Explanation of the issue as critical to human dignity

Explain why you believe this to be an issue where human dignity is a critical factor.

Analyse at least two perspectives on this particular case. The following questions should act as a guide in your analysis.

1. What understanding of the concept of human dignity appears to be at work in each perspective?

2. What are the social attitudes, norms, or circumstances that may have influenced each perspective? To what extent do these social attitudes, norms, or circumstances impact on the

understanding of human dignity in each perspective?

3. How does each perspective justify particular actions or choices with reference to human dignity?

4. In this unit, we have considered human dignity and the human person as multidimensional. If you

consider in isolation the argument of each perspective in turn, what aspects of human dignity could be jeopardised by any actions arising from those perspectives?

Explanation of the issue as critical to human dignity

Case study 2 describes capital punishment for two Australian Citizens caught smuggling heroin to Indonesia. Chan and Sukumar were executed after receiving death sentence from an Indonesian court.  Matters arising from Case study 2 are critical because the cornerstone of human rights is the respect of human dignity. Dignity refers to worth or value, therefore; human dignity refers to human worth and value. I believe that human dignity is inherent in all human beings. Therefore, death penalty as a form of punishment is very unique in its cruelty and finality, and may be plagued with prejudice, arbitrariness and error. I believe that death penalty is a critical issue of human dignity because it cultivates a culture of violence and based on my religious values (Christianity), death penalty is a contempt of our religious teaching on forgiveness (Conquergood, 2002).

Perspective 1: People on death row have inherent dignity in common with all human beings. The legal system utilises certain strategies to dehumanise offenders, and these strategies must be recognised as such. The inherent dignity of the offender remains no matter what dehumanising strategies are used.

This perspective believes that people on death row have dignity because dignity is inherent in all human beings. Utilizing certain strategies such as death penalty, they may dehuminise dignity. This perspective is supported by human dignity category 1A and 1B.

According to human dignity category 1A, human life is sacred.  Some of the religious arguments (such as Christianity) fall into this perspective because they believe that human beings were created in the image of God.  On the other hand, the Non-religious proponents argue that is natural to fight for survival of one’s species, thus; it human species have special value against any intrinsic value or instrumental values possessed by the other species. This indicates that human beings have inherent worth because they belong to human species (Rydberg & Pizarro, 2014).

Category 1B argues that human dignity arises from the fact that they have special distinctive attributes and special abilities. This is supported by German philosopher Immanuel Kant that human beings value is intrinsic in all members of the society.  Similar to category 1A of human dignity, 1B also supports the argument that all human beings possess inherent dignity, which makes them equal (Trojan & Salfati, 2010).   Therefore, based on these two arguments ie category 1A and 1B, the inherent dignity of the offender remains no matter what mistakes they have made or what dehumanising strategies are used.

Robin Conley wonders how it is possible for a person can look at a fellow human being and give them a death penalty. Conley reviewed the capital trials in Texas where he found out that the Jurors employed techniques that distanced them from the defendant during the trials. This probably made it easy for them when deciding about the sentence of the defendant of either life imprisonment without parole or death penalty. According to Conley, the physical, emotional and social distance established between the defendant and the Juror through the legal jargon and language that tends to dehumanize the defendant; which makes the death sentence easier to decide. Conley states that the legalistic language aims at depersonalizing the whole process; which helps the juror to disengage their emotions during theory deliberations and to help them serve the justice system effectively. The language used in the cases helps assist the Juror to deny the offenders inherent human dignity, allowing them to imposed capital punishment with a clear conscience (Conley, 2013).

The lens of interactive aspects of death penalty system indicates a cluster of distancing actions that transforms a person decision making process into a depersonalised state’s act. Based on this perspective, it can be assumed that offenders do calculate their risks and reward. The reality is that most of the offenders are not clearly thinking people. They are self-centred, impulsive and often warped. They are by products of violent homes, booze or drugs and are antisocial. It is evident that the society’s sanctions and values are least of their concerns.  As George Bernard Shaw states, “murder and death penalty are not opposites that cancel one another, but similar that breed their kind.” para. 60 (1903). In this context, I just cannot help but wonder what is the effectiveness of death penalty in deterrence of crimes?

