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Human Dignity in Bioethics and Biolaw

Beyleveld, Deryck; Brownsword, Roger


Roger Brownsword


The concept of human dignity is increasingly invoked in bioethical debate and, indeed, in international instruments concerned with biotechnology and biomedicine. While some commentators consider appeals to human dignity to be little more than rhetoric and not worthy of serious consideration, the authors of this groundbreaking new study give such appeals distinct and defensible meaning through an application of the moral theory of Alan Gewirth. In Part One, the book seeks to bring human dignity more clearly into focus. It sketches two opposed conceptions, 'human dignity as empowerment', which treats human rights as based on the intrinsic dignity of humans, identified with individual autonomy, and 'human dignity as constraint', which acts as an umbrella for a number of duty-driven approaches. While viewing human dignity primarily as empowerment, the authors argue that it is not autonomy as such, but vulnerable agency around which dignity as the basis of human rights is to be analyzed. Alongside this, they develop the idea of dignity as a virtue, specifically as a practical attitude to be cultivated in the face of human finitude and vulnerability. At its sharpest, dignity as a virtue indicates the aspirational path of responsible and rational agency in the context of the existential anxiety that is part and parcel of the human condition. During this analysis they pay particular attention to the similarities and differences between Kantian and Gewirthian theory. In Part Two, the authors apply their analysis of dignity as generating rights and responsibilities to a range of activities (such as pre-natal selection, commodification of the human body, cloning, and euthanasia) running from birth with dignity through to death with dignity, and subject the use of 'human dignity' in existing regulatory frameworks to critical scrutiny.


Beyleveld, D., & Brownsword, R. (2001). Human Dignity in Bioethics and Biolaw. Oxford University Press

Book Type Authored Book
Publication Date Dec 1, 2001
Deposit Date Feb 29, 2008
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publisher URL