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Many venerable legal documents suggest that human dignity is the ground of human rights. The German Constitution (1945) opens in Article 1 with the captivating declaration: ‘human dignity is inviolable’, and goes on in Article 2 to state: ‘The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world’ (emphasis added). The Helsinki Accords (1975) even more explicitly claim that human rights ‘derive from the inherent dignity of the human person’. On this view human beings have rights because they have dignity. On an even stronger view, which is also quite common in constitutional law, it is the very function of those rights to protect the dignity of human beings. In that case, all human rights are specifications of one fundamental right: the right to have one's dignity (or the dignity of the human species?) respected.
At the other end of the spectrum of possible views we find the sceptical idea that all appeals to human dignity are entirely vacuous: they can be made for any specific claim about human rights whatsoever, they are routinely being made for opposing views, for example about euthanasia, and have no argumentative, but only rhetorical, force. ‘Dignity is a useless concept…and can be eliminated without any loss of content’ (Macklin 2003).