All individual human beings are presumed to be free and responsible persons and should be treated as such in proportion to their ability in the circumstances. Individuals with reduced autonomy are entitled to appropriate protection, according to the principles of subsidiarity, human dignity, justice, charity, and vicarious consent.
This principle may be given different content, depending on one’s conception of personhood. From the Catholic perspective, there are a number of anthropological considerations that have significant implications for this principle. For example, human persons are integrated body-spirit beings created in the image and likeness of God, with four integrated dimensions of human life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. The human person, then, can be understood in four interrelated ways: as a bodily subject, that is, we are not merely spirits that possess bodies, but we are body as much as we are spirit; as a knowing subject for which knowledge is a good both as an end in itself and as a means to fulfillment; as a social subject whose primary context is that of person situated in community; and as a self-transcendent subject insofar as we are related to God in our created nature, through God’s loving creation and in our ability to participate in that creation. As a subject, and not merely an object, a human person must be treated with respect in such a way that recognizes his or her human dignity.