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The Stupidity of Dignity - Comments

nickthelight's Avatar Comment 1 by nickthelight

and still Bush takes no notice.

Mon, 12 May 2008 08:43:00 UTC | #169810

Colwyn Abernathy's Avatar Comment 2 by Colwyn Abernathy

I still think I'd look awful dignified with a pair of bat wings...either bionic or engineered, I'm not picky. ;)


Although the Dignity report presents itself as a scholarly deliberation of universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine.

I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise.

Mon, 12 May 2008 08:47:00 UTC | #169812

Diocletian's Avatar Comment 3 by Diocletian

The next time Professor Dawkins is told that most religious people don't take the Bible literally... or that he does not understand the nuances of religion... he should just hand his critics the Dignity report. Where are the religious moderates protesting such idiocy? Possibly too busy writing new flea books?

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:11:00 UTC | #169822

T4Baxter's Avatar Comment 4 by T4Baxter

Good Lord!
Great article. Everything that needed to be said in response is more or less in there. The underlying 'white elephant' seems to be a sense that despite their position of power, governments themselves are duped into inane wrangling over empty concepts by the religious representatives, suggesting they lack, not only an objective grasp on how to circumnavigate shallow rhetoric, but also the self preservation to consult all possible representative bodies that they might improve their probability of fulfilling the wishes of the broader demographic. If governments aren't doing that, what the hell are they up too?

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:20:00 UTC | #169825

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 5 by hungarianelephant

How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory?

(1) Science delivers technological progress.
(2) Most people don't understand the technology, let alone really know what to do with it.
(3) Science disclaims ownership of the moral questions as to how technology should be deployed.
(4) Vacuum.
(5) The loudest of those who have anything to say fill it.

Philosophy is held in even lower regard by the general public than science. It's all very well saying that religion doesn't provide good answers, but it provides certain ones. If you want to counteract its malign influence, you have to bring philosophy to the masses.

Generally the article made some good points, but it was disappointing to end with
Worst of all, theocon bioethics flaunts a callousness toward the billions of non-geriatric people, born and unborn, whose lives or health could be saved by biomedical advances. Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.

Why? Why should death be regarded as an affront to human dignity? Death is the fate of every human and every other organism. But there seems to be an almost uncontested assumption that the indefinite prolongation of life is, or would be, a Good Thing.

This is not only impossible, it is also ruinous. Health economists reckon that 90% of health spending goes on the last 10% of lives. In the days when it could still count, the NHS reckoned that two thirds of its budget was spent on people in the last two years of their lives. To put that into perspective, it is 5% of GDP, or about the same as spending on education.

Is it not time we grew up a bit?

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:24:00 UTC | #169828

riki's Avatar Comment 6 by riki

I only understand the dignity argument when it refers to keeping people alive in a vegetative state. But that's obviously not the case here.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:25:00 UTC | #169831

Colwyn Abernathy's Avatar Comment 7 by Colwyn Abernathy

Yet, aside from two paragraphs in a commentary by Daniel Dennett, the volume contains no critical examination of any of its religious claims.

I am Jack's Complete and UTTER Lack of Surprise.


The years that would be added to other people's lives, he judged, were not worth living:

Yeah, Hugh Hefner's extended years are utter crap. Oh, how can a sinful sinner live SO LONG?!

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:26:00 UTC | #169834

Nentuaby's Avatar Comment 8 by Nentuaby

Holy crap... I literally goggled at that bit about the ice cream cones. The inmates really are running the asylum these days, aren't they.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:27:00 UTC | #169835

MPhil's Avatar Comment 9 by MPhil

Well, death may not be necessarily regarded as an affront to human dignity. In fact, in some cases I think letting the person chose their death can be the most dignity-preserving. Because there can only be dignity in life - and we have just one. So the "how" of dying is of importance. Alone, in a home for the retired, just waiting to be turned around twice a day so that one doesn't develop sores - never visited by anyone, being left alone, wasting and then dying - that's an affront to human dignity, of the worst kind. So I say we need a lot more end-of-life care, a lot more hospices.

Doesn't mean death is an affront, just affirms living - not letting people waste away.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:31:00 UTC | #169838

snoov's Avatar Comment 10 by snoov

"(for example, the article by Kass claims that respect for human life is rooted in Genesis 9:6, in which God instructs the survivors of his Flood in the code of vendetta: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man made")"

What happens to the man who kills the first man? Surely this leads to an infinite regress, and we'd all be dead.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:34:00 UTC | #169839

ShavenYak's Avatar Comment 11 by ShavenYak

The mention of "dignity" always reminds me of a discussion of natural family planning that happened in my Catholic high school. Of course, it was explained to us that one of the reasons the Church forbids mechanical contraceptives but allows NFP is that contraceptives undermine the dignity of the procreative act. The teacher had no answer when I asked how it was that putting a piece of latex on a penis was a greater indignity than examining the wife's cervical mucus before intercourse.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:37:00 UTC | #169841

Colwyn Abernathy's Avatar Comment 12 by Colwyn Abernathy

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive.

'Course, all I can think of is, "LOOKA THA TONGUE ON HER! WWWWOOOOOOWWW!'
-George Carlin

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking.

Oooohhh, Heaven knows! Anything goes!

SORRY! I was in that show, it's like a damn reflex.

Mon, 12 May 2008 09:43:00 UTC | #169843

SomeDanGuy's Avatar Comment 13 by SomeDanGuy

I've always known I disliked Kass from a few excerpts in past bioethics classes, but I had no idea he was so totally insane.
Ice cream licking? Seriously??

Wagers on how long before he gets a Medal of Freedom?

Mon, 12 May 2008 10:10:00 UTC | #169853

Ty_Webb's Avatar Comment 14 by Ty_Webb

The Catholic Church, with its long tradition of scholarship and its rock-solid moral precepts, became the natural home for this movement

I think my sarcasm meter may have just broken. There's smoke coming out of it and the needle appears to be bent.

Mon, 12 May 2008 10:21:00 UTC | #169861

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 15 by Robert Maynard


[Prolonging life indefinitely] is not only impossible, it is also ruinous. Health economists reckon that 90% of health spending goes on the last 10% of lives. In the days when it could still count, the NHS reckoned that two thirds of its budget was spent on people in the last two years of their lives. To put that into perspective, it is 5% of GDP, or about the same as spending on education.
Right, but who said life-prolonging medicine should only start when you're old? What if we developed technology that allowed people to literally stop physically aging at, say, 30? Now think of the money we might save. :P

It's impossible? Says who?
Exactly how far out do you think you can project to conclude exactly what is and isn't possible?

Mon, 12 May 2008 10:29:00 UTC | #169865

MaxD's Avatar Comment 16 by MaxD

Kass is a moron and his ice cream pontifications are proof of this sad fact.

There are those of the this is not my God bent who say Dawkins, Hitch, Harris, Dennett are not speaking to them or the millions who have a more reasoned faith. However I keep telling such people they are in the tender minority of religious apologists.

Doesn't this lend some more weight to the argument made most clearly by Hitch and Dawkins I think that embedded in much of Christian theology is a tendency to totalitarian ideology?

Mon, 12 May 2008 10:52:00 UTC | #169872

MaxD's Avatar Comment 17 by MaxD

Robert Maynard,
This we seem to be doing even as we speak. For a little while anyway.
If you look in any gym in any town in the US you will find people looking better and younger than they would have just 10 years ago. Athletes seem to be pushing their competitive years further in sports that are notoriciously rough on older atheletes. Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell are both old men who really ought not be doing as well as they do in combative sports.

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:00:00 UTC | #169880

Apeseed's Avatar Comment 18 by Apeseed

If medicine can keep us healthier and in control of our faculties for longer during old age I'm all for it. What could be more undignified than relying on your kids to change your diaper and clean up after you in your last years of life.

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:24:00 UTC | #169894

BW022's Avatar Comment 19 by BW022

My problem with all of this, is that ultimately it isn't up to the US governments commitee on Bioethics to decide the question.

If they ban say stem cell usage... and Canada finds a treatment to say regenerate spinal columns... how long will that law last? Are they going to arrest every person with a spinal cord injury who goes to Canada for treatment?

Same with abortion. It isn't up to the State. Even if they outlaw it, women will go to another state or country to get medical treatment. It doesn't matter what this commission says, each individual will ultimately make their own decision. Same with genetically modified foods, eating meat, wearing furs, banning evolution in the schools, etc.

Folks aren't going to sit by and watch their kid sit in a wheelchair if the only thing between him walking is the Mexican border and some "ethics" committee ruling.

At best, the other "ethics" issue is why poor people (unable to get healthcare elsewhere in the world) have to suffer and those with money get to live.

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:51:00 UTC | #169905

wiz220's Avatar Comment 20 by wiz220

We can only hope that the next president returns us to a state of normalcy that takes us off of the road to theocracy, that they will appoint and consult with people who believe in rational thought.

Sadly I believe the new battlecry of the religious right is to call people that are intelligent critical thinkers "elitests". And the worst part is that it's working. :(

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:52:00 UTC | #169906

GBile's Avatar Comment 21 by GBile

Human dignity, quite a topic.

In a video on the Dover trial, a slightly obese man behind a desk was complaining how 'evil' evolution was violating his dignity through the suggestion that he had an 'apely' ancestor.

The term 'human dignity' always springs to my mind after spending some time in the bathroom and, after rising, watching that what just left my body. Human dignity.
But it is likely that obese evolution haters agree with me, they are surely full of it.

Mon, 12 May 2008 11:53:00 UTC | #169907

Apeseed's Avatar Comment 22 by Apeseed

Doesn't this lend some more weight to the argument made most clearly by Hitch and Dawkins I think that embedded in much of Christian theology is a tendency to totalitarian ideology?

Not to mention Islam. Aren't they just emulating their god who is the ultimate dictator. It always seemed to me that when the religious talk about the kingdom of god they betray what they are really hankering after. A return to the good old days when we all grovelled before the throne of an all powerful ruler who suffered us to exist.

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:07:00 UTC | #169912

Szkeptik's Avatar Comment 23 by Szkeptik

I would like to direct GW Bush to this article, but on second thought he would probably be unable to read the whole thing anyway.

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:11:00 UTC | #169917

Logicel's Avatar Comment 24 by Logicel

Pinker maintains his cool beautifully, focusing on the inanity of using dignity as a basis for ethics rather than autonomy. Of course, the meddling, tyrannical religious 'leaders' abhor autonomy for others because they would be out of a job. Poor babies, if they can't push people around and force feed their disgusting 'ethical/moral' concoctions down the throats of others, they lose their 'dignity.'

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:34:00 UTC | #169934

AmericanGodless's Avatar Comment 25 by AmericanGodless

Is anyone else struck by the connection between Leon R. Kass' attitude toward the indignity of allowing stem-cell research (or public licking of ice cream cones) and that of Abdel-Qader Ali toward the humiliation of having a daughter who would speak to a British soldier?

While I am sure that Kass wouldn't stomp a daughter to death because he disapproved of her flirting, his choice of a motivating concern appears quite similar.

"The dignity of our family has been restored." -- Ironic line, from Leonard Bernstein's retelling of Voltaire's Candide.

"Dignity, always dignity." -- Ironic line, from the film "Singing in the Rain".

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:40:00 UTC | #169936

skyhook87's Avatar Comment 26 by skyhook87

You can find the "Human Dignity and Bioethics:Essays Commissioned by the President's Council on Bioethics" here in full.

I especially enjoyed Dennett's chapter as well as his commentary.

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:54:00 UTC | #169944

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 27 by Apathy personified

'Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.'

Does this mean eating apples in public is offensive?
This kass fellow is quite the dickhead. The real test is always; What if one of his loved ones is dying, and there is some radical new treatment to cure them, will he say 'No, die, you'll have more dignity' or would he get them the treatment.

Mon, 12 May 2008 12:59:00 UTC | #169945

Rawhard Dickins's Avatar Comment 28 by Rawhard Dickins

It's impossible to have a workable world view without accepting that we are part of the animal kingdom.

The religious battle with problems that evaporate when our animal nature is taken into account.

Mon, 12 May 2008 13:44:00 UTC | #169959

MaxD's Avatar Comment 29 by MaxD

You make an excellent point but you miss one as well, or at least you seem too. This kind of bullshit is hindering actual research that the US is more or less well suited to be undertaking. As such it is not an overstatement to say such policies are reducing the quality of life and the life expectancies of millions.

This kind of theostupidity has been instrumental in the application of pressure for abstinence only sex education, and against the wider distribution of the HPV vaccine. The concerns of men and women like Kass have insured that more women will contract HPV and that teen sexual activity will, when it occurs, more reckless than if they'd had more comprehensive sex ed.
Those are just two examples.

Mon, 12 May 2008 13:49:00 UTC | #169961

10's Avatar Comment 30 by 10

I particularly liked

In one's imagination, anything can lead to anything else

27. Comment #179086 by Apathy personified
How is that in any way a "real test" of anything at all?

Mon, 12 May 2008 14:35:00 UTC | #169963