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

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

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

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


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.


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 see it as a paramount constitutional value and a central constitutional right. Others see it as a concept void of any content and having no constitutional use. Against the background of these sharp disputes, Erin Daly’s book comes as a breath of fresh air. It sets before the reader the broad comparative base, points out the key problems that arise, and outlines the principal lines of thought and their development.

Daly’s book nicely shows that the fundamental distinction that must be considered—and is missing from comparative-law discourse on the subjectis the distinction between human dignity as a constitutional value and human dignity as a constitutional right. As a constitutional value, human dignity is the value of a person within the society. It is a value that is unique to each society and each constitution, and it expresses the society’s fundamental religious, moral, and ethical concepts. As such, it is a value that depends on context and is subject to change in a changing world. That said, democraticliberal-modern societies for the most part have a common approach to the constitutional value of human dignity. That value is anchored, explicitly or implicitly, in the constitution itself and serves as the basis for all the constitutional rights recognized therein, playing an important interpretive role in fixing the scope of the various rights. Within that framework of interpretation, the interpretive value functions as a regulative, organizational, and integrative principle for the constitutional text. It can be of use, for example, in interpreting the right to equality. Similarly, the constitutional value of human . . .

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