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Dignity: A Salient Concept in Philosophy of Medicine

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Title: Dignity: A Salient Concept in Philosophy of Medicine
Author: Buckley, Shannon
Department: Department of Philosophy
Program: Philosophy
Advisor: Goldenberg, Maya
Abstract: We all claim to know intuitively what dignity is – we recognise it when we see it and we notice its absence. If we appeal to the traditional Kantian account of human dignity, we will find there are human persons who, although they are recognised and acknowledged as members of the human community, ostensibly do not and cannot possess dignity because they lack the requisite rationality, agency and freedom. For example, infants, and people with severe dementia or developmental disabilities cannot, strictly speaking, possess dignity on Kant’s account since they are not rational, have limited agency, and are not free (in any sense of the word). The concept of dignity is addressed in the health care literature (see for example Nordenfelt, 2003; Pullman, 1999; Pullman, 2003; Gallagher, 2004), yet, despite its salience for both patients and health care professionals, it is woefully undertheorised. The claim I make and defend in this project is that a carefully theorised concept of dignity will be particularly useful for patients with diminished or severely compromised capacities for autonomy. Not all patients are, or have the capacity to be, autonomous. I defend a relational account of dignity, whereby dignity is conferred through relations of care. In defending my claim that dignity is a useful concept in health care I am also challenging autonomy’s central role in bioethics.
Date: 2019-05
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