The Concept of Sanctity of Life and Its Use in Contemporary Bioethical Discussion

  • James F. Keenan
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 52)


I am a Roman Catholic moral theologian and have often seen the term “sanctity of life”, but in preparing the topic, I am surprised at the fact that it receives very little attention in places where I would have expected some. For instance, in the fifteen volume collection of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, it has no entry. It appears as a modest after-thought in the later supplement. It is not found in new theological dictionaries from the United States, England, or Germany: The New Dictionary of Theology, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, The Theological Dictionary. It did not appear in the German The Concise Dictionary of Christian Ethics; in Palazzini’s Italian Dictionary of Moral Theology there was only “Life, Respect for: see Murder, Suicide.” Only the Anglican, John MacQuarrie who edited two dictionaries, ran entries in both, A Dictionary of Christian Ethics and The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Thus, Roman Catholics, who are believed to be the most apt to use it, rarely explicitly analyze it. The oft-quoted words of Edward Shils ([61], p. 2) seem appropriate: “To persons who are not murderers, concentration camp administrators, or dreamers of sadistic fantasies, the inviolability of human life seems to be so self-evident that it might appear pointless to inquire into it.”


Human Person Moral Imagination Assisted Suicide Divine Command Catholic Tradition 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • James F. Keenan
    • 1
  1. 1.Weston School of TheologyCambridgeUSA

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