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Human dignity and human tissue: a meaningful ethical relationship?
  1. David G Kirchhoffer,
  2. Kris Dierickx
  1. Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Kris Dierickx, Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 35 Blok D – bus 7001, Leuven 3000, Belgium; kris.dierickx{at}


Human dignity has long been used as a foundational principle in policy documents and ethical guidelines intended to govern various forms of biomedical research. Despite the vast amount of literature concerning human dignity and embryonic tissues, the majority of biomedical research uses non-embryonic human tissue. Therefore, this contribution addresses a notable lacuna in the literature: the relationship, if any, between human dignity and human tissue. This paper first elaborates a multidimensional understanding of human dignity that overcomes many of the shortcomings associated with the use of human dignity in other ethical debates. Second, it discusses the relationship between such an understanding of human dignity and ‘non-embryonic’ human tissue. Finally, it considers the implications of this relationship for biomedical research and practice involving human tissue. The contribution demonstrates that while human tissue cannot be said to have human dignity, human dignity is nevertheless implicated by human tissue, making what is done with human tissue and how it is done worthy of moral consideration.

  • Biomedical research
  • donation/procurement of organs/tissues
  • donors
  • ethics
  • human dignity
  • moral and religious aspects
  • quality/value of life/personhood
  • scientific research
  • stem cell research
  • tissue

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  • Funding The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the European Commission under the DISC REGENERATION project (NMP3-LA-2008-213904).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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