The Holy See
back up


THIRD MEETING OF POLITICIANS AND LAWMAKERS OF                                              AMERICA.                                                  "DECLARATION OF BUENOS AIRES"


 August 5, 1999


Over four hundred participants consisting of delegations of Politicians and Lawmakers from almost every country in the Americas, accompanied by a group of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops from the local churches of the continent, met in Buenos Aires, Argentina from the 3rd to the 5th of August 1999 at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The Holy Father, John Paul II, sent us a rich and fatherly message through the Secretary of State. We thank him deeply for his wise counsels that have inspired and stimulated us as well as for his closeness to us, which is filled with confidence and hope in this important and delicate mission.

We sincerely thank the generous collaboration of the President of the Republic of Argentina, Dr. Carlos Saúl Menem, who gave us a most warm welcome and collaboration for the realization of this meeting which he declared "of national interest" and which he inaugurated personally. The Argentine Senate also expressed its special interest in this event.

We express our gratitude to the Church in Argentina in the person of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, H. E. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., who presided over the Inaugural Mass in the Primatial Cathedral, and to H. E. Estanislao Karlic, Archbishop of Paraná and President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, who also welcomed us. We also thank the Pontifical Council for the Family, its president, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, and his collaborators, as well as H. E. Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran, the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States who us a deep message.

We also thank those who were of invaluable help to the Pontifical council for the Family, particularly the Ambassador of the Argentine Republic to the Holy See, Dr. Esteban Juan Caselli and Dr. Rodolfo Carlos Barra, Presidential Advisor for the Defense of the Rights of the Unborn Person, as well as those who cooperated with them in the fruitful realization of this meeting.

This is our third meeting after the first one in Rio de Janiero in August of 1993 and the second in Mexico City in June of 1996. Our reflections this time were centered on The Family and Life, Fifty Years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This subject is of capital importance at the dawn of the Third Millennium, which is marked by so many questions, uncertainties and also by so many well-founded hopes. Defending the family and life in the political and legislative sphere and assuring respect for their rights is vital for the future of our countries and for all of humanity.


1. We associate ourselves with joyful hope in the celebration to the fifty year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved and proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) on the 10th of December 1948. We recognize the value and permanent ability to inspire of this Declaration, in all that constitutes the recognition of the dignity of man, notwithstanding some reservations formulated on the danger of its favoring individualism and subjectivism. We must mention the convergence between it and Christian anthropology and ethics even though it does not make explicit reference to God. Without doubt the Declaration constitutes a vibrant defense of man and of his transcendent, inviolable, inalienable and irreplaceable dignity. It was termed "one of the most precious and significant documents in the history of Law", by His Holiness John Paul II (Message to the President of the General Assembly of the UN on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 30/11/98).

2. We do not propose to enter into all its aspects, nor even all those relating to our chosen theme. We consider that it is important to underscore some points of the Declaration, their value and also their limitations.

3. The first reflection is that the Declaration does not grant the rights that it proclaims but rather recognizes them. They are not rights created by the Declaration, rather they are recognized and codified by it as inherent in the dignity of the human person. They are universal rights, independent of cultures, religions, political, social or economic contexts, because they are tied to human nature and are the expression of its fundamental good. They are therefore separate from particular rights and goods that are secondary in the hierarchy of values and from pseudo or arbitrary rights that are tied to one culture or ideology.

4. The second point of our reflection underscores that the rights articulated in the Declaration constitute an integrated whole, which has as its basic premise the principle of the dignity of all persons. The violation of any right attacks the person in his humanity and therefore constitutes a violation of the totality of his rights, as in an interwoven whole. John Paul II has very opportunely affirmed that the selective use of its principles, threatens the "organic structure of the Declaration, which associates each right with other rights and limits required for a just social order" (Message to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 30/11/98).

5. A third aspect of our consideration refers to the very foundations of human rights. The individualistic interpretation that considers the subject as being isolated facing the State, as in a private sphere is radically inadequate. The foundation of these rights is not in the personal satisfaction of the individual but in the social nature of man and of the family. Human rights are based on Natural Law-that which is just in virtue of the order in nature-and which is the expression of the wisdom of humanity. These rights suppose the juridical ability to require the fulfillment of the Natural Law.

