Page URL: https://www.progress.org.uk/ncobbodies9

This policy document is part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research.


Are there any other values you think should be taken into consideration?

We believe that the concept of 'dignity' requires a more nuanced consideration than is provided in the consultation document. A useful starting point might be to distinguish between 'dignity as empowerment' and 'dignity as constraint', following David Beyleveld and Roger Brownsword in their 2002 book Human Dignity in Bioethics and Biolaw.

'Dignity as empowerment' is a value reinforced through the exercise of autonomy, while 'dignity as constraint' is a value reinforced through the exercise of state authority. This is a useful distinction, because it explains the paradox that the value of 'dignity' can be appropriated by the state and used to oppose the interests of nominally autonomous individuals.

The concept of 'commodification' used in relation to the concept of 'dignity' in the consultation document also requires more nuanced consideration. A useful starting point might be to distinguish between 'narrow' and 'wide' approaches to this concept, following Margaret Jane Radin in her 1987 journal article 'Market Inalienability' (Harvard Law Review, June 1987).

A 'narrow' approach to commodification addresses the attachment of monetary value to something, or its entry into the commercial sphere. This is relevant when remuneration, advertising or competitiveness occur. A 'wide' approach to commodification addresses the marginalising of something's sanctity. This occurs when people (for example the donors of human bodily material) are viewed instrumentally, as a marginalised means to an end.

It is also worth considering the extent to which the concepts of 'dignity' and commodification', as invoked in the formulation of policy, are predicated on either religious or secular views. Religious considerations should not play a strong role in the formulation of policy, because condemning practices based on religious views compels those who do not hold such views to abide by them. A more permissive approach is preferable, because provided that it allows scope for people (including those working in science and medicine) to act according to their conscience, such an approach allows those who disagree with practices to refrain from engaging in them.