Two Kinds of Dignity

The philosopher Robert Spaemann has taught me to understand how there are two kinds of dignity. First, there is the universal dignity that all persons have by virtue of being human. This is also discussed within bioethics as fundamental human equality. Secondly, there is dignity that accords with a person’s particular worthiness owing to the virtue of an office, rank, or moral excellence.

Some healthcare professionals purport to have such neutrality and objectivity so to be inclined to treat every person equally according to the first kind of universal dignity characteristic of all human beings.

But persons, being persons, have a natural regard for both kinds of dignity.

I came across an excellent example of this in this article about the surgeon who recently performed an operated on Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Surgeon Domenico Veneziano attests to these two kinds of dignity when he says:

“I can say that it’s been an honor to know both sides of Cardinal Sarah: the man and the Eminence.” […The surgery had] no complications, no intraoperative issues. I have to admit that I could feel the pressure of operating on a person with such a standing.”

When a person is revered for both kinds of dignity, this person is more likely to be treated as the subject of their illness rather than as merely an object of treatment.

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