Protection of Life and Human Dignity: The German Debate Between Christian Norms and Secular Expectations
Christian Bioethics 2008 April; 14(1): 58-77
The German debate on bioethics and medical ethics turns on a change in the meaning of human dignity. Such dignity is increasingly rendered contingent upon a person's empirically assessable quality of life. In contrast to such dignity-endowed human life, a merely biological human life is taken to disqualify its bearer from such dignity, depriving his life of the protection "respect for human dignity" would otherwise guarantee. The idea of a "life not worth living" or "undignified life" evokes categories, which were developed at the beginning of the 20th century, and later informed the crimes of National Socialist medicine in Germany. Against this secular development, this article analyses the theological and church-based discussion of basic bioethical questions in Germany, especially the controversy among Protestants: once Protestant ethicists abandon an explicitly theological basis for their arguments, their conclusions come to closely resemble those of the secular participants in the debate. As a result, such Protestants relativize fundamental ethical norms. They subordinate, along with their secular environment, the protection of life to respect for autonomy. They thus prepare the ground for a revival of the risky concepts of the past.
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