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Defending Human Dignity

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Two Main Areas of Concern in Bioethics Today

Human dignity is very important and is a major concern in bioethics today. There are two main areas of concern in the field of bioethics, each emphasizing specific aspects of human dignity. The field of clinical medicine focuses on the need to equally respect the worth of every patient in every stage undergone irrespective of gender, race, class, level of illness, closeness to death, economic status, or state of body or mind. Every patient has a right to be respectfully spoken to and treated, and consideration in choosing desired treatment. It treats every life equal, and under no circumstance can a life be deemed worthless and deserve to be eliminated. All these are grounded on the need to respect human dignity, his very being, and vitality.

Whereas biomedical research assists human beings in one way or another, the question whether research with human subjects is ethically right or not remains a major ethical concern. It is seen as not safeguarding humans’ life and not respecting human dignity. The fact is normally overlooked in the research arena, as human beings are considered as things or treated just like any other body. But the results of the research, including the powers of biotechnology, are more attractive to humans. The power of biotechnology, for example, which alters the body and mind of humans, is attractive to the sick, suffering, and every person who desires to biologically modify his/her body.

Indeed, God’s creation is perfect and He makes human beings for specific reasons. Every human being cannot be, for instance, tall or short. Therefore, it is God’s intended purpose to create humans with different capabilities. In this regard, it is my concern that the area of bioethics that supports biotechnology to modify body of human beings reduces the dignity of humans. This makes humans being seen as objects that can be modified at will.

Full Human Dignity versus Basic Human Dignity

Full Human Dignity

Historically, dignity is viewed as something that deserves respect and honor. Full human dignity, also known as the dignity of being human, is a kind of dignity that is abundantly found and universally shared. Kant, in his quest for respect of persons, tried to advocate teaching of universal human dignity that calls for respect of all persons not on the basis of achievements, but on the basis of their participation in morality and their ability to delve deep into the moral law. Since, according to Kant, human dignity is based on moral life, human dignity can be quantified. Greater human dignity is seen as having a good moral life. This means that there is a greater dignity in the brave than in the coward or in the righteous than in the wicked.

There is evidence of quantifiable human dignity in the environment we live in. Many people strive to be more dignified by practicing human virtues, such as generosity, courage, righteousness, and bravery (also known as the dignity of virtue).  Therefore, people tend to admire persons finer than them and emulate them to be dignified in the society. Though they may succeed partially, they are always given a second chance to improve, as human beings are subject to improvements.  

Ordinarily, evidence of full human dignity around us can be seen as people strive to meet necessities, tackle disappointment and adversity, provide basic needs for their families, help the disabled and needy, and work for their countries. Dignity of endurance is also evident when people are confronted with tough situations that require courage, strength, and perseverance.

In addition to the dignity of virtue and endurance, there is the dignity of human activity and dignity of intimate human relations. Dignity of human activity includes performing activities we are really good at, such as cooking, sewing, singing, and blessing, while dignity of intimate human relations includes receiving visitors, kissing a bride, and consoling the downhearted. Finally, there is the human dignity of certain ennobling human passion, such as love, appreciativeness, and trust.

Basic Human Dignity

Basic human dignity, also known as the dignity of human being, is the dignity that treats all human beings equally, regardless of class, economic status, health, etc., just by virtue of being humans. It opposes the treatment of foreigners, misfits, and the disabled as less worthy of respect and existence. Every human being has a basic human dignity and should not be denied this on the basis of race, disability, or any other aspect. This is because God knows that individual souls are worth the same, and every human being was born of a woman and will one day die.

There is dignity found in suffering, depending on the purpose of suffering. Christians, for example, view Jesus as the epitome of dignity, as he suffered and died, washing away their sins. Equal human dignity is evident in the equality of members of the same species. All human beings are members of the Homo sapiens class, and therefore, share equal dignity with members of that class.

The Dignity of Being In-Between

Human beings are made in the image of God and at the same time are animals whose bodies contain blood. Being Godlike, they are dignified beings as they are like God – a supreme dignified being. As animals, they have blood in their bodies, and therefore, have life which is dignified and respected. They, therefore, have dignity because of being godlike, and also because their bodies contain blood. The biblical story of Cain killing his brother Abel and being asked by God why he shed the blood of his brother clearly explains the dignity of being in-between. Abel destroyed the godlike image and at the same time shed blood that had life. Human beings have the dignity of being in-between God’s image and being an animal.

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