Human dignity : a right or a responsibility?

De Villiers, Josephine Elizabeth (2003-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: While most people acknowledge the dignity of fellow humans, atrocities that deny the dignity of people are rampant in our world. The ongoing ignorance and aberrations of the dignity of human beings in the world might mean that there is still not clarity on what respect for the dignity of others really mean, how it should be practiced and whether human dignity is an entitlement or a responsibility. Human dignity was not always bestowed to every individual. In ancient times dignity was reserved for the strongest individual in and later was extended to certain classes, groups and nations like the monarchy and clergy, the Egyptians and Romans. The Renaissance brought a new consciousness of the worth of man. But despite this awareness, and the advent of a human rights culture as is found in the writings of modem philosophers like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, who all support the notion of human dignity, liberty and human rights, gross human rights violations still took place during the twentieth century. Stalin used the Russian people to create a successful socialistic state; Hitler exterminated all those who obstructed his ideal of creating a pure Aryan race, while Verwoerd legalized racial discrimination in South Africa and Namibia. As a result of the atrocities in Europe, especially during World War II, The United Nations was established with the aim to oversee and address human rights violations in the world. Human rights and respect for human dignity are included in the Bill of rights of the Constitutions of America, South Africa and Namibia. Health care providers acknowledge the rights of patients by respect for the autonomy of patients. Patients are autonomous persons and health care providers enable patients to take autonomous action. Autonomous action means that a patient will act with understanding, intention and without coercion. Paternalism is only justified when it serves to protect the patient or protect the rights of others. Health care providers practice autonomy by facilitating informed consent, by providing truthful information, by upholding confidentiality, to protect privacy of patients and to treat patients with respect. There is little uncertainty that people can claim the right to human dignity because persons have intrinsic worth as unique beings that are irreplaceable and exist as an end in themselves. Holy Scripture confirms that humans are created in the image of God. International human rights instruments and national constitutions provide people with the statutory right to human dignity and enable people to legally claim this right. But human dignity is also a responsibility because claiming a right has a reciprocal obligation on others not to violate the claimed right, but also requires from persons to value their own lives. Over reliance on science and rational thinking may negate human dignity because scientists do not always consider the needs of persons. The examples of world leaders like Gandhi, King and Mandela have also shown that one can earn human dignity through respectful conduct towards others. Protagoras of Abdera was aware of human worthiness as right and responsibility as long back as the fifth century Be, and this awareness still exists today.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Ten spyte daarvan dat meeste mense die menswaardigheid van ander erken, misken gruweldade in die wereld steeds die waardigheid van baie mense. Die miskenning van menswaardigheid mag beteken dat daar steeds onduidelikheid is oor wat respek vir die menswaardigheid van ander werklik beteken, hoe dit gepraktiseer moet word en of menswaardigheid 'n reg of 'n verantwoordelikheid is. Menswaardigheid was nie altyd aan alle persone verleen nie. In die antieke beskawing was menswaardigheid grootliks gereserveer vir die sterker persone, en later vir sekere klasse, groepe en nasies, soos die monargie en geestelikes, die Egiptenare en Romeine. Die Renaissance het 'n nuwe bewuswording van menswaardigheid gebring. Maar ten spyte van hierdie bewuswording en die koms van die menseregtekultuur is die werk van moderne filosowe soos John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau en Immanuel Kant, wat almal die gedagte van menswaardigheid, vryheid en menseragte ondersteun, het gruwellike menseregte skendings steeds plaasgevind gedurende die twintigste eeu. Stalin het die Russiese volk gebruik om 'n suksesvolle sosialistiese staat te skep, Hitler het probeer om almal wat sy ideaal bedreig het om 'n egte nie-Joodse Kaukasiese nasie te skep, te vermoor, terwyl Verwoerd rassediskriminasie gewettig het in Suid-Afrika en Namibië. As gevolg van die gruweldade in Europa, veral gedurende die Tweede Wereldoorlog, het die Verenigde Nasies tot stand gekom om die menseregteskendings in die wereld te monitor en aan te spreek. Die Konstitusies van Amerika, Suid-Afrika en Namibië, erken menseregte en die respek vir menswaardigheid. Ook in gesondheidsorg word die regte van die pasiënt beskerm deur die beginsel van respek vir die outonomie van pasiënte. Pasiënte is outonome persone en gesondheidsorg werkers maak dit moontlik vir pasiënte om outonome handelinge uit te voer. Outonome handelinge beteken dat die pasiënt sal handel met intensie en sonder dwang en dat die handeling ten volle verstaan word. Paternalisme is alleen geregverdig wanneer dit die regte van die pasiënt of ander persone beskerm. Gesondheidsorg werkers fasiliteer outonomie van pasiënte deur ingeligte toestemming te verkry, pasiënte nie te mislei nie, vertroulikheid te handhaaf, privaatheid van die pasiënt te verseker en deur pasiënte te respekteer. Daar is min onsekerheid dat persone op die reg tot menswaardigheid kan aanspraak maak want mense het inherente waarde as mense wat nie vervang kan word nie en wat in hulself 'n bestaansdoel het. Die Skrif bevestig dat die mens na die beeld van God geskape is. Internasionale menseregte instrumente en nasionale konstitusies maak voorsiening vir die wettige reg tot menswaardigheid en maak dit vir mense moontlik om wettiglik op hierdie reg aanspraak te maak. Mense het egter nie net 'n reg tot menswaardigheid nie maar ook 'n verantwoordelikheid. Aanspraak op 'n reg tot menswaardigheid impliseer 'n wedersydse verantwoordelikheid dat ander die reg nie mag skend nie, maar vereis ook die verantwoordelikheid dat persone waarde aan hul eie lewens sal heg. Oorwaardering van die wetenskap en rasionaliteit mag ook menswaardigheid ontken, omdat menslike behoeftes nie altyd in ag geneem word deur wetenskaplikes nie. Voorbeelde van wêreldleiers soos Gandhi, King en Mandela bewys dat menswaardigheid ook verwerf kan word deur ander respekvol te behandel. Protagoras of Abdera was reeds in die vyfde eeu voor Christus bewus van menswaardigheid as reg en verantwoordelikheid, en hierdie bewussyn is steeds geldig vandag.

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