Perspective 2: People found guilty of major crimes should be allowed the chance to restore their sense of self-worth through rehabilitation, and be allowed the possibility to transform their life. This perspective recognises the potential of the human person to become more than what they were at a particular point in time.  A positive self-image and sense of one’s own worth and value is key to this transformation.

This perspective argues that people found guilty of major crimes should be given a chance to restore their self-worth through rehabilitation. This perspective acknowledges that human beings have special abilities that will enable them to transform at one point of their life. According to this perspective, positive self-image and self-worth is important factors for transformation. This perspective is supported by category 1B and 2A.   According to category 1B of human dignity, human beings always have dignity because they have one or more capacities, which make them distinct. Therefore, human being has the capacity to reason rationally. Other capacities that make human being distinct include morality, conscience, autonomy and the capacity to love. Therefore, the two offenders in this case study should have been given a chance  to restore their self-worth through rehabilitation because human being have  distinctive capacities that will help them change their life. Likewise, Category 2A argues that dignity  is something that humans can acquire or lose it through a sense of self-worth. Therefore, the way a person view themselves impacts on their life experiences. People who lack self-worth   tend to struggle to find happiness and success.  This makes them engage in activities that deviate from the society norms, affecting their relationship with the other people.   This may lead to further misery and struggle.  However, this does not reduce their human dignity because it is innate (Kirchengast, 2010).

Tharina Guse and Daphne Hudson performed interviews with three South African ex-prisoners. Tharina and colleague believe that the offenders had been rehabilitated successfully. However, they did not enquire into the nature of the ex-offenders crimes and instead focussed on their strengths which have helped them transform their character, avoid recidivism and help them reintegrate in the South African Society.  The authors argue that their self-directed transformation made their encounter with violent prison life.  By developing the following strengths transformed their lives; courage, wisdom and transcendence.  The strength of wisdom made the ex-offenders desire for education. The strength of courage helps them acknowledge their responsibility and crimes for their own transformation. The strength of humanity helps them connect with others and the strength of transcendence helped them to develop a religious personal belief in God and believe that they have a bright future ahead (Guse & Hudson, 2013).

The authors conclude that rehabilitation is the best alternative to capital punishment. For instance, in the USA, studies indicate that there is proportionately fewer murder cases in states that do not have death penalty than the states that do. Similarly, the case study highlights how the government worked closely and extremely hard on diplomatic efforts to show the two offenders clemency.  These young men knew that they had broken law and deserved to be punished. However, the head of Kerobokan Prison reported that the offenders had made significant efforts to rehabilitate themselves.  They transformed to become model prisoners as they had taken leadership roles in the prison.  For instance, it has been stated that they provided education courses for the prisoners including art classes and English lessons. These activities and many other actions demonstrated that Chan and Sukunaran had demonstrated genuine remorse (Guse & Hudson, 2013).

The basic law of eye for an eye is antique and most countries have moved on great deal from this law.   Decisions on offender’s punishment should not be based on how one party feels but should be consisted to applied rules.  As humanitarian Desmond Tutu said “taking a life when a life has been lost is not justice but revenge.”  In this regard, it is time to adapt restorative justice, a kind of justice that punishes but also restores the offenders to become more productive people in the society (Guse & Hudson, 2013).

Perspective 3: People on death row have grievously offended against social and moral norms. Their punishment reflects their loss of dignity in society’s eyes. As they no longer have dignity, capital punishment for major crimes is justified.

This perspective argues that people on death row deserve the punishment because they have grievously offended against social norms.  This is supported by category 2B of human dignity which argues that “dignity is something that can be acquired or lost through moral or immoral behavior.” Based on this argument, human acquire dignity when they behave well, but can also lose it when they behave badly (Muftic & Hunt, 2012).

Dwight Conquergood investigates the history of death penalty in America supports this perspective. He summarises his observations about death penalty in America as a well-choreographed piece of theatre. He states that the public executions symbolises society’s judgement of individuals who offend its norms. He considers the executions held in Puritan society during the colonial of New England as a practice of religious theatrics, where a person is condemned, judged based on the degree they demonstrate signs of repentance. Looking at the evolution of executions, one can see a symbol of society’s rejection of an offender for the crimes committed in their past. The author identified transition of acceptance on death penalty in the society as it is seem as justice against the terrorists and murders (Conquergood, 2002).

