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Human dignity

Related subjects: Animal & Human Rights

Background Information

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Human dignity refers to a state of righteousness, integrity, or virtue in human beings. The term dignity is defined as "the state of being worthy of honour or respect" .

In human rights

When this concept is associated with the adjective "human", it is used to signify that all human beings possess intrinsic worthiness and deserve unconditional respect, regardless of age, sex, health status, social or ethnic origin, political ideas, religion, or criminal history. If violated, this can be considered discrimination. In other words, this respect is owed to every individual by the mere fact that he or she is a "member of the human family" (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Preamble). This intrinsic worthiness is widely recognized by international law as the source of all human rights. In this respect, both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 affirm that human rights “derive from the inherent dignity of the human person”.

In philosophy

At the philosophical level, following Kant, the expression human dignity is used to indicate that persons should always be treated as ends in themselves and never merely as means. Kant presents “dignity” as exactly the opposite of “price”: while “price” is the kind of value for which there can be an equivalent (roughly economic value), “dignity” makes a person irreplaceable. Therefore, dignity can be explained as a requirement of non- instrumentalization of persons.

The idea is in some ways controversial, mainly in regard to the question of whether it also applies to human embryos or non-human beings and if not, why. Utilitarian philosophers see a conflict with their principle of equal consideration of interests, and sometimes the idea is criticised as an example of speciesism.

German Constitution

Human dignity features as the most fundamental principle of the German constitution. Article 1, paragraph 1 reads: "Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and to protect it is the duty of all state authority." Human dignity is thus mentioned even before the right to life. This has a significant impact on German law-making and jurisdiction in both serious and trivial items:

  • It is the base of § 131 StGB, which outlaws representation of violence in certain cases and was the grounds for the confiscation of many horror movies and some video games like Manhunt or the Mortal Kombat series.
  • § 14 (3) of the Luftsicherheitsgesetz, which would have allowed the Bundeswehr to shoot down airliners if they are used as weapons by terrorists, was declared unconstitutional mainly on the grounds of human dignity: killing a small number of innocent people to save a large number cannot be legalized since it treats dignity as if it was a measurable and limited quantity.
  • A Benetton advertisement showing human buttocks with an "H.I.V. positive" stamp was declared in violation of human dignity by some courts, but in the end found legal.
  • The first German law legalizing abortion in 1975 was declared unconstitutional because the court held that embryos had human dignity, too. In the new law on abortion that was developed in the 1990s, this has been recognized in that early-term abortions are still not legal, the state merely declines to administer the due punishment.
  • In a decision from 1981-12-15, the Bundesverwaltungsgericht declared that peep shows violated the human dignity of the performer, regardless of her personal feelings. The decision was later revised, but shows where the performer cannot herself see the persons who are watching her remain outlawed on grounds of dignity.

Human dignity is a way of respect in the for of privacy between each person.

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