Dignité et liberté: vers une contradiction insoluble?
Le Coz, Pierre
Journal international de bioéthique = International journal of bioethics 2010 Sep; 21(3): 17-27, 86
Dignity is a distinctive trait that our culture has chosen to attach to the individual. Dignity is an unconditional value and the prerogative of man. It goes without saying for us today that whatever his worldly status, his age, his sex, the colour of his skin, his state of health, etc., a man possesses dignity. However, from the point of view of history, nothing seems less spontaneous than to attribute to all men equal dignity. The idea of an ontological dignity, a dignity rooted in the depths of the human being, is the fruit of a long, laborious history which bears the mark of Judeo-Christian culture, of the philosophy of the age of Enlightenment, and of the international legal clauses that followed the atrocities committed during the Second World War. Yet the semantic inflation of the concept, henceforth omnipresent in texts of law, society debates or ethical recommendations, threatens to make it sink into insignificance. Instead of enriching the argument, it becomes a pretext for not having to argue. A concept with an imprecise content, dignity has become through time a sort of magic word which, in the name of ethics, makes it possible to defend any position and the contrary. Thus the dignity argument makes it possible to justify the depenalising of euthanasia (it would be an attempt on the dignity of a being if he was refused the right to put an end to a life which is nothing but suffering) and its condemning (it would be an insult to a man's dignity if the only answer to his appeal for moral support was the administration of a lethal substance). Confused with the exercising of freedom or the quality of life, dignity has a regrettable tendency to cease to define an unconditional value; it has become a malleable, fluctuating property, sometimes even considered as related to living conditions or the state of physical and mental breakdown.
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