"Quality of Life" — Its Bioethical Downside

Interview With Philosopher José Serrano

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MADRID, Spain, JAN. 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- “Quality of life” is not the same as “dignity of the person,” a juridical challenge that bioethics must elucidate, says a philosopher of law.

José Miguel Serrano Ruiz-Calderón has written a book on this subject entitled “Juridical Challenges of Bioethics” (Eunsa), in which he addresses the moral challenges posed by biotechnology.

The author is professor of philosophy of law at Madrid’s Complutense University and academic director of the Institute of Marketing Studies. He was an adviser of the Spanish Ministry of Justice and a member of his country’s delegation to the U.N. agreement on cloning.

Q: What is bioethics greatest juridical challenge today?

Serrano: Perhaps the greatest challenge is to articulate a juridical answer to bioethical questions that guarantees the values of our common tradition.

It is a question of keeping the essence of law as object of justice that guarantees human dignity — avoiding the use of man as a means — and equality — preventing definitions of person that distinguish some human beings from others.

In this connection, over the last 30 years the radical agenda has made an enormous effort to impose laws that do not recognize that all men are persons in the juridical sense. They quickly forget the lessons of the past, just 20 years after the end of World War II.

It is well known that contrary to what happened with totalitarianism, the “deconstructions” of human dignity to reverse this acquisition make use of alleged subjective rights. Thus every deed carried out against a human group is justified by a subjective right and a liberation.

Abortion was imposed given the mother’s “privacy,” the reduction of the embryo to an object given the desire for paternity-maternity, the homicide of the defective given the autonomous desire for a dignified death, the systematic destruction of embryos given the hope of alleged groups of patients and so on.

Q: The sacredness of human life is called into question. Is it possible to come to an agreement on this point with the hardest scientists?

Serrano: No. I doubt that such an agreement ever existed. In all ages there are ideological currents that deny the sacredness of human life. In the 20th century itself, the greater part of the world was dominated by ideologies that expressly denied it.

Of course, there is a common tradition that expresses this principle in a very adequate way and, in postwar legislations, precisely through the juridical recognition of the notion of dignity, it was forcefully affirmed.

However, it is well known that every time there has been a strong interest in denying this right to some group, generally through a restrictive definition of humanity, false argumentations have been made with this end in mind.

We can say that there is a combination between the two causes of corruption of justice that St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out: the false prudence of the wise man and the abuse of the powerful. At present a radical scientific spirit along with a certain utilitarianism are the theoretical positions that more forcefully threaten the sacredness of human life.

A moral absolute, such as “you shall not kill the innocent,” cannot be understood from a consequential ethic. This, we must clarify, is not a “defect” of the formulation of the moral absolute but a proof of the incapacity of consequential ethics to account for human action.

Q: What is the distinction between quality of life and dignity of the person?

Serrano: Every person is really worthy and cannot be reduced to the condition of a means, as a carrot is that is life.

The claim of some is that not every human being has a personal condition; that is why they say that human rights must be replaced by the rights of the person. What is important is to affirm that every human being, members of the species, no matter what his degree of development or qualities, is worthy and is entitled to juridical protection.

The height of cynicism is found in the tendency to deny the “rights of man” to affirm the “rights of the person,” another change of terms that has ideological intentions.

Q: Why is the term “quality of life” destructive, bioethically speaking?

Serrano: It is the instrument used to deprive dignity of meaning. In the beginning the term referred to the surpassing of certain standards of living, seeking a way that was more in keeping with human nature which was not merely productive.

Reinterpreted by a certain bioethics it means that whoever does not comply with certain minimums of productive capacity and enjoyment — let us not forget that we are in brutally hedonist societies — does not have a worthwhile life.

It allows for distinctions in the unborn, the newborn, the sick, the dying and, consequently, denies the strict right to life. It is carried out cynically for the good of the one eliminated.

It is very revealing that to redefine the concept of lives lacking vital value, which appeared in the brutally eugenic work of Binding and Hoche, this apparently more sophisticated concept is constructed but which leads to the same conclusion: Under certain levels the “quality” of human life is not worth living nor — let us not forget it — is it worth respecting.

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