In this case study, the two offenders might have been judged by the Indonesian court to have lost their human dignity. Therefore, they were deemed not worthy of participating in the society.  David Kirchhoffer explains that this perspective focuses much on the way society judge’s people based on their past behaviour and not by their self-worth. Some people are society’s hero because they lived selfless lives and lived their lives in pursuit of high ideals and exemplary conduct. These include people such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. Others may be judged as to have lost their dignity due to their violent criminal acts (Cssidy, 2012).

Analysis and synthesis of how each perspective justifies particular actions or choices

 According to Perspective 1, category 1A and 1B, the execution of Chan and Sukumar devalued the aspects human dignity. This is because the value of human dignity is inherent is their lives and not their actions. According to Catholic faith, people’s actions do not necessarily define a person’s dignity.  Although people’s actions are shaped by circumstances; no action or offense can erode human dignity because human dignity is inherent in every human being (Zylberman, 2016).  In this regard, the high capacities and specific attributes possessed by human beings implies that the two offenders can be rehabilitated through proper treatment and training.  This perspective can be supported by the case study as Chan and Sukumar had reformed- based on assessment of the people who visited them before their execution. This is an indication that offenders can change their behaviour if given a chance; therefore, the case study offender’s execution was probably unjustified (Muftic & Hunt, 2012).

            On the contrary, Perspective 2 understands the concepts of human dignity as some type of pride in one self and conscious sense of an individual’s worth as human being, which enables them to live a meaningful life. Category 2A and 2B supports this perspective by arguing that human dignity can be acquired or lost through their behaviour. Therefore, humans are to live a life predefined by societal morals and self-consciousness. These categories of human dignity are used to promulgate the aspect of moral values in society where the person is punished each time they violate the value. Therefore, based on this perspective, then it can be assumed that the Indonesian society to was justified to punish the offenders in order to mitigate similar crimes from occurring; and to protect the society.

However,  I think that the punishment could be  a bit cruel. For example, what criteria were used to reach to an agreement that Chan and Sukumar were harmful people in the society? Did they have evidence on their past actions that indicated that they are extremely violent and a threat to the society?  The negative attitude accorded to these Australian citizens did not make sense because their verdict was made with an assumption that these individuals cannot transform, and that they will always be in their worst behaviours which is erroneous (McCormick, 2015).

 Based on perspective 3, the two offenders had grievously offended the societal norms by engaging in criminal activities of trafficking heroin.  Therefore, their punishment reflected their loss of dignity in the society’s judgement. According to Indonesian society, substance abuse is done by people who have an intent of becoming violent and harming others. The society’s had negative attitudes towards these two offenders, and were perceived as threat to the society. In this case, the two offenders did not have dignity, and that capital punishment to these individuals was justified (Kirchhoffer, 2011).

Identification and assessment of social attitudes, norms and circumstances that could influence different perspectives

Arguably, perspective 2 suggests that an effective form of punishment should have a purpose to treat and restoration of the desired behaviour and not to kill. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumar had a capacity to re-gain their sense of self-worth (Mattson & Clark, 2011).

The perspective is supported by Category 2A argues that dignity is something that humans can acquire or lose it through a sense of self-worth. Therefore, the way a person view themselves impacts on their life experiences. It is also supported by  sub category 1B of human dignity which argues that human beings always have dignity because of their distinct capacities.  However,  the society ethics is embedded on the beliefs and ideas of what is wrong or right, good and bad. Human dignity is embedded in the social relationships satisfaction and attitudes held by the society. The impact is embedded in the patterns of behaviour that are believed by the society as they bring in harmony and cooperation, fairness and justice (Perspective 2).  The beliefs and ideas of human dignity are analysed, articulated and interpreted according to the moral thinkers of the society. Most of the westernised society are characterised by organised functioning human communities. The ethical systems have undoubtedly evolved their values, values and principles that regulate human behaviour through specific punishment measures (Kirchhoffer & Dierickx, 2011).

