Human Dignity and Bioethics

Edited by Edmund D. Pellegrino, Adam Schulman, and Thomas W. Merrill

Notre Dame Studies in Medical Ethics

This collection of essays, commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics, explores a fundamental concept crucial to today’s discourse in law and ethics in general and in bioethics in particular. Since its formation in 2001, the council has frequently used the term “human dignity” in its discussions and reports. In this volume scholars from the fields of philosophy, medicine and medical ethics, law, political science, and public policy address the issue of what the concept of “human dignity” entails and its proper role in bioethical controversies. Human Dignity and Bioethics is an attempt to clarify a controversial concept, one that is a critical component in the decisions of policymakers.

Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D., is professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics and adjunct professor of philosophy at Georgetown University.

Adam Schulman is Tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis, and senior research consultant for the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Thomas W. Merrill is a research analyst for the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Contributors: Adam Schulman, F. Daniel Davis, Daniel C. Dennett, Robert P. Kraynak, Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, Patricia S. Churchland, Gilbert Meilaender, Holmes Rolston III, Charles Rubin, Nick Bostrom, Richard John Neuhaus, Peter Augustine Lawler, Diana Schaub, Leon R. Kass, Susan M. Shell, Martha Nussbaum, David Gelernter, Patrick Lee, Robert P. George, Paul Weithman, Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M., Rebecca Dresser, and Edmund D. Pellegrino.

“These essays make it clear that there is no universal agreement on the meaning of the term, human dignity. Some argue that human dignity has lost its traditional meaning. Others, by contrast, hold firmly to the view that dignity is an essential identifying and irreducible element of human nature. Still others take a more biological than philosophical or theological viewpoint on the question of the meaning of human dignity. An appreciation of the variety of these views is critical, if we are to understand the divergences in how we think and act in response to the challenges posed by contemporary bioethics.” — Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D.


“This volume by leading philosophers, theologians, and political scientists was commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics. This volume is a good introduction to the topic, but also offers rich, and complex ideas for more advanced readers.” — The Quarterly Review of Biology

“The anthology Human Dignity and Bioethics presents a collection of papers originally published by the U.S.-American President’s Council on Bioethics ‘in response to questions about the Council’s use of the term human dignity.’ It provides an extremely helpful and illuminating survey of different understandings of ‘human dignity’ and their consequences for bioethics. It also illustrates the diversity of interpretations that may very well contradict each other and come to different consequences in dealing with bioethical issues . . . The greatest use of the volume lies in its compilation of different approaches and concepts regarding ‘human dignity.’” — Studies in Christian Ethics