September 28, 2022

“Human dignity”: more action in the trenches

A bioethicist at Weill Cornell Medical College has fired another salvo in the battle of human dignity. Writing in the May issue of the journal Bioethics, she dissects earlier arguments and finds them wanting.

A bioethicist at Weill Cornell Medical College has fired another salvo in the battle of human dignity – or to be more precise, of whether the notion of “human dignity” makes any sense or not.

Writing in the May issue of the journal Bioethics, Inmaculada de Melo-Martín, responds to an earlier contribution from Alistair Cochrane (see BioEdge). He had argued that “human dignity is flawed, fuzzy and unhelpful. However, de Melo-Martin dissects his arguments and finds them wanting. While human dignity might not be useful, the case remains unproven.

“Perhaps the problem is not so much with dignity being useless, but with the fact that people want it to do things for which it might not be particularly well suited. But that is a far cry from showing that the concept is simply useless in bioethics. Or it might be that what one wishes is to have precise answers to complex and difficult problems and to the degree that the concept of human dignity cannot accomplish this, then it would seem fruitless.

“But if clear cut answers to difficult and complex problems is what one wants, then maybe one should give up ethical inquiry all together, for as Aristotle wisely said in the opening paragraphs of his Nicomachean Ethics, discussion in ethics ‘will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions.’”

~ Bioethics, May 2012  

Michael Cook
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human dignity