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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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Living with dignity

James R. May Erin Daly


, including economic stability, a job, shelter, health care, water, a healthy environment, immigration and intellectual property.

Many cases recognize that the right to live provides insufficient protection unless it is understood as the right to live with dignity. This provides the right to life with a requisite substantive dimension, just as “liberty” in US law has a substantive dimension. While it is impossible to ascertain exactly what living with dignity requires because it varies widely according to national standards, culture, individual predilection, and availability of resources, courts have not shied away from trying to define the essential elements and from requiring that governments furnish the essential prerequisites to ensure that every human being has the chance to live with dignity. As the High Court of Ireland said in inferring a constitutional right to a healthy environment, “It is not so Utopian a right that it can never be enforced. Once concretised into specific duties and obligations, its enforcement is entirely practicable.”2 The same is true of the right to a dignified life, whether implicit or explicit in the constitution.

In a case involving the right to a decent living of those who recycle goods from trash heaps, the Colombian Constitutional Court said that “the fact that Colombia is a state of social rights which imprints a sense, a character, and specific objectives for the organization of the state on the whole, and which results, by consequence, on obligations for the authorities, who are obligated to...

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