The difference between a  secularist/humanist outlook and a religious one is often very plain in matters concerning the beginning and end of life – bioethical questions concerning stem-cell and genetic research, medically-aided conception, abortion, physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, etc.

The root of the difference lies in the religious view of life as a conditional gift from God by contrast with the humanist one of life as our own to optimise according to human considerations – and the secularist view that the state should not interfere in such matters on  the basis of any religion or belief.

Bioethical issues are, by definition, multidimensional, and thorough debates are needed in society preceded by as full an exploration as possible of the various aspects of the problem. It is probably here that the ethical approach is different from religious morality.

Ethics, especially bio-ethics, is based above all on consideration that if possible takes into account all angles on the question. It differs fundamentally from the assertion of a normative doctrine, whether religious in nature or otherwise.

Thus the concept of human dignity can lead to dogmatic and fundamentalist positions especially if a particular conception of dignity (as sacred and therefore untouchable) is treated as fundamental and one seeks to deduce all values and all standards from it. By contrast, we see respect for human dignity as respect for individual autonomy.


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