Cardinal William H. Keeler
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
October 2, 2005
On Respect Life Sunday we reflect on God's priceless gift of human life. We acknowledge with gratitude the many blessings we enjoy as creatures made in the image of God – our capacity to make moral choices, to know and love God and serve one another.
On this day we also take stock of our nation's progress in fostering a culture where every human life is respected and defended. Here, the outlook is decidedly mixed.
Advances in science and technology have added years to the average lifespan. Yet our Supreme Court will soon rule on whether Oregon physicians may demand access to federally-controlled drugs so they can assist the suicides of sick and elderly patients.
Researchers are unlocking the secrets of the human genome and human stem cells with promising therapeutic results. Stem cells from adult tissues and umbilical cord blood can now treat dozens of diseases and may soon treat many more. Still, some persist in pursuing immoral and speculative research using stem cells obtained by killing developing humans in their first week of life.
Reproductive medicine has allowed more couples to overcome barriers to having children of their own. But one reproductive technology, in vitro fertilization, is now best known for its tendency to produce "spare" embryos who are frozen and sometimes destroyed for research. And some fertility specialists today sort (and reject) embryonic humans to eliminate those with identifiable "defects" – or simply with traits the parents do not prefer.
A profitable niche of the pharmaceutical industry invents ever new ways to block human reproductive capacity, including drugs and devices that may interfere with the survival of a new human life after it has begun.
In short, the "healing arts" are moving beyond the field of healing and into an ethical minefield, where technical knowledge can be used as much to demean life as to serve it.
As Catholics we know that the truth of human life is infinitely greater than any narrow view that dismisses some lives as disposable. "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution," Pope Benedict pointed out at his Inaugural Mass. "Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
The truth that human life has a purpose, given by its Creator, has been bedrock of Western civilization. This conviction animated our country's founding documents. God's creative and sustaining love for every human being is the one sure source of human dignity and freedom. His love for us is the fundamental reason why every human life must be valued and defended. It is not possible to maintain a community of justice, freedom, and solidarity built on any other foundation.
On October 2, 2005, Respect Life Sunday, please join me in thanking God for the great gift of life, and join me in pledging to do the utmost in the coming year to promote a culture which fully honors the dignity and right to life of every individual.