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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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James R. May Erin Daly


that all human beings – but only human beings – have inherent equal worth. Whether they have more or less worth than other beings is of less importance than the recognition that they do all have worth. This is revolutionary. As we have observed elsewhere, this simple but profound concept has two essential aspects:2

First, each person – every member of the human family – has value; no one can be dismissed, ignored, mistreated, or abused as if their humanity means nothing. Dignity means that each person’s humanity means something and has worth. Each person has a right to live as if his or her life matters and each person has a right to be treated “as a person.” And second, each person’s worth is equal to every other person’s. No one’s life is more important than any other person’s. If each person’s right to agency, to self-development, to choose one’s life course is the same as every other’s, then no one can determine another person’s choices, treat another as an object, or treat a person as if his or her life does not matter. Despite our differences, in our humanity, we are all equal. It is in dignity that we are united.

Dignity, as so understood, is now recognized as foundational in international and regional human rights instruments so much so that it is claimed to be an element of customary law, or even peremptory law, binding nations whether or not they accede to dignity-based treaties. And it...

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