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Dignity is seen commonly as an ethical obligation owed to human persons. The dimensions of this obligation in today's post secular society, are -- however -- subject to wide discussion and debate; for, the term, human dignity, and its preservation, defies universal agreement. Yet, its preservation -- together with the prevention of indignity -- should be a guiding principle or at least a vector of force in a wide range of issues in health care management ranging from embryo research and assisted reproduction to biomedical enhancement, and the care of the disabled and the dying. In clinical medicine, safeguarding the dignity of the patient is a core responsibility of all physicians to respect patient autonomy and to act with beneficence and non-maleficence in health care decisionmaking.

This article examines both the domestic and the international applications of human dignity as a standard for maintaining security, privacy, well being, compassion and humanism. Because of the capacious nature of human dignity, it is concluded that -- rather than being accepted as a normative standard -- it will continue to serve as a fact-sensitive catalyst for informing and shaping ongoing debates on how human conduct can be judged ethically -- especially in end-of-life cases.



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