Dignity Rights for a Pandemic

Law, Culture, and the Humanities: Legality and Dignity, 2020

19 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020

See all articles by James R. May

James R. May

Widener University Delaware Law School

Erin Daly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: July 4, 2020

Abstract

Dignity under law can help in times of strife, including pandemic. Attempts to contain the infection has led to quarantine, global lockdowns, closed borders, dislocated families, shuttered businesses, emptied airlines, airports and other constituents of travel, and vast social distancing across all sectors of society. As of this writing, there is no vaccine or cure and treatments of dubious efficacy. Hospitals and healthcare systems and workers are overwhelmed if not overwrought. Plans for schools, restaurants, bars and businesses changes daily. Health workers are putting their lives on the line. Many of those infected are sitting ducks, cordoned in elderly care facilities, prisons and hospitals. Foreigners are blamed. Each and every pandemic-induced tremor and aftershock tests the bounds of human dignity as a value and as a right.

The concept of human dignity means, quite simply, that every person has inherent equal worth. This incontrovertible but profound concept is derived from the body of dignity law that has developed since the end of World War II at the international, regional, national, and subnational levels, where dignity has become the central axis around which law rotates. Dignity recognizes that every member of the human family has worth that is equal, inherent and universal.

Dignity is also law. Both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) confirm the foundational place of the recognition of human dignity in the building of the new post-war world order. Advancing human dignity also is a central premise of the binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and virtually all subsequent instruments addressing human well-being. It is recognized in the constitutions of more than 160 countries, including all 49 constitutions adopted since 2003, as a fundamental value and/or as an actionable right. And, the 400,000 member strong American Bar Association recently recognized dignity as foundational to the rule of law. Courts around the globe have applied the right to dignity in thousands of cases involving abortion, assembly, death penalty, due process, education, the environment and climate change, equal protection and affirmative action, family law, gender and sexual identity, health care, immigration, incarceration, patents, professional ethics, religion, speech, torture, work, voting, and more.

This chapter highlights the normative and legal dimensions of dignity, and how taking account of dignity under law can improve outcomes during a pandemic.

Keywords: dignity, dignity law, dignity rights, pandemic, Covid-19, constitutions, courts, comparative constitutionalism, norm, right, worth, equal, inherence, universal

Suggested Citation

May, James and Daly, Erin, Dignity Rights for a Pandemic (July 4, 2020). Law, Culture, and the Humanities: Legality and Dignity, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3661019

James May (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States

Erin Daly

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States
302-477-2143 (Phone)
304-477-2257 (Fax)

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