Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility: The New Language of Global Bioethics and Biolaw

Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility: The New Language of Global Bioethics and Biolaw (Basic Bioethics)Michael Barilan

«Human dignity» has been enshrined in international agreements and national constitutions as a fundamental human right. The World Medical Association calls on physicians to respect human dignity and to discharge their duties with dignity. And yet human dignity is a term–like love, hope, and justice–that is intuitively grasped but never clearly defined. Some ethicists and bioethicists dismiss it; other thinkers point to its use in the service of particular ideologies. In this book, Michael Barilan offers an urgently needed, nonideological, and thorough conceptual clarification of human dignity and human rights, relating these ideas to current issues in ethics, law, and bioethics. Combining social history, history of ideas, moral theology, applied ethics, and political theory, Barilan tells the story of human dignity as a background moral ethos to human rights. After setting the problem in its scholarly context, he offers a hermeneutics of the formative texts on Imago Dei; provides a philosophical explication of the value of human dignity and of vulnerability; presents a comprehensive theory of human rights from a natural, humanist perspective; explores issues of moral status; and examines the value of responsibility as a link between virtue ethics and human dignity and rights. Barilan accompanies his theoretical claim with numerous practical illustrations, linking his theory to such issues in bioethics as end-of-life care, cloning, abortion, torture, treatment of the mentally incapacitated, the right to health care, the human organ market, disability and notions of difference, and privacy, highlighting many relevant legal aspects in constitutional and humanitarian law.

Editorial Reviews


«This wonderful book provides a comprehensive, well-written, and well-argued reading of the relationship between human dignity and human rights. This kind of deep historical analysis and systematic argument is paramount to understanding the present philosophical discussions of the foundations of human rights, law, and bioethics.» –Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Roskilde University, Denmark

«In recent years the concept of human dignity has been accorded diminished respect as fundamentally useless for normative moral theory as well as practical application, especially in the field of bioethics. Likewise, the notion of basic human rights has been regarded as being too controversial to be useful in addressing most practical moral problems. Barilan offers a novel, fundamental reconstruction of both these notions that, arguably, restores their respectability and utility for addressing a broad range of bioethical issues. This is an ambitious and provocative book worth a careful reading.»–Len Fleck, Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, Michigan State University

«In exploring crucial questions that are at the very heart of various moral problems of our time, Yechiel Michael Barilan demonstrates a deep and wide-ranging familiarity with the history of ideas, with classic philosophical and theological discussions, and with medical concepts. It is rare to find this combined expertise in one person. This broad and multifaceted approach makes this volume particularly original when compared to the existing literature on the notion of human dignity.»–Roberto Andorno, University of Zurich

About the Author

Yechiel Michael Barilan is a practicing physician, specialist in internal medicine, and Associate Professor of Medical Education in the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.