6. We emphasize and reaffirm, because of its social importance, article 16, clause 3, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State". Life and the Family should not only be considered inalienable rights, but also as the source and condition of the other rights. The family in particular represents the primordial and privileged milieu of all rights. The rights of the family are the original core of the rights of man. The defense of the family and of life is the foundation and the highest point in the process of humanization since the abolition of slavery and the recognition of the fundamental equality of men and women. Therefore the family must have its nature as a social entity recognized. It has the right to protection from the State and also from the international community. If the individual's juridical personhood is based on having his rights recognized by the international order, the same should apply to the juridical personhood of the family. The State cannot adopt measures corrosive to the family without acting against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is therefore necessary to defend the family and to proclaim it as a "Good News" for humanity given its capacity to inspire actions and attitudes that build up society.

7. The family is the central nucleus of civil society. It certainly has an important economic role, which cannot be forgotten, since it constitutes the most important human capital, but its mission includes many other tasks. It is above all a natural community of life. It is a community based on marriage and therefore possesses a cohesion that is greater than that of any other social community. Because of this the family should be respected and protected by the State as the first social institution. In accordance with the Principle of Subsidiarity the State cannot intervene in areas where the initiative of the family is sufficient. The family has also suffered in the last few decades from the very negative impact of the State's attacks aiming at debilitating, eliminating or controlling the intermediary bodies of "civil Society". When the State arrogates to itself the power to regulate family ties and to dictate laws that do not respect the natural community of the family, which is prior and superior to it, (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VII, 15-20 Passim), there is a well-founded fear that the State uses the family for its own interests and, rather than protecting and defending its rights, it debilitates and damages the family. The Universal Declaration prevents these abuses. It recognizes the right of men and women to marry (art. 16, 1) and in this way to found a family. With its insistence that this "natural and fundamental" unit (art. 16, 3) deserves the protection of not only the State, but also of society, The Universal Declaration prevents these abuses.

8. The Family, as recognized by the Declaration, constitutes a fundamental good for society (Gaudiam et Spes, 52, 2). We have seen on the eve of the Third Millennium, however, the promotion of ambiguous and erroneous considerations, which attack its nature: we then speak of an identity crisis. Even though the family has a very clear identity based on marriage, which is its origin and source, it is said that it is not possible to define the family, that different kinds of families and models of the family exist. The insinuation is that the rapid changes experienced by the family such that the forms the family can acquire are almost infinite. They even say that it is not possible to be sure of anything concerning the future of the family. Everything would be the fruit of consensual human projects with legal support. The idea of a natural, stable and permanent institution that deserves the protection of society is thus destroyed. The anthropological poverty of this conception of the family as a club or association that is made or dissolved at will empties man of the sense of responsibility and commitment while sowing the seeds of social decomposition in the home. Children are the ones who pay the highest costs in the end. The reason behind these attacks on the very idea of the family comes from the rejection of the idea of a "Natural Law" on the part of many. They do not accept natural institutions, but the deepest reason is that they reject God as the source of Natural Law. They do not accept the dimension of truth, and this leads to a real "eclipse of the sense of God and of man" (Evangelium Vitae, 23). What matters is personal opinion. The result of this perspective is that all-possible kinds of living arrangements, hetero- and homosexual, could enter into the conception o the family.

9. It is due to this profound crisis of Truth, this anthropological illusion, that in different parliaments around the world there have been proposals to recognize "free unions" as "families" and to give them the same advantages as those accorded to the family. These unions are de facto but not de jure. Some legislatures want to make facts prevail instead of law. They justify themselves by saying that one cannot "discriminate" against homosexuals, lesbians and those who do not wish to contract marriages. The consequence of this conceptual confusion concerning marriage is to make the institution conceptually irrelevant. Nothing could be more tragic given that marriage is a natural good and constitutes the best means of socialization as well. The absence of marriage has negative repercussions on the transmission of values and is the cause of many social pathologies. We must be particularly attentive in preventing "free unions" from receiving any approval in our laws.

10. These attacks against the family come from the same individuals who attack human life in its two particularly decisive moments: the preborn child and the dying. The parallels between these attacks on the family and human life are not at all surprising given that there is no life without the family and no family without life. The family is the "cradle" of human life as His Holiness John Paul II says in (Cfr. Christifideles Laici, 40). It is in the family that life begins, develops, matures and also where it ends in the most adequate way. Because of this, he who attacks the family also attacks human life, and he who promotes the family also promotes this same human life in a very coherent way. This link between the family and life is clearly highlighted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which places in article three, as an immediate and basic consequence of the affirmation of the dignity of every human person, the fundamental right to life: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of their person".

