Sanctity of life

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In religion and ethics, the inviolability of life, or sanctity of life, is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life that are said to be holy, sacred, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated. This can be applied to humans, animals or micro-organisms; for instance, in religions that practice Ahimsa, both are seen as holy and worthy of life. Sanctity of life sits at the centre of debate over abortion and euthanasia.[1]

In Christianity[edit]

The phrase sanctity of life refers to the idea that human life is sacred, holy, and precious. Although the phrase was used primarily in the 19th century in Protestant discourse, since World War II the phrase has been used in Catholic moral theology and, following Roe v. Wade, Evangelical Christian moral rhetoric.[2]

The sanctity of life principle, which is often contrasted with the "quality of life" to some extent, is the basis of all Catholic teaching about the fifth commandment in the Ten Commandments.[3][4][5][6]

In Judaism[edit]

Pikuach Nefesh allows the Jewish person to override all other Jewish laws and practices in order to preserve human life. It places the conservation of humanity and the survival of a human being above every other possible thing. It applies to both saving the lives of Jews and non-Jews. [7]

All denominations of Judaism allow abortion to save the life of the mother, but there is no common consensus for other situations in which abortion could be used. Due to the treatment of a foetus as a part of the mother, but not as a separate human being, this is often cited to permit abortion by Jewish people.[8]

In Islam[edit]

Islam considers all life forms sacred, but puts humans above other living things. Islam considers the unlawful killing of a person on the same level as the killing of all humanity. The same is applicable in the inverse: saving a life is as important as saving the entire of humanity.[9][10]

The Qur'an never explicitly refers to abortion, but other teachings can be applied to the matter.[11] Muslims believe that ensoulment occurs on the 120th day of gestation.[12] Before ensoulment, abortion is allowed for foetal anomalies. After ensoulment, all schools of Islam allow abortion to save the life of the mother, and in the case of an intrauterine death (miscarriage), but on little other grounds. However, there is a growing movement to allow abortion for malformed foetuses whose deaths are inevitable shortly after birth.[13] The inability to provide for a foetus is generally dismissed as an acceptable reason, but some schools of thought are more lenient on the matter. [11][12]

In Eastern religions[edit]

In Western thought, sanctity of life is usually applied solely to the human species (anthropocentrism, sometimes called dominionism), in marked contrast to many schools of Eastern philosophy, which often hold that all animal life is sacred―in some cases to such a degree that, for example, practitioners of Jainism carry brushes with which to sweep insects from their path, lest they inadvertently tread upon them.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clarke, Steve (January 2023). "The sanctity of life as a sacred value". Bioethics. 37 (1): 32–39. doi:10.1111/bioe.13094. ISSN 0269-9702. PMC 10087279. PMID 36131633.
  2. ^ Drutchas, Geoffrey Gilbert (1996). Is Life Sacred? The Incoherence of the Sanctity of Life as a Moral Principle within the Christian Churches. Lancaster Theological Seminary.
  3. ^ Ronald M. Green (1999). "Jewish Teaching on the Sanctity and Quality of Life". In Edmund D. Pellegrino; Alan I. Faden (eds.). Jewish and Catholic Bioethics: An Ecumenical Dialogue. Georgetown University Press. pp. 25–26. ISBN 9781589013506.
  4. ^ Anthony Fisher (2011). Catholic Bioethics for a New Millennium. Cambridge University Press. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9781139504881.
  5. ^ David F. Kelly; Gerard Magill; Henk ten Have (2013). Contemporary Catholic Health Care Ethics. Georgetown University Press. pp. 32–38. ISBN 9781589019614.
  6. ^ Scaria Kanniyakonil (2007). The Fundamentals of Bioethics: Legal Perspectives and Ethical Aproches. Oriental Institute of Religious Studies India. pp. 229–230. ISBN 9788188456284.
  7. ^ "Pikuach Nefesh: The Jewish Value of Saving a Life". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2023-05-08.
  8. ^ Feldman, David M. (August 23, 1983). "'Abortion: The Jewish View" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ "Sanctity of Life | Facts about the Muslims & the Religion of Islam". Why Islam?. Retrieved 2023-05-12.
  10. ^ Adil, Adnan (2017-07-14). "Sanctity of life". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2023-05-14.
  11. ^ a b "BBC - Religions - Islam: Abortion". Retrieved 2023-05-14.
  12. ^ a b Ayubi, Zahra. "There is no one Islamic interpretation on ethics of abortion, but the belief in God's mercy and compassion is a crucial part of any consideration". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-05-14.
  13. ^ Al-Matary, Abdulrahman; Ali, Jaffar (2014-02-05). "Controversies and considerations regarding the termination of pregnancy for Foetal Anomalies in Islam". BMC Medical Ethics. 15 (1): 10. doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-10. ISSN 1472-6939. PMC 3943453. PMID 24499356.
  14. ^ "Jainism Literature Center - Jain Education".

Further reading[edit]

  • Barry, Robert Laurence (2002). The Sanctity of Human Life and Its Protection. Lanham: University Press of America.
  • Bayertz, Kurt, ed. (1996). Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity. Philosophy and Medicine; v. 52. Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic.
  • Bernardin, Joseph Louis; et al. (1988). Consistent Ethic of Life. Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward.
  • Kass, Leon R. (March 1990). "Death with Dignity and the Sanctity of Life". Commentary. New York: American Jewish Committee. 89 (3): 33–43. ISSN 0010-2601. PMID 11652555.
  • Keyserlingk, Edward W. (1979). Sanctity of Life: or, Quality of Life in the Context of Ethics, Medicine, and Law: A Study. Protection of Life Series. Ottawa: Law Reform Commission of Canada. ISBN 9780662104452.
  • Kohl, Marvin (1974). The Morality of Killing; Sanctity of Life, Abortion, and Euthanasia. New York: Humanities Press. ISBN 9780391001954.
  • Kuhse, Helga (1987). The Sanctity-of-Life Doctrine in Medicine: A Critique. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McCormick, Richard A. (1981). "The Quality of Life and the Sanctity of Life". How Brave a New World?: Dilemmas in Bioethics. New York: Doubleday: 383–402.
  • Singer, Peter (2002). Unsanctifying Human Life: essays on ethics. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Wildes, Kevin Wm.; Francesc Abel; John C. Harvey (1992). Birth, Suffering, and Death: Catholic Perspectives at the Edges of Life. Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic.