As we fight to promote personhood in the 21st century, the question arises: “What is personhood?” Personhood is merely the legal and moral recognition of a person’s entitlement to equal rights and protections. The issue of personhood poses a big question, though: what, exactly, is a person?
Many incorrectly attempt to define a person based on what they can do, not on what – or who – they are. For instance, Charles Taylor of Cambridge University explains the concept of a person as, “a being with a certain moral status, or a bearer of rights. But underlying the moral status, as its condition, are certain capacities.”
This definition is dangerous. If we define a person by what they can do, we run the risk of giving the same moral status to human beings as we do to high-functioning creatures like dolphins, chimpanzees, and even corporations. Even worse, we risk removing the status of personhood from some humans such as people with disabilities, comatose patients, or pre-born children.
However, in order to form a concrete perspective on the issue of human dignity, we must base our intellectual framework on absolute truth. Georgia Right to Life recognizes that God’s Word is the unwavering guide for morality and ethics. As such, we look to the Bible to help answer the critical questions that arise when discussing personhood.
Using the Bible as the foundation, we develop “The Personhood Principle.” This principle teaches that humanity is inherently valuable and that value was endowed at the moment of creation by what is called the “Imago Dei,” which is Latin for, “the image of God.” There is one paramount distinguishing feature between humanity and all other creation: when God created us, He created us in HIS image and likeness.
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
Personhood rests on the fact that “… God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him…” (Gen. 1:27). Although, as a result of the Fall we are sinners requiring the grace of God to be saved, we still post-fall maintain the image of God and in Gen. 9:6 we see this reinforced in the critical Old Testament teaching against murder (abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc.) where we read, “Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: For in the image of God made He man.” Summarizing, God teaches both that we are made in His image, and that it is for this precise reason that the murder of innocent people is forbidden.
From this point onward through Scripture, it is clear that the status of personhood that God granted to humanity remains intact. This principle is seen from the first book of Scripture on through the last. Examples of this fundamental truth are found documented across history:
- It is affirmed in early (95 AD) “Sunday School” teachings in the Didache, a compilation of the teachings of Jesus’ apostles.
- Human personhood was boldly proclaimed by our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
- These rights have been tested and tried throughout our nation’s history – slavery, women’s rights, Native American rights, etc. – and were further solidified by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Personhood is the solution to our growing, tragic abortion epidemic. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who was in the majority of Justices who ruled in favor of abortion during the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, said in his section of the ruling that, “… (if the) suggestion of personhood [of the pre-born] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”
The very same ruling that gave us abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy in America also gave us the solution to protecting all human life in the womb and undoing the terrible damage done by the ruling.
Considering all of this evidence, persons are defined as follows:
“A person is a human being who, from their earliest biological beginnings and extending until their natural death, should be recognized by law with all rights and privileges and respected by culture as having equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Georgia Right to Life takes the position of personhood as a foundation for our work to protect innocent life because it is stated clearly in Scripture, it is philosophically sound, and it is vetted through our nation’s history. Based on these truths, we look forward to the day that “The Personhood Principle” is applied by the United States Supreme Court (and other courts and institutions) to the laws of the land.