The General Notion of Human Dignity and the Specific Arguments in Medical Ethics

  • Martin Hailer
  • Dietrich Ritschl
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 52)


“Menschenwürde”, a widely used term in German philosophy, political science and ethics, is a term with no exact English equivalent. It correspondends in general to “Human Dignity”, sometimes “sanctity of life”, or “security of person”, or “personal security” to denote the inalienable autonomy of human beings. The use of “personal security” is frequently found in books on the Philosophy of Law, e.g. by Roscoe Pound ([15]; cf. also [7]), while the term “Human Dignity” is quite generally used in ethical discourse, especially in social and political ethics. Politicians use it as does the International Commission of Jurists and other groups and agencies affiliated to the United Nations. Here it is used as though it were an ethical technical term with a distinct meaning which, however, is not really the case. Still, the use of the term “Human Dignity” in these circles represents more or less the meaning of “Menschenwürde” in the German language. Finally, the term “sanctity of life” is — contrary to a wide-spread opinion — not of theological origin. Helga Kuhse has recently used it in the title of her book [11]. In the following we will use the term “Human Dignity”, although this translation denotes only a part of what the German term “Menschenwürde” means in post-war usage.


Medical Ethic Human Dignity General Notion Ethical Discourse Moral Imperative 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Hailer
    • 1
  • Dietrich Ritschl
    • 1
  1. 1.Ecumenical InstituteUniversity of HeidelbergGermany

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