Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President's Council on Bioethics
Letter of Transmittal
The President’s Council on Bioethics
1425 New York Avenue,
NW, Suite C100
Washington, D.C. 20005
March 1, 2008
The White House
Dear Mr. President,
With this letter I am pleased to send you Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President's Council on Bioethics. Like the Council's earlier volume, Being Human: Readings from the President's Council on Bioethics, this book is an anthology, in this case a collection of essays exploring a fundamental concept crucial to today's discourse in law and ethics in general and in bioethics in particular.
Since the Council's establishment in 2001, the concept of human dignity has figured frequently in many of the Council's reports. As a result, there have been repeated requests for clarification of the meaning of the term. The Council has decided to respond by putting the question to a diverse group of scholars, including members of the Council, the better to provide a sense of the breadth of opinions on what has become a controversial subject.
These essays make it clear that there is no universal agreement on the meaning of the term, human dignity. Some argue that human dignity has lost its traditional meaning. Others, by contrast, hold firmly to the view that dignity is an essential identifying and irreducible element of human nature. Still others take a more biological than philosophical or theological viewpoint on the question of the meaning of human dignity. An appreciation of the variety of these views is critical, if we are to understand the divergences in how we think and act in response to the challenges posed by contemporary bioethics.
Ultimately, the fundamental questions in law and ethics will be shaped by what we think it means to be human and what we understand to be the ethical obligations owed to the human person. We believe that the two volumes-Being Human and Human Dignity and Bioethics-provide the public and policymakers with the materials for a deeper understanding of the foundations upon which we build our answers to life's most challenging questions.
Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D. Chairman