On Human Dignity
As Eric McDonald rightly points out, the notion of “human dignity” as formulated by religious authorities (and those who endorse and support the authority of religion) is in fact the very opposite. Religious conceptions of human dignity rob real humans of their dignity in the most profound way, by denying them the basic right at the heart of all other rights, self-determination — the right to decide for oneself what one feels and thinks about one’s own life and what one wants from it.
Don’t try to tell *me* what the worth or dignity of *my* life consists in.
You haven’t the right. No one has that right but me.
Those who lay claim to that right — those who would limit my choices and options on the basis of *their* view of what makes *my* life worthwhile, and why (almost always on religious grounds, of course) — are not only profoundly mistaken, they are presumptuous beyond all tolerance. There is no quicker way to inspire — and to deserve — my rage and contempt.
There are, of course, rigorous philosophical arguments to be made on these matters: Eric cites Ronald Dworkin, whose philosophical and legal arguments about euthanasia and assisted suicide are superb. However, I don’t feel particularly philosophical about the subject today. Instead, I feel angry — enraged on behalf of all those who have suffered needlessly, all those whose dignity has been stripped from them in the name of God.
Of the many, many evils perpetrated in the name of God and “justified” by faith, denying people the right to live and die as they see fit is the one I take most personally. Today is just a few weeks shy of the twenty-seventh anniversary of my father’s death. His welcome end came only after a long, slow, incredibly painful, dignity-shredding dissolution of body and mind. I know exactly how bad it was, because for the last few months of his life I was his primary caretaker — when I wasn’t in school. I was 16 years old.
My father need not have died that way, but for the political stranglehold of religious authoritarians claiming to know the will of God who self-righteously force their conception of God’s will on the rest of us whenever they can. Their ignorance is complete, and their arrogance is boundless. They are the enemies of human freedom, the only basis for any sound conception of human dignity. They condemned my father to a slow, torturous death.
I will not forget that, nor forgive it.