Dignity: Not Such a Useless Concept

Journal of Medical Ethics 36 (3):160-164 (2010)
In her 2003 article in the British Medical Journal, Ruth Macklin provocatively declared dignity to be a useless concept: either a vague restatement of other more precise values, such as autonomy or respect for persons, or an empty slogan. A recent response to Macklin has challenged this claim. Doris Schroeder attempts to rescue dignity by positing four distinct concepts that fall under the one umbrella term. She argues that much of the confusion surrounding dignity is due to the lack of disambiguation among these four concepts, but that once we understand the different values in question dignity becomes a powerful tool in the fields of human rights and bioethics. It is the goal of this paper to build upon Schroeder's insights by reconnecting the multiple strands of dignity she identifies. It will be argued that the usefulness of dignity as a guiding principle in medical ethics can be much improved by identifying the single conceptual link that ties together the various values flying under its banner. That conceptual link is provided by understanding dignity as the capacity to live by one's standards and principles.

Keywords Dignity
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DOI 10.1136/jme.2009.031393
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