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October 2021

Human is what is born of a human: Personhood, rationality, and an European convention

Journal/Book: J Med Phil. 2000; 25: P O Box 825, 2160 Sz Lisse, Netherlands. Swets Zeitlinger Publishers. 181-194.

Abstract: In the course of its preparation, the 1997 convention on human rights and biomedicine adopted by the Council of Europe instigated a widespread debate. This article examines one of the core issues: the notion of the human being as depicted in the convention. It is argued that according to the convention, this being may exist in three different legal categories, namely 'human life', 'embryo', and 'personhood', each furnished with an inherent set of somewhat different rights, yet none of them clearly defined, thus leaving it to domestic law to regulate at what point a human being belongs to which category. While this approach is understandable from a political point of view, it creates a vicious circle, since law thereby has to define its own foundation and, in the case of the convention, to protect a being that it cannot define. It appears that this form of life is seen rather as a given entity, taking precedence over the interests of society and science, and its dignity and identity forming criteria for the subsequent systems of culture, simply because this life is human and nothing else. Thus, the convention approaches a natural law position.

Note: Article Reuter L, Univ Aarhus, Fac Theol, Dept Systemat Theol, DK-8000 Aarhus C, DENMARK

Keyword(s): bioethical principles; biolaw; Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine; Council of Europe; principles; self


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