Thomas Aquinas and Recent Questions about Human Dignity

Diametros 38:112-126 (2013)
Fred Guyette
Erskine College
What is the status of human dignity in bioethics today? Ruth Macklin, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer are among those who argue that “human dignity” is incoherent rhetoric, improperly smuggled into public discourse by religious people who are opposed to moral autonomy and want to block progress in cutting-edge medical research. In the moral philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, however, dignity is broader and deeper than its critics claim. It cannot simply be replaced by the concept of “autonomy.” Dignity plays a crucial role in building respect for human life. We first discover the dignity of “the other” in the context of family life, and discussion of the common good would be impoverished if we were somehow to eliminate it from our moral vocabulary. The respect we owe to human life in its embryonic stages serves as a paradigmatic case that shows the crucial importance of dignity.
Keywords Thomas Aquinas  human dignity  autonomy  medical ethics  bioethics  utilitarian ethics
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DOI 10.13153/diam.38.2013.540
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