Based on perspective 3, proponents of death sentence argue that this practice protects the society from evil people, who inflict harm and distract the society harmony. According to the social attitudes; it is the role of each and every government to protect its society from violent and heinous acts that would erode moral behaviour.  This is supported by category 2B of human dignity which argues that “dignity is something that can be acquired or lost through moral or immoral behavior.” However, the impact underlying societal expectation and values cannot be overlooked. This has resulted in education frameworks that ignore the fundamental values of human dignity but focuses more on wealth acquisition.  For this reason, the society has failed to value life and to cherish human beings above their possessions, power, desires and pleasures (Wierenga, 2011).

 Based on this argument, human dignity is judged by the societal norms; and when a person behaves well he/she gains dignity or can also lose it when they behave badly. Therefore, all people have the right to live in a safe environment, without the fear that their children will become drug addicts or die of addiction. Removing these people from the society is a measure to maintain public safety. Additionally, seeing people get executed, it can deter other youths from practicing such acts (Ryan, 2016).

Evaluation of the implications and consequences of adopting a perspective in isolation

Humans possess multidimensional qualities including emotional, physical, social, spiritual, symbolic and interpersonal qualities.  According to McCormick (2015), humanity is unfinished product that is moving into possibilities that are still unfolded.  It is something that human already have and also something that they strive to acquire. Therefore, during these developments and concepts, human dignity concepts tend to conflict each other.  Human dignity is multidimensional. It can be described in four different ways, which sometimes they conflict WITH one another. (Lee, 2014).

  To start with, there are two main categories of human dignity in which the four aspects fall into.  Category 1 perceives human dignity as something possessed by all human beings. It is further subdivided in to two sub categories; 1A and 1B. Sub category 1A argues that by being a member of human species, they already have human dignity.  This is supported by Christian teachings that humans were created in the image of God. For non- religious arguments, it is believed that it is natural way to favour survival of one person’s species over the others. Therefore, own species have intrinsic values over the other species. Sub category 1B argues that human being have dignity because they already have one or more human capacities; therefore, they are special and distinctive.  In this view, it can be argued that the death penalty of the two offenders was unjustified because human dignity is absolute and can never be taken away regardless of a person’s race, age, gender or the way they behave (Conley, 2013).  In this view, human dignity is universal and immutable; everybody in any location has human dignity in them the same way. This ideology acknowledges the complexity of being human and the multidimensional aspects involved. Therefore, human beings are not to be reduced to one type of level of functioning (Vanhaelemeesch & Vander Beken, 2014).

 On the other hand, Sub category 2A acknowledges that argues that dignity is something that humans can acquire or lose it through a sense of self-worth.   This subcategory ideology correlates to sub category 2B which states human dignity is an aspect that can be acquired or lost through moral or immoral behaviour respectively. In this regard, dignity is understood as more mutable and changeable. In this sense, it is thought that it should not be violated (Guse & Hudson, 2013). However, in reality human dignity can be frustrated because here, dignity is not something that human beings always have; it is something that can be acquired, something that human being can aspire make an actuality. Therefore, it is likely that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumar past actions were due to loss of self-worth, but through rehabilitative processes, their self-worth would have been restored. However, their loss of sense of dignity cannot be equated to their actual possession of dignity (Strelan & Prooijen, 2013). The main argument for the ruling by the Indonesian court is that it aimed at deterring such actions from happening again. However, death penalty does not seem to deter people from committing violent crimes. It only deters the likelihood of other criminals being caught and punished (Kirchhoffer & Dierickx, 2012).

Therefore, it is rather obvious to state that if human life is complex than on single dimension, then it is unfair to just the person’s dignity based on one dimension.  Although it is important to acknowledge that a person’s moral action indicates their dignity orientation, it is also important to recognize that there is chance for change, growth, compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthews, 2014).


Cassidy, J. (2012). Hollow Avowals of Human Rights Protection – Time for an Australian Federal Bill Of Rights? Deakin Law Review, 13(2), 131-176. Conley, R. (2013). Living with the decision that someone will die: Linguistic distance and empathy in jurors’ death penalty decisions. Lang. Soc., 42(05), 503-526.