March 5, 2024

Nature attacks ‘human dignity’

“Notoriously subjective”, says world’s leading journal

Human dignity is a contradictory,
“notoriously subjective” and “slippery” concept, according to the world’s
leading science journal, Nature. In a
brief editorial commenting on restrictions on animal research in Switzerland,
the journal supported a controversial stand taken by evolutional psychologist
Stephen Pinker, of Harvard University, that human dignity, as a bioethical
concept, is “stupid”. “Dignity as a concept cannot be a director of moral
judgement,” insists Nature.

The notion of human dignity is coming
under attack from a growing number of bioethicists and scientists who claim
that it is too squishy to serve as a rationale for bioethical decisions. They
prefer the harder-edged concept of autonomy. This, they say, is safeguard
enough for all the elements of what we normally regard as human dignity. The
underlying reason for the attack seems to be a reluctance to concede “human
dignity” to embryos or, at the other end of the life cycle, to comatose

Admittedly, Switzerland’s views on the
“dignity” of animals and plants do sound rather squishy. Its 2004 constitution
stipulates that the “dignity of creatures” must be taken into account in animal
research. Zurich’s two largest institutes have decided to appeal to the
nation’s supreme court after a local court ruled that they could not experiment
on macaque monkeys to study how the brain adapts to change. They claim that the
ban is a serious threat to basic research in Switzerland. ~ Nature, June 11