easily becomes an empty word.

71 It is therefore urgentlynecessary, for the future of society and the development of a sound democracy,to rediscover those essential and innate human and moral values which flow fromthe very truth of the human being and express and safeguard the dignity of theperson: values which no individual, no majority and no State can ever create,modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and promote.

Consequently there is a need to recover the basicelements of a vision of the relationship between civil law and moral law, whichare put forward by the Church, but which are also part of the patrimony of thegreat juridical traditions of humanity.

Certainly the purpose of civil law is different andmore limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere oflife can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerningthings which are outside its competence",90 which is that ofensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defence of theirfundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.91 The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered socialcoexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceablelife, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim
1Tm 2,2). Precisely for thisreason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect forcertain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights whichevery positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental amongthese is the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. Whilepublic authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which-wereit prohibited- would cause more serious harm, 92 it can never presumeto legitimize as a right of individuals-even if they are the majority of themembers of society-an offence against other persons caused by the disregard ofso fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortionor of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscienceof others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protectitself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and underthe pretext of freedom.93

In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointedout that "it is generally accepted today that the common good is bestsafeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concernof civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights arerecognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that eachindividual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For ?to safeguard theinviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of hisduties, is the principal duty of every public authority'. Thus any governmentwhich refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, wouldnot only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in bindingforce".94

72 The doctrine on the necessaryconformity of civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the wholetradition of the Church. This is clear once more from John XXIII's Encyclical:"Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God.Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, andhence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience...; indeed,the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results inshameful abuse".95 This is the clear teaching of Saint ThomasAquinas, who writes that "human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformitywith right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law iscontrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases tobe a law and becomes instead an act of violence".96 And again:"Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from thenatural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is notreally a law but rather a corruption of the law".97

Now the first and most immediate application of thisteaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and sourceof all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to everyindividual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocenthuman beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to theinviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny theequality of everyone before the law. It might be objected that such is not thecase in euthanasia, when it is requested with full awareness by the personinvolved. But any State which made such a request legitimate and authorized itto be carried out would be legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to thefundamental principles of absolute respect for life and of the protection ofevery innocent life. In this way the State contributes to lessening respect forlife and opens the door to ways of acting which are destructive of trust inrelations between people. Laws which authorize and promote abortion andeuthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of theindividual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking inauthentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, preciselybecause it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, iswhat most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good.Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by thatvery fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

73 Abortion and euthanasia are thuscrimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation inconscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation tooppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church,the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimatelyconstituted public authorities (cf. Rom Rm 13,1-7 1 Pet 1P 2,13-14), but at thesame time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men"(Ac 5,29). In the OldTestament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significantexample of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. AfterPharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused."They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them,but let the male children live" (Ex 1,17). But theultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives fearedGod" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is duethat fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strengthand the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength andthe courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in thecertainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of thesaints" (Ap 13,10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as alaw permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it,or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or votefor it".98

A particular problem of conscience can arise in caseswhere a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a morerestrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in placeof a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases arenot infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world therecontinue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supportedby powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly thosewhich have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissivelegislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a caselike the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completelyabrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal oppositionto procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed atlimiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequencesat the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in factrepresent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimateand proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

74 The passing of unjust laws oftenraises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regardto the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forcedto take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to bemade are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professionalpositions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement. Inother cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which areprovided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves areindifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat.There may be reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out suchactions will not only cause scandal and weaken the necessary opposition toattacks on life, but will gradually lead to further capitulation to a mentalityof permissiveness.

In order to shed light on this difficult question, itis necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evilactions. Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under graveobligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even ifpermitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from themoral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Suchcooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form ittakes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in anact against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of theperson committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either byinvoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact thatcivil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moralresponsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can beexempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will bejudged by God himself (cf. Rom
Rm 2,6 Rm 14,12).

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice isnot only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, thehuman person would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatiblewith human dignity, and in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaningand purpose of which are found in its orientation to the true and the good,would be radically compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essentialright which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civillaw. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases ofconsultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should beguaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals,clinics and convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientiousobjection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from anynegative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial and professional plane.

Evangelium vitae 57