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This paper contends that the conventional ethical and legal ways of analysing the wrong involved in the misuse of human body parts are inadequate, and should be replaced with an analysis based on human dignity. It examines the various ways in which dignity has been understood, outlines many of the criticisms made of those ways (agreeing with many of the criticisms), and proposes a new way of seeing dignity which is exegetically consonant with the way in which dignity has been historically understood, and yet avoids the pitfalls which have led to dignity being dismissed by many as hopelessly amorphous or incurably theological. The account of dignity proposed is broadly Aristotelian. It defines dignity in terms of human thriving, and presupposes that it is possible, at least in principle, to determine empirically what makes humans thrive. It contends that humans are quintessentially relational animals, and that it is not possible (and certainly not ethically desirable) to define humans as atomistic entities. One important corollary of this is that when using dignity/thriving as a criterion for determining the ethical acceptability of a proposed action or inaction, one should ask not merely how the dignity interests of the patient (for instance) would be affected, but how the dignity interests of all stakeholders would be affected. The business of ethics is then the business of auditing all those interests, and determining the course of action which would maximise the amount of thriving in the world.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Ethics

Publication Date





44 - 47


Autonomy, Bills, Laws and Cases, Donation/Procurement of Organs/Tissues, Law, Bioethics, Commerce, Ethics, Medical, Human Body, Human Rights, Humans, Legislation as Topic, Ownership, Personal Autonomy, Personhood, Tissue and Organ Procurement