The concept of human dignity and its role in bioethical discourse

Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Philosophy

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 171 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jason D'Cruz

Committee Members

Bonnie Steinbock, Rachel Cohon


flourishing, Human dignty, respect, speciesism, Dignity, Respect for persons, Bioethics

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | Philosophy


It is often assumed in moral and political reasoning that the concept of dignity is quite useful. Yet, if one were to consider the role that dignity plays in bioethical discourse, one may become confused as to exactly what explanatory work it does. For example, in 2002, the President’s Council on Bioethics argued that human cloning may undermine dignity and therefore any efforts to advance such technologies should be banned. They write, “…a begotten child comes into the world just as its parents once did, and is therefore their equal in dignity and humanity” (President’s Council on Bioethics on Cloning 2002). The problem with the above argument is that it is unclear as to how one’s origin effects one’s dignity; therefore, the concept cannot explain what is morally wrong with cloning. Because of examples such as the one above, the concept’s effectiveness in moral explanation has come into question: what sort of explanatory power if any does it have? Who can be said to possess human dignity and why? What sort of protections does the concept afford? What constitutes a human dignity violation? My goal in this dissertation is to a) address these questions while responding to critics who have challenged the concept’s usefulness in bioethical discourse and b) to suggest an alternative approach to the concept of human dignity that establishes all human beings as possessing dignity while at the same time avoiding arbitrarily elevating the moral status of all humans over all nonhumans.


Requested ProQuest takedown; no end date

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