Publication Date



The concepts of personhood and human dignity are widely used in contemporary healthcare ethics. This chapter provides a brief overview of how the concept of human dignity came to be so important in healthcare ethics, and examines how the concept’s widespread use and relationship to the concept of personhood have led to problems regarding its meaning and relevance. A practical solution is then presented.

The rise of the concept of human dignity in healthcare ethics

The word dignity is derived from the Latin dignus, which means worthy. Since dignity refers to worth, human dignity refers to the worth of the human. What makes the concept of human dignity important for ethics is that, unlike the dignity of a queen or the dignitaries at an awards ceremony, which expresses the worth or status of particular human individuals in relation to others, human dignity is meant to express a worth that is equally shared by all human individuals. It is not meant to be dependent upon their social status, economic wealth, race, gender or anything else. Moreover, it is meant to affirm a worth beyond price. Human individuals are said to be moral goods or ends in themselves, not merely good or useful as means to achieving other ends.


School of Theology

Document Type

Book Chapter

Access Rights

ERA Access

Access may be restricted.