Tag Archives: Embryonic Stem Cells

Dilley & Palpant (Eds.), “Human Dignity in Bioethics”

9780415659314Last December, Routledge published Human Dignity in Bioethics: From Worldviews to the Public Square (2012) edited by Stephen Dilley (St. Edward’s U.), and Nathan J. Palpant (U. of Washington). The publisher’s description follows.

Human Dignity in Bioethics brings together a collection of essays that rigorously examine the concept of human dignity from its metaphysical foundations to its polemical deployment in bioethical controversies. The volume falls into three parts, beginning with meta-level perspectives and moving to concrete applications.

Part 1 analyzes human dignity through a worldview lens, exploring the source and meaning of human dignity from naturalist, postmodernist, Protestant, and Catholic vantages, respectively, letting each side explain and defend its own conception. Part 2 moves from metaphysical moorings to key areas of macro-level influence: international politics, American law, and biological science. These chapters examine the legitimacy of the concept of dignity in documents by international political bodies, the role of dignity in American jurisprudence, and the implications—and challenges—for dignity posed by Darwinism. Part 3 shifts from macro-level topics to concrete applications by examining the rhetoric of human dignity in specific controversies: embryonic stem cell research, abortion, human-animal chimeras, euthanasia and palliative care, psychotropic drugs, and assisted reproductive technologies. Each chapter analyzes the rhetorical use of ‘human dignity’ by opposing camps, assessing the utility of the concept and whether a different concept or approach can be a more productive means of framing or guiding the debate.

European Court of Justice on Human Dignity and the Patentability of Human Embryos

An interesting judgment from the European Court of Justice this week relating to work with human embryonic stem cells: In response to a certification from the German Federal Court of Justice, the ECJ held that the European Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions (1998) forbids the patenting of human embryos, or techniques that require the destruction of human embryos, for industrial or commercial purposes, including purposes of scientific research. The Directive prohibits patents for “uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes,” and indicates that this prohibition extends to all processes that “offend against” the fundamental principle of “human dignity.” The ECJ concluded that the Directive’s reference to “human dignity” required that the phrase “human embryo” be “understood in a wide sense” to include not only fertilized human eggs, but also unfertilized eggs and stem cells, if they are “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being.”

The concept of human dignity is a fundamental one in European law; many religious-freedom cases in the ECtHR employ it, for example. The concept is not so prominent in American jurisprudence, which tends to be more libertarian. Some scholars argue that roots of the principle in European law lie in Catholic Social Theory, and the principle is certainly consistent with Christian ethics. I assume that, like most concepts in European jurisprudence, the principle has roots in Enlightenment thought as well. The judgment is Brüstle v. Greenpeace (Grand Chamber) (18 Oct. 2011). – MLM