I devoted my biweekly column at First Things to an article by Charles Foster in the Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics in support of human dignity.
I start by noting that mainstream bioethics rejects the objective equal value of human life. From, “Standing Against the Human ‘Dignity Deniers’:”
Today’s dominant cultural voices argue that an individual’s moral worth should be predicated upon his or her individual capacities of the moment. This view is most acutely expressed in bioethics, the field that wields tremendous influence over health-care public policies and in the ethical protocols of medicine.
The potential that denying human dignity has to oppress, exploit, harvest, and kill the weakest and most vulnerable among us hangs in the air like malodorous evidence of a ruptured sewer line.
Examples? Of course:
In recent years, prominent bioethicists have proposed various moral status formulas to justify allowing “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide), non-voluntary euthanasia of Alzheimer’s patients, and the use of profoundly disabled humans in dangerous medical experiments—just to name a few of the policy proposals that would obliterate our inalienable right to life.
I note that there has been scarce push back to an “undignified bioethics” outside of religious bioethical circles, which exerts little way. And then I quote Foster:
Our main concern should be not abstract human thriving but the thriving of a particular human being. It is her humanization that should be the object of ethical discussion.
How refreshing, promoting greater humanization rather than depersonalizing the most vulnerable among us. For example, Foster answers the dignity deniers’ objection that part of a good life is altruism—so why not, as has frequently been proposed in bioethics, harvest the unconscious patient’s organs?
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Everyone, in fact, has a dignity interest vested in this particular patient. The criminal recognizes that society as a whole is damaged by, for instance, a murder. This is not merely or mainly because, if murder goes unpunished, murders will proliferate and the risk of each one of us being murdered rises. More important is what the fact of the unpunished murder says about the zeitgeist—about the ethical water in which we all have to swim. A society that tolerates murder is toxic, and the toxicity affects the ability of us all to thrive.
The moral heft of the adverse cultural impact of denying intrinsic dignity is also relevant to other lethal bioethical matters such as euthanasia and abortion.
Human exceptionalism–of which our intrinsic dignity is merely a part–is THE issue of the 21st century. Our rights, our liberty, perhaps our very lives, depend on defending it.
That is why I think Foster’s article is an important contribution. We need all the help we can get here in the Alamo.
LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Human Exeptionalism.