Human Dignity and Enhancement: A multidimensional approach
In debates concerning the ethics of enhancement (that is the use of technology to achieve better than 'normal' performance in human beings) arguments both for and against have appealed to the concept of dignity to underpin their arguments. This gives rise to the problem of 'dignity talk', where both sides seem to be appealing to the same criterion as their debate-ending, trump card. In the case of so-called bioconservatives, enhancement is seen as a violation of human dignity; in the case of so-called transhumanists, enhancement is seen as necessary for the full realisation of human dignity. The paper will show that the problem is that both groups are operating from fundamentally different conceptions of what constitutes the human person. They consequently attribute dignity or worth to that feature that is deemed constitutive of the human person. In the case of bioconservatives, for example, this may be the idea that all human beings are uniquely created and loved by God. In the case of transhumanists, the emphasis may be on human moral autonomy. Both, however, overlook a key feature of the human person, namely, that the human person is a multidimensional reality. It is this multidimensional whole to which worth or dignity should be attributed. When this is done, one can move beyond the 'dignity talk' that characterises the debate on enhancement, such that dignity becomes a hermeneutical lens for a meaningful discussion of impact that enhancement has on our estimation of the worth of individual human persons and their efforts to live an existentially meaningful life.
Dr David G. Kirchhoffer is lecturer in the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at Australian Catholic University, and is based at its McAuley Campus in Banyo, Brisbane. His teaching and research focusses primarily on theological ethics. Born and raised in South Africa, he studied biology, psychology, and theology, before reading for his doctorate in theology under the supervision of Professor Johan Verstraeten at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. He worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law in Leuven in collaboration with Professor Kris Dierickx. In 2011 he took up a permanent post at ACU. In addition to numerous peer-reviewed articles and translations of scholarly texts, he is the author of Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics (2013).