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Two Concepts of Dignity for Humans and Non-Human Organisms in the Context of Genetic Engineering

  • Philipp Balzer
  • Klaus Peter Rippe
  • Peter Schaber
Article

Abstract

The 1992 incorporation of an article by referendum in the SwissConstitution mandating that the federal government issue regulations onthe use of genetic material that take into account the dignity ofnonhuman organism raises philosophical questions about how we shouldunderstand what is meant by ``the dignity of nonhuman animals,'' andabout what sort of moral demands arise from recognizing this dignitywith respect to their genetic engineering. The first step in determiningwhat is meant is to clarify the difference between dignity when appliedto humans and when applied to nonhumans. Several conceptions of humandignity should be rejected in favor of a fourth conception: the rightnot to be degraded. This right implies that those who have it have thecognitive capacities that are prerequisite for self-respect. In the caseof nonhuman organisms that lack this capacity, respecting their dignityrequires the recognition that their inherent value, which is tied totheir abilities to pursue their own good, be respected. This value isnot absolute, as it is in the case of humans, so it does not prohibitbreeding manipulations that make organisms more useful to humans. But itdoes restrict morally how sentient animals can be used. In regard togenetic engineering, this conception requires that animals be allowedthe uninhibited development of species specific functions, a positionshared by Holland and Attfield, as opposed to the Original Purposeconception proposed by Fox and the Integrity of the Genetic Make-upposition proposed by Rolston. The inherent value conception of dignity,as here defended, is what is meant in the Swiss Constitution article.

dignity Swiss Constitution nonhuman inherent value genetic engineering 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philipp Balzer
    • 1
  • Klaus Peter Rippe
    • 2
  • Peter Schaber
    • 1
  1. 1.Arbeits- und Forschungsstelle fuer EthikEthik-Zentrum der Universitaet ZuerichZuerich
  2. 2.Arbeits- und Forschungsstelle fuer EthikEthik-Zentrum der Universitaet ZuerichZuerich

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