11. This principle of the right to life, is the key foundation of all other rights as it is an inviolable right, guaranteed and protected in all situations and was developed in the Declaration on the Rights of the Child. This was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 20th of November 1959 and states: "The child, due to his lack of physical and mental maturity needs special care and protection, including legal protection, before as well as after birth" (Preamble). This principle considers the human embryo as a human being from the first moment of his existence, that is to say, from the moment of conception and not just from birth. This should be considered the founding principle of the international system for the protection of human rights.

12. Therefore starting from the Declaration, we have reflected on the status of the human embryo. Is the preborn child a person and the subject of human rights or simply a human individual? International positive law (Cfr. Declaration of the Rights of the Child, United Nations Conference on the Rights of the Child, American Convention on Human Rights-Pact of San José de Costa Rica) recognizes the legal personhood of the embryo as a subject possessing his own rights, that is to say, distinct from those of the mother or of third parties. This provides the basis for prohibiting arbitrary treatment of the embryo and the duty to protect and take care of him/her. In the positive law of some countries, however, (Spain, United States of America) a distinction is made between being human and personhood. Only the latter would be the subject of rights that are granted at birth. The preborn child is considered human but not a person. His protection is seen as a concession on the part of the State to rights of the mother or the interests of the State itself. In this way a contradiction is introduced into the law, an unjust criterion which discriminates against human beings in different stages of development. It is therefore necessary to make laws on the status of the human embryo, especially in those countries where a false distinction is made between human beings and human persons. It is precisely this reflection that translates ethical requirements into coherent laws prohibiting artificial fertilization both homologous and heterologous (Donum Vitae, II). It is also necessary to proclaim the rights of the embryo: the right to life, the right to identity and the right to protection by the State and society. The preborn child cannot be the object of manipulations or aggressions that lead to his elimination. It is against the dignity of the human person to produce embryos and the treatments they are submitted to as if they were not human persons but rather objects or instruments. The reason for this is that any conception outside of the sexual act includes a non-human aspect—i.e., it lacks the completeness and signification of the sexual union--that is incompatible with the dignity of the new being conceived (Donum Vitae, I.6 and II.4.a).

13. The family, as the cradle of human life, is also the most appropriate place to take care of the sick and to accompany them in the process of their illness until death. Some propose a "death with dignity" and with this argument falsely pretend to justify and defend euthanasia for those with serious illnesses. It is necessary to have a proper understanding of "human dignity," a fundamental principle in bio-ethics that is based upon the truth about man and an anthropology which recognizes the eminent value of the human person. The concept of "death with dignity" needs constant revisions if it is not to become empty and conventional, especially when faced with the Utilitarian cost/benefit analysis used to decide who shall or will not benefit from health resources. If dignity is replaced by utility, how can life have intrinsic value? The distorted use of the concept of "dignity" hides the deformation of the value of life and of the person. The true right to die with dignity supposes the acceptance of dying with the dignity proper to man: with nobility, acceptance, serenity, that is to say, "holding the office of life until the end" (Cicero, The Dream of Escipion, III, 7). The sick person, given the care they need and the responsible love manifested by their families, in hospitals and clinics, dies with the dignity of someone loved by God, by their family and all those who recognize the dignity of the person. (Evangelium Vitae, 88. Passim also 46-47, 67, 83).

14. There is a word that is taking on increasing importance in our contemporary discourse: "Globalization." This concept is not limited to the area of economic relations between peoples, but opens itself to other dimensions, which should always include attention to ethical requirements. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, fruit of the Synod of America, John Paul II warns: "If globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between rich and poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority.(Ecclesia in America,20). The importance of all this with respect to the family is evident. Also, what is understood by globalization today is a relativistic criteria of judgement that is extended to all areas, a procedure of choosing between comparable alternatives. Faced with this "indifference" between objects, the subjective consideration of tastes, of preferences, utility and opportunity become determining. This criterion of evaluation and judgment is behind many of the present problems of life and family we are considering in this meeting: divorce, free unions, abortion, eugenics, euthanasia. If it is indifferent if one lives with one person or another, has one child or another, all according to subjective preferences, no criterion of choice that transcends circumstances can exist, only instinctive reactions. Because of this prevalence of subjectivism that leads to the grave dangers of relativistic ethics, we must again to give a central place, as the keystone to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with the protection it guarantees for the family and human life.


