In his recent State of the Union address, the President made the following statement: “As Americans, we respect human dignity… We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”
Human dignity is a concept rich in significance and riddled with controversy. While you would be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree with the President that human dignity should be respected, the question will inevitably arise as to whose definition of dignity he is referring to. For example, opposite ends of the bioethical spectrum will both tout human dignity in the articulation of the position they hold. Whether one is pro-life, pro-choice, an advocate for “death with dignity,” or staunchly opposed to physician assisted suicide, an understanding of dignity is key to the debate.
The vastly different understandings of human dignity have led some to suggest that we should do away with the concept all together. Because it appears that consensus will never be reached, we should move away from the discussion and focus on topics more practical and profitable. However, a lack of consensus does not negate the significance of the discussion. Nor should it deter us from seeking to discern what human dignity is and why it matters. Like many things in life, a lack of consensus does not equal a lack of truth. There can, and I believe there is, a true understanding of human dignity, one that is discernible and has profoundly practical implications for how we respect the human dignity of those around us.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.