Bioethics and the demise of the concept of human dignity: has medicine killed ethics?


The rise of "dignity talk" has led to the concept of human dignity being criticized in recent years. Some critics argue that human dignity must either be something we have or something we acquire. Others argue that there is no such thing as human dignity and people really mean something else when they appeal to it. Both "dignity talk" and the criticisms arise from a problematic conception of medical ethics as a legalistic, procedural techne. A retrieval of hermeneutical ethics, by contrast, offers a way to overcome both the legalism of contemporary ethics and the abuses and criticisms of the concept of human dignity. Such an ethics affirms both the inherent dignity of a human being as a multi-dimensional, meaning-seeking, historically-situated, relational individual, who desires to live a good life, and the realized sense of his/her own dignity toward which s/he works. As such, human dignity cannot be reduced to one feature of the human, and instead functions as both a descriptive category that avoids moralism, and as a normative category that allows relativity whilst avoiding relativism.

Cite this paper

@article{Kirchhoffer2011BioethicsAT, title={Bioethics and the demise of the concept of human dignity: has medicine killed ethics?}, author={David G Kirchhoffer}, journal={Human reproduction and genetic ethics}, year={2011}, volume={17 2}, pages={141-54} }