These conxlusions bring us to present the following recommendations:

1. To consider the defense of the family and life as a central activity of politicians and legislators in order to support fundamental values in their respective countries and international fora and oppose false alternatives.

2. To prevail upon governments so that their delegations to international bodies and meetings authentically represent the pro-family and pro-life sentiments of each country and appreciate the lofty importance these concepts represent.

3. To promote and spread knowledge of Evangelium Vitae as a prophetic defense of the poorest, most innocent and handicapped, categories of persons that require our special care. To defend the fundamental bases of society against the excesses of individualism and the culture of death which is a growing threat to impoverished peoples whose sovereignty is trampled upon by a kind of ideological invasion that deprives the family and life of their rights.

4. To steadfastly oppose any legalization of abortion and to progressively obtain changes in places where the laws are permissive. It is important in the legislative field to constantly strive and never resign oneself in this noble and decisive cause, because laws are always subject to improvement.

5. To promote laws that recognize the human embryo as a legal person with the same rights as any other born individual and to reject laws that consider the embryo to be an object that may be manipulated.

6. To obtain that sexual education policies are based on the values of the family and of life, the respect for freedom which avoids trivializing sexuality, and respect for the right of parents to oversee the education of their children.

7. To see that in the means of social communication the values of life and family are respected and promoted as the very basis of democracy.

8. To intervene with laws in the field of artificial fertilization to counteract the current permissiveness. To choose as a guiding criterion the good of the child and guaranteeing his right to life, family and identity. This means legislating in defense of the human embryo, while recognizing all the rights that are due to him as a legal person, a human person.

9. To promote the fight against pain as well as palliative care, and to foster the organization of public and private structures to assist the incapacitated and terminally ill humanely, spiritually and physically.

10. To support the organization of public and private health services in such a way as to assure the protection of life and health of all.

11. To take care of the formation of health personnel, medical and paramedical, so that they pay respectful attention to the rights of families, of children, born and preborn, and take good care of gravely and terminally ill patients.

12. To observe, not only in the formulation of laws, but also in their practical application in regulations, that the administrative personnel executing them are conscious of and formed in Christian criteria and principles.

13. To check that governmental actions, national, departmental or local, fulfill the laws, norms and programs established in favor of the family and of life.

14. Keeping in mind that "family policy should be the basis and driving force of all social policies" (Evangelium Vitae, 90), to make sure that legislatures pass laws that establish a true family policy with the positive collaboration of parents and family institutions at least in the following points:

-equality of opportunity for work and salary for women;

-facilitation of joint vacation times for spouses in such a way as to reinforce the unity of the family as a community of life;

-facilitation of possibilities for spouses to work in places not too distant from each other;

-to search for ways to alleviate and humanize work outside the home for women, which many are forced to do, such that it is not detrimental to their mission in the family.

-to allow adequate free time during pregnancy for women, and also, when necessary, for men;

-to avoid all discrimination against women on account of possible pregnancy or due to the needs of small children; and

-to facilitate the purchase or renting of housing for young families.

15. To back the creation of a continental network of politicians and legislators of America in defense of life and the family, so as to open a space for continuous and easy communication, advice and coordination of common initiatives.

16. To support a multi-party commission of legislators for life that will follow-up this III Encounter of Legislators and Politicians of America and open a permanent forum for reflection and legislative action in favor of human life.

17. To promote the organization of research and support centers for pro life and family activities.

18. To organize dialogues and similar meetings to this one in each country of America on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

We are aware of the great responsibility that weighs upon us as Politicians and Legislators of our countries, and we recognize the great challenges that we must face in defense of the family and of life.

We are also conscious that we are not without resources, assistance or strength. The Lord of the Family and of Life is with us. The call of Christ commits us as sons and daughters of the Church in America to continue exercising our vocation as politicians and legislators in an open and committed dialogue that puts the welfare of the family at the center of our concerns and work, is attentive to the deep aspirations of our peoples, and faithfully follows the teachings and guidance of the Magisterium of the Church. In this way we welcome the exhortation that the Holy Father kindly sent us to renew our "efforts to promote, particularly in the political and legislative arena, the fundamental values of the family and of life, fostering tirelessly their transcendent dignity."