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Challenges to the Image of Humanity and Human Dignity by New Developments in Medical Technology

Date: July 10 - 11, 2009 (Preparatory Research Group Conference)

Organizers: Eric Hilgendorf (Würzburg), Jan Joerden (Frankfurt/Oder), Felix Thiele (Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler)

The purpose of this conference is to help prepare the upcoming research group whose activities are scheduled to commence in October 2009. The aim in particular will be to review, compare and contrast our traditionally held concepts of human dignity and the image of humanity. The intended discussion within the research group about the principles of protecting human dignity and the image of humanity with an eye toward new possibilities in medical technology cannot ignore those 'classical' contexts in which these principles are applied, if the discussion wants to adequately illuminate these principles' argumentative weight and clarify their mechanisms of action in terms of new medical-ethical challenges. As a minimum, we must first specify what can be understood by the term 'human dignity'. In the tradition of humanism, for example, dignity can be seen as the characteristic of an inherent and inalienable 'intrinsic worth' of all human beings, which in turn finds its expression in an ensemble of subjective rights. Here, one can distinguish between at least seven (partial) rights: (1) the right to a material subsistence minimum; (2) the right to autonomous self development; (3) the right to spiritual and intellectual integrity; (4) the right to freedom from extreme pain; (5) the right to informational self-determination; (6) the right to equality under the law; (7) the right to a minimum of respect. This and other attempts to define human dignity and the image of humanity, and how to make these concepts manageable (for the field of medical ethics as well), is the primary focus of this conference. This includes the issue as to whether terms such as 'human dignity' and 'image of humanity' can-or even must-eventually be dispensed with entirely in a discussion of (medical) ethics. Additionally, a number of preliminary organizational matters will be addressed regarding the research group's work.