Book Review: Human Dignity and Bioethics

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New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 359, No. 6, p. 660, 2008

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Leslie Meltzer Henry
dignity; bioethics; abortion; cloning; assisted suicide; health care; metaphysics; religion; law
paper description
The President’s Council on Bioethics frequently invokes -- but never defines -- the notion of human dignity in its reports on caregiving, stem-cell research, cloning, assisted reproduction, and biomedical enhancement. This article argues that the Council employs the language of dignity so loosely in its policy recommendations that the word is often nothing more than a rhetorical trump card to reject policies at odds with the Bush administration’s perspective. This article examines how the Council uses the word dignity; explores competing philosophical, theological, and political understandings of the word; and suggests ways in which a more productive dialogue about dignity's meaning can proceed.