Human Dignity in Bioethics


In recent years, the concept of human dignity has become an important resource for debates in bioethics. The most important form is personal dignity, a norm or value, which typically is attributed to individual human beings. This kind of dignity protects its bearer in important ways; it cannot be alienated but only violated, and its basic form is possessed by all of its bearers to the same degree. Any adequate theory of human dignity must define the rights and other norms this notion comprises, elaborating the quality or qualities that ground its attribution to beings and the specific goods or interests it protects. While some conceptions of human dignity seek to empower their bearers by equipping them with various rights, thereby increasing their autonomy, others require of the bearers duties to themselves in addition, thereby restricting their possible choices. Both conceptions of dignity as empowerment and dignity as constraint are at play in contemporary bioethical debates on abortion, assisted suicide, organ sale and human enhancement.

Key Concepts

  • A better understanding of the concept of human dignity.
  • An overview of the different elements a theory of human dignity typically contains.
  • An overview of how human dignity is employed in certain bioethical debates.
  • An overview of the problems and challenges for certain conceptions of human dignity in these applied debates.
  • An overview of three key characteristics that are typically attributed to human dignity.

Keywords: human dignity; human status; human worth; dignity as empowerment; dignity as constraint; assisted death; abortion; human enhancement; organ sale


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Muders, Sebastian(Jan 2017) Human Dignity in Bioethics. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027020]