Dignity Rights

Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person

Foreword by Aharon Barak
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Dignity Rights
    Book Description:

    The right to dignity is now recognized in most of the world's constitutions, and hardly a new constitution is adopted without it. Over the last sixty years, courts in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America have developed a robust jurisprudence of dignity on subjects as diverse as health care, imprisonment, privacy, education, culture, the environment, sexuality, and death. As the range and growing number of cases about dignity attest, it is invoked and recognized by courts far more frequently than other constitutional guarantees. Dignity Rights is the first book to explore the constitutional law of dignity around the world. Erin Daly shows how dignity has come not only to define specific interests like the right to humane treatment or to earn a living wage, but also to protect the basic rights of a person to control his or her own life and to live in society with others. Daly argues that, through the right to dignity, courts are redefining what it means to be human in the modern world. As described by the courts, the scope of dignity rights marks the outer boundaries of state power, limiting state authority to meet the demands of human dignity. As a result, these cases force us to reexamine the relationship between the individual and the state and, in turn, contribute to a new and richer understanding of the role of the citizen in modern democracies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0727-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Aharon Barak

    The twentieth century was a time of revolutionary developments in the area of human rights. At the center of those developments stands the revolution with respect to human dignity—a response, at least in part, to the Nazis’ hideously brutal actions during the Second World War and the Holocaust. More than one hundred constitutions and dozens of international treaties include express references to human dignity.

    Human dignity has a long history. It has been recognized in various religions and has served as the basis for a variety of philosophical outlooks. The essential nature of the concept is sharply debated. Some...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Until the late twentieth century, there was no right to dignity. Dignity was an idea, a quality, something to aspire to, or something associated with high office or status. But it was not a right that law recognized. All that changed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Dignity is now recognized as a right in most of the world’s constitutions, and hardly a new constitution is adopted without its explicit recognition. In the world’s constitutions, it appears in many different guises: sometimes it is a stand-alone value of foundational stature; in other instances it is associated with particular...

  5. 1 “Of All Members of the Human Family”
    (pp. 11-25)

    The term “dignity” is not new. It is referred to throughout the Corpus Juris Civilis as a synonym for rank or high office and is often qualified by “patrician,” “prætorian,” “consular,” and so on, and so usually pertains to an office and to those who hold or are worthy of such office.¹ Even this ancient text, however, refers to the “dignity of mankind,”² although in the context of trying to reconcile the human with the property status of slaves.

    The English Bill of Rights of 1689 recognizes only “royal dignity.”³ By the time of the Enlightenment, dignity was extended, but...

  6. 2 “Not . . . a Mere Plaything”
    (pp. 26-53)

    From sparse textual foundations, the constitutional courts of many countries have developed a robust jurisprudence of dignity. Dignity has become, in the words of one jurist, a “most fashionable concept.”¹ The cases arise out of an astonishing range of factual settings, from abortion to name changes to housing to torture. They are so numerous and so frequent that they are impossible to keep up with and defy easy description.

    The Colombian Constitutional Court has tried to schematize the concept of dignity, noting that the phrase “human dignity” can manifest itself in two ways: from the point of view of the...

  7. 3 “The Minimum Necessities of Life”
    (pp. 54-70)

    Law is a practical enterprise: it deals with a real problem in real people’s lives. It is not enough in law to recognize the inherent dignity of every human being. That only matters if each person is in fact living a life with dignity, where his or her individuality and autonomy are valued in conjunction with everyone else’s. For most of the world’s people, of course, the capacity to chart one’s own life course is limited by circumstances. People who are poor, who are infirm, who are dependent on others for their well-being are restricted in how effectively they can...

  8. 4 “Master of One’s Fate”
    (pp. 71-100)

    American constitutional jurisprudence is always something of an outlier, and no less with respect to human dignity. The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized, since the beginning, that the concept of dignity is important in the interpretation of the Constitution, although it appears nowhere in its text. And yet, uniquely in the world, the U.S. Supreme Court has always been much more comfortable attaching dignity to inanimate things, such as states and courts and contracts, than to human beings. In an extraordinary series of cases from the 1990s, when the rest of the world was discovering the boundless...

  9. 5 “What Respect Is Due”
    (pp. 101-129)

    Dignity is important. Countries are increasingly including references to dignity in their constitutions; few recent constitutions have been adopted without mentioning human dignity, regardless of region, culture, or history.¹ And within constitutional texts themselves, dignity is being described in increasingly elaborate and detailed terms.² More and more, litigants are arguing their cases from the standpoint of dignity instead of or in addition to asserting other rights, and courts are responding in surprising ways. The dignity cases are unique in constitutional law for several reasons. First, dignity is becoming a universally recognized constitutional value, transcending geographic, cultural, and political boundaries. Second,...

  10. 6 “The Beginning and the End of the State”
    (pp. 130-160)

    If dignity jurisprudence is defining what it means to be human and also the ambit of the modern state, then the line in between is critical. Where do the laws of the state end and the laws of the individual begin? This might be thought of as the line of sovereignty, demarcating the reach of individual sovereignty or autonomy and the boundaries of state sovereignty. In some countries—such as, paradigmatically, the United States—dignity narrows the compass of the state to ensure greater scope for the exercise of individual liberty. In other countries, human dignity demands an expanded sphere...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 161-220)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 221-230)
    (pp. 231-232)