Almost everyone agrees that they should be treated and treat others in a dignified manner; however, people have different views about dignity and what gives people honour and worth. There are different philosophical ideas about the meaning of this concept and its conditions. The concept of human dignity has been a fundamental yet controversial area in the field of bioethics, especially with the ongoing debate over euthanasia.
The aim of this thesis was to evaluate different philosophical views about the concept of dignity, and how the evolution of this concept throughout history affected our understanding of the moral permissibility of euthanasia. I proposed two main arguments: the first is that human dignity is a foundational value which explains other ethical concepts; it is an inherent feature of all human beings, and it is not dependent on other qualities. To proceed in this argument, I presented the evolution of the concept and how it changed throughout history from being tied to other qualities such as social status, reason, and freedom, to become an inherent feature of all human beings (contemporary views as argued by personalism and phenomenology). This evolution is aligned with increased worthiness of the person, which become evident in the twentieth century.
Since dignity is an intrinsic feature of all persons, it is concluded that disability does not deprive patients of their dignity. However, illness is a unique experience that should be understood from the first person position. In the second chapter I presented the phenomenology of illness and suffering. I presented examples of real patients whom I encountered during my practice, and presented some studies in order to know how patients perceive their dignity in relation to their disability. In accordance with my conclusion from the first chapter, most patients did not perceive a loss or violation of their dignity because of their disability; however, a small population of patients reported their disability negatively impacted their sense of freedom. Since freedom was connected previously with dignity by some classical thinkers, and also, this connection was made by some patients, I decided to discuss freedom from a phenomenological and existential perspectives and discuss whether it is lost by physical disability. Freedom in its existential sense is not lost during disability, I concluded; although patients may lack the freedom to obtain. He still possesses his freedom to change. Also, disability might be a chance for the person to find his authentic self that is not shaped by social norms.
My second argument in this thesis is that voluntary euthanasia violates human dignity. In the third chapter, I discussed classical and contemporary views about suicide, then I presented some contemporary views about euthanasia. Along with the evolution of the concept of human dignity and increased recognition of human worth, ethical debate over suicide changed from being a wrong act as regards society to being a violation of human dignity as something that should be respected purely on its own terms.
To conclude, I have argued that human dignity is not tied to the person’s social or economic contribution in his society; all persons, regardless of their different levels of abilities, should be respected and treated in a dignified way because they are persons. Therefore, the dignity of disabled patients should not be lost even if they do not actively contribute to the economic well-being of their societies. I argue also that euthanasia violates human dignity and is a declaration that an individual’s life is not valuable; it also takes away the chance from patients to receive appropriate therapy.
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
MA in Philosophy
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Committee Member 2
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(2022).Ethical Considerations Concerning the Dignity of Patients with Terminal Disabling Illness [Master's Thesis, the American University in Cairo]. AUC Knowledge Fountain.
Rashed, Hebatallah. Ethical Considerations Concerning the Dignity of Patients with Terminal Disabling Illness. 2022. American University in Cairo, Master's Thesis. AUC Knowledge Fountain.