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
  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
  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

Human dignity

For decades, sex selection has been a controversial issue, choosing the sex of a child is
viewed as a justifiable act since there is no harm done to anyone .I believe that gender selection
creates balance in a family and culturally viewed as a desirable practice to fulfill social norms.
However others ethicists believe that sex selection reinforce the idea of sexual discrimination
within our societies (Caulfield & Brownsword, 2012).This explains why there are renewed
efforts from civil societies and government to analyze arguments presented by different authors
who either support or oppose sex selection.

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This essay analyzes the meaning of human dignity from two different perspectives, the
essay examines how human dignity is defined by our expression of choices and as an inherent
value by the society. Based on a case study, the essay describes the social attitudes, norms and
circumstance that influence such choices and their impact on our understanding of human
dignity. The essay presents justifications of particular actions concerning sex selection and
analyzes some of the features of human dignity that can be put at risk due to actions arising from
these two perspectives mentioned therein above.

Perspective 1: The concept of human dignity

Human dignity is defined based on the belief that dignity is inherent; hence, human
beings posses specific capabilities that are not found in other creatures. However, people define
human dignity differently. Some people view human dignity as human life that represents
personhood. From perspective 1, human dignity is defined based on beliefs that dignity is
inherent. Peter Singer supports this view arguing that a human being is considered to be a person
if s/he is able to display specific capabilities, meaning that the being that bears this dignity is
worth the respect. From this perspective, human dignity can be defined as something all humans
already posses by simply being human which other creatures do not posses (Dyal, 2014). Despite
the various social reasons for sex selection which seem to be justified including having a family
balance or replacing the deceased child or for cultural reasons, these reasons do not define
human dignity especially in situations where boys are preferred more than girls. Blyth, Frith and
Crawshaw argue that gender selection is justifiable for the sake of reproductive autonomy. The
authors are against the idea of letting parents select the sex of their children especially in
societies where most people have strong preference for male children over female. This is
because such actions will discriminate women and girls hence reinforcing sexism ideas in the

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society. Blyth, Frith and Crawshaw believes that there is no difference between societies in
Southern Asia and Eastern when compared to those of European nations as both of them have
preference for male children. Based on this perspective, permitting gender selection is considered
as discrimination against specific gender making it less valuable according to Dyal (2014).

Kalfoglou et al., (2013) view sex selection as ideas that reinforce sexual discrimination.
Selecting a particular sex can cause rejection of the child if the child does not manifest the
parents expected gender traits. Based on this viewpoint, Blyth, Frith and Crawshaw believe that
legalization of gender selection can enahnce sexist stereotypes within the society because sex
selection lowers human dignity (Dyal, 2014). In addition, sex selection has resulted in gender
disparities in many countries especially in Asian countries like China and India leading to
patriarchal societal agreements perceived to discriminate girls and women (Mudde, 2010).
The social attitudes, norms and circumstances that influence such perspective
Due to advanced technology, the culture of sex selection has become more popular
causing harm to females. Parents who are able to access technology have the ability to control
the sex of their children escaping societal stigma of failing to give birth to a son. Many parents
avoid giving birth to girls since they are viewed as individuals not worth living .Parents perceive
that sex selection gives them the ability to choose what type of children they want. However, this
process is inhumane since it makes children to be more of products (Webb,2014).
Sex selection can also make parents be unwilling to accept some of their preferred sex
shortcomings lowering the child’s self esteem. Having a strong preference for a specific sex can
cause harm for the unwanted sex including rejection and killing to avoid societal blames and
eliminate shame. But proponents of this idea argue that it is normal for such ideas to be rejected

Running head: HUMAN DIGNITY 4
initially especially when people are unfamiliar with the idea. Those opposing the idea of sex
selection state that that having children is not a right that one can put conditions to but emphasize
that children should be viewed as gifts (De Melo-Martín, 2013). These arguments are based on
our cultural beliefs.
Caulfield & Brownsword (2012), base their argument on the traditional pattern of giving
gifts whereby a gift is supposed to be received without putting any condition to it. A gift is
something we should accept unconditionally, this also applies to children. From a cultural
perspective, sex selection promotes the idea of treating children as a commodity; it is compared
to buying and selling of children. Choosing some of the features we want is acceptable only to
products like cars or other commodities but does not apply to human beings. Therefore, sex
selection lowers and discriminates specific gender.

Justification of specific actions in relation to human dignity

Edgar Dahl argues that before a practice can be allowed or prohibited the presumption
should be in favour of liberty. According to Edgar, individuas should be permitted to make life
choices without any state intervention especially if the situation does not necessarily cause harm
to anyone. For him, the objections presented do not show how sex selection causes harm
especially for Western societies. Edgar views life as having liberty and people should live as they
want to so long as a person does not harm or infringe upon other people rights (Lee, 2016).
Proponents of sex selection argue that the practice is considered harmful based on sociological
and psychological assumptions. They further argue that since sex selection is an act that is
contrary to an individual’s religious or moral beliefs, the practice should not be permitted by
legislation (Smolin, 2013).

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A report by The Task Force on ethics and laws highlights the common objection
arguments used to reject the idea of sex selection. The report indicates that sex selection is
compared to playing with God. Such arguments have been applied to all medical innovation
before. It started by rejecting the use of chloroform to relieve pain associated with childbirth, this
act was viewed as going against God’s will this also applied to the use of inoculation (Li &
Pantano, 2013). Ironically, previous medical innovations viewed as going against God’s will
have become part of acceptable medical practices, therefore such objections have not been taken
seriously, such arguments are considered as religious claims .Proponents of sex selection argue
that individuals seeking the option of sex selection should only refrain from the idea if it
contravenes his religious beliefs but laws should not be imposed on people based of religious
views (Dondorp et al, 2013).

