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Advanced Introduction to Human Dignity and Law

James R. May Erin Daly

This thought-provoking introduction provides an incisive overview of dignity law, a field of law emerging in every region of the globe that touches all significant aspects of the human experience. Through an examination of the burgeoning case law in this area, James R. May and Erin Daly reveal a strong overlapping consensus surrounding the meaning of human dignity as a legal right and a fundamental value of nations large and small, and how this global jurisprudence is redefining the relationship between individuals and the state.
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A very brief overview of a very important idea

James R. May Erin Daly


Human dignity under law is an idea, a way of thinking, a way of acting, a right. Dignity is the idea that every person, everywhere has inherent, equal worth. It’s as if each one of us is given a very precious coin at birth that we keep with us always as we grow and can never lose. But it’s more than that. It’s a right that can be held up to any government or any person to get the respect one deserves. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights tells us that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This simple statement has changed the world.

In fact, about 160 countries around the world protect this idea of human dignity in their constitutions. As explored in the chapters below, people around the world are asking courts to ensure that governments treat them as human beings, allow them to fully develop who they are, and live with dignity.

Courts are listening, as the following pages reveal. For instance, when a man in South Africa was sentenced to death, the court ruled that taking his life would violate his dignity by treating him as less than human. Prisoners in other countries have demanded that they always be treated with dignity. When a young woman in India couldn’t finish her studies because the fees were too high, the court ruled that everyone is entitled to education, because it is the foundation of self-development. And in...

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