The essays can be broadly divided into three parts. In the first one, the dignity of the person, its bases and consequences for today’s bioethics debate is analysed; in the second, dignity is examined in relation to illness and old age; in the third, the foundations of natural law and the need to renew and realise them in the present are addressed. So important is the latter, that this review of the book begins from its last section. As we go through the various essays, we shall highlight their main conclusions, without following their order of reasoning.
In La legge morale naturale e la “giustizia” delle leggi. Prospetto storico (Natural moral law and the ‘justice’ of laws. An historical overview), pp. 195-210, Giuseppe Angelini focuses on natural law as ultimately revealed and yet fulfilled by the Christian faith, overcoming a dichotomy between human customs and lifestyles adopted on the basis of revealed faith, emphasising the dynamic openness of Christian mores to the eschatological fulfilment that is in faith. In his essay Sul fondamento della legge morale naturale (On the foundation of the natural moral law), pp. 211-226, Aniceto Molinaro explains the fundamental connection between natural law, the totality of the moral universe and the metaphysics of creation. The moral imperative is realised in the liberty and understanding of individuals, which lie within the foundational framework of reference but is not required by it. Terence Kennedy’s La fondazione teologica della legge naturale morale (The theological foundation of the natural moral law), pp. 226-244, follows the same path but from a theological perspective, stressing how such foundations invalidate neither human liberty nor any critical-rational viewpoint, but are instead their foundations and fulfilment. Thus, the memory of creation, the presence of revelation and the expectation of redemption are fulfilled as one in moral actions. Lastly, in La persona umana e la legge morale naturale. Problematica bioetica (The human person and the natural moral law. A bioethical problem), pp. 245-254, Francesco Compagnoni argues that the concept of the human person is most appropriate to solve the many bioethical puzzles and questions raised by the technological revolution.
In the first section, the essays explore the foundation of human dignity from a number of points of view. Paul Gilbert (pp. 19-36) takes a philosophical approach to go from the classical notion of a priori human dignity to its consensual and inter-subjective definition in today’s societies. In his theological perspective, Sabatino Majorano (pp. 37-56) illustrates how Christ’s Incarnation represents the key moment in which humans find their intrinsic dignity, which allows them to bear witness and show in advance the value and the dignity of their fellow human beings. Giovanni Filoramo’s religious perspective (pp. 57-68) enables him to take a comparative approach to show the synergetic albeit distinct contributions made by the various religions to the development of human dignity, in an uneasy balance between universality and communalism and the maintenance of individual rights. In looking at the axiological value of dignity itself from a bioethical perspective, Maria Luisa Di Pietro and Dino Moltisanti (pp. 69-82) identify the insurmountable limit and ultimate foundation of men’s equality in the daily development of meaning, which reveals the mark that is originally present in each of us. In taking an ecclesial perspective, Ignazio Sanna (pp. 83-108) highlights the prophetic element in the Church’s defence of human dignity. By setting limits (which also entails possibilities), the Church as a community acts as a guardian not only against the dangers that come from forgetting God’s image as it is inscribed in each human being, but also as its ultimate fulfilment for humans as individuals and members of the human species.
The second section (but the last in this review) focuses on the practical consequences of the issue; it does so without forgetting the foundations that define it. In Dignità e indegnità dell’uomo: il tempo della malattia (Dignity and indignities of man: when illness strikes) pp. 109-124, Adriano Pessina shows how, paradoxically, illness favours the development of a sense of dignity in people. In such a situation, it is incumbent upon the community to protect the vulnerable. Quale equilibrio tra medico e paziente? (What balance between doctor and patient?), pp. 125-138, by Salvino Leone, looks at the delicate issue of doctor-patient communication, which requires getting over a certain paternalism inherent in the profession whilst avoiding going too far in exposing the patient to the naked truth. Franco Pala, Consenso informato ed autonomia di decisione (Informed consent and decisional autonomy), pp. 139-152, further develops the same issue of patient’s informed consent and self-determination, from a legal point of view as well. Luigi Lorenzetti in La difficile distinzione tra accanimento terapeutico ed eutanasia (The difficult distinction between futile medical care and euthanasia), pp. 153-169, explains the differences between the most important terms, often used interchangeably as synonyms. Edmund Kowalski, Tra l’accanimento terapeutico e l’atto eutanasico omissivo. Aspetto antropologico-eticodella proporzionalità delle cure nella terapia intensiva (Between futile medical care and passive euthanasia. Anthropological-ethical aspect of proportionality of treatment in intensive care), pp. 171-194, takes a theological approach to explain the same terminology as it applies to intensive care.
In conclusion, the many elements described in this book indicate both the complexity of the topic analysed as well as its importance in the current debate, one in which human dignity, and this more or less explicitly, is increasingly taking a centre stage. In it, the inextricable and hermeneutically fruitful relationship between theoretical-foundational issues and practical-applicational questions becomes clear.
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