Human dignity that can be jeopardized by actions arising from this perspective
Defining human dignity based on our expression of choices affects public opinion about
such ideas. If these perspectives are not comprehensively analyzed by research public opinion
will be flawed. The main concern is that people can use limited philosophical analysis to
influence policy discussions .The definition of human dignity should not be derived from the fact
that it is an individual choice but it should be to view the practice from both public and
professional bioethical discussions as recommended by Ethics Committee of the American
Society for Reproductive Medicine (2015).

Perspective 2: Human dignity as acquired characteristic.

From perspective 2, human dignity is considered as acquired characteristics. From this
perspective human dignity is viewed as pride in oneself or having the sense of own worth as a

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human being to live a meaningful life that is respectful .Therefore, any situation that
compromises or humiliates such position is termed as a threat to human dignity. Choosing
particular sex over the other for non-medical reasons places expectations on a specific child, this
fails to recognize individual personhood.
Scully, Shakespeare and Banks emphasize on the fact that moral judgment is usually
made from a lay person’s perspective. This means that non-experts do not justify the fact that sex
selection is immoral. Based on a focus group discussion by the authors, lay people usually do not
engage in philosophical arguments; their arguments are based on their beliefs. They use
metaphors to support their intuitions, for example they compared children to gifts. From this
perspective, children are viewed as parent’s property yet they are their own persons. Putting too
much expectations on the selected children does not give them the respect making them not to be
autonomous as human beings are suppose to be(Claassens, et al, 2013). Parents who select the
sex of their children view their children as different people rather than the individual the child is
suppose to be. Wudarczyk et al (2013) argue that choosing the sex of a child is failing to respect
the human intrinsic values of the individual child.

Social attitudes, norms and circumstances that influence such perspective
In western societies, there is no preferred sex but selection of sex focuses more on
creating gender balance in the family by having both boys and girls. These are common
occurrences observed in Australia, Sweden and the UK .Even though sex selection does not have
negative effects in these countries; Asian countries like China, Korea and India are faced with
challenges associated with sex selection. These countries prefer boys to girls. This has led to
over 10 million abortions within the last 20 years (Moskovian, 2013).

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Activists in Asia are calling for the ban of sex selection, however, due to the different
reasons parents in the UK and India have for choosing the sex of their children, banning
worldwide practice of sex selection will not change the situation especially in India. So long as
there are religious and economic incentives attached to boys, banning sex selection will not have
any effect especially in Asian countries. Given the fact that majority of the UK population would
still prefer their first children to be boys, sex selection technology will be misused to fulfill these
parents’ desires (Dyal, 2014).

Justification of specific actions in relation to human dignity

The claims made that sex selection does not promote the inherent human value is
considered as an intuitive reaction but not a reasonable moral response. The fact that certain
human actions are unnatural does not necessary makes these actions morally wrong. For example
heart transplant is unnatural but is meant to save human life (De Melo-Martin, 2013). The fact
that those opposed to the claims that sex selection ought to be applicable for medical purposes is
not considerate. Medical technologies helps couples with sex-linked genetic disorder produce a
healthy child, this does not translate to misuse of technology to fulfill their personal desires.
Furthermore, those in support of sex selection argue that this practice eliminate girls in a
humane way compared to other methods like abortion or neglect, meaning that girls whose birth
can be avoided will not be exposed to oppression or any discrimination according to Tregenza-
In the current health care systems, physicians offer services that does not have direct
medical benefits but add value to inviduals who seek for such services like cosmetic surgeries
and ultrasound. The same view is applicable when it comes to sex selection. Offering sex
selection services is also viewed as misuse of limited medical resources, but offering other

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services like face-lifts is not termed as misallocation of limited medical resources. The idea of
sex selection has been misrepresented in most cases (WHO Press, 2011).
The most common argument is that sex selection causes social imbalances of gender in
countries such as China and India. The concern that sex ratio is a threat to the western societies is
more of an intuitive reaction with not concrete evidence. The idea of calling sex selection a
sexist sin is not justifiable because most parents who prefer choosing the sex of their children do
so based on the fact that they are motivated by the idea to have children from both sexes. People
who belief that raising a boy is different from a girl are those who base their thinking on cultural
values of children whereby girls are considerate be different from boys (Cooley & Chesnokova,
Human dignity that can be jeopardized by actions arising from this perspective
It is not essay to draw legal lines to permit some forms of sex selection while limiting
others. The main worry in such situation is how parents are likely to spend their money on
technology to ensure that their children are born with the specifications they want. This can
result to misuse of technology (Lee, 2016).


It not surprising that sex selection is controversial, different people justify their reasons
for gender selection by viewing it as a desirable practice aimed at fulfilling societal norms.
Others view sex selection as a practice that reinforces discrimination at the same time goes
against the inherent nature of human value. These two perspectives describe human dignity from
different views. The case study of sex selection helps us understand some of the social attitudes,
norms and circumstances that can influence our choices and how sex selection from these two

Running head: HUMAN DIGNITY 9
perspectives can impact on our understanding of human dignity based on the justification
presented in support of such actions. In conclusion, it is important to define human dignity from
a multi-dimensional perspective than define it from isolated arguments to accurately define its


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Biotechnology era? Nature Reviews Genetics, 7(1), 72-76.
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Claassens, J. et al (2013). Searching for Dignity: Conversations on human
dignity, theology and disability. Toronto. Sun media.

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