The middle word in bioethics

William P. Cheshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The language of bioethics occupies a middle ground of meaning. Within this median of dispute and uncertainty, and central to nearly all questions facing medicine and society, is the meaning of dignity. The language of human dignity in particular has been criticized as vague and, therefore, useless as an operational criterion by which to formulate pragmatic agendas. In response, proposals to eliminate the long-cherished moral principle of respecting human dignity bear a greater burden of proof than do appeals to sustain it. In defense of a provisional understanding of dignity, definitions that elude precision may be appropriate for a people who live in the middle. Temporally, bioethics concerns people who live in the midst of an unfolding history. Philosophically, the significance of moral principles and the accumulated consequences of decisions are not yet fully known. An as yet incomplete understanding of human dignity represents an opportunity for discovery, not simply in abstraction, but in community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-12
Number of pages6
JournalEthics and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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