Human dignity, life, death and democracy

This paper reflects on the significance for democracy of the promise made in Article 1 of the 1948 UDHR that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. This issue is especially relevant today, as the Covid 19 pandemic tests human rights frameworks and war rages within the Council of Europe. The paper makes three points: 1. that the right to life has to be envisaged as a right to life with dignity; 2. that death and dying have to be integrated into any understanding of such a right to life and that the finite nature of human existence has to be addressed both as a dimension that all individuals experience and, at the level of humankind, as a prospect that has to be acknowledged; and 3. that this re-thinking of the right to life with dignity transforms our understanding of liberal democracy. Drawing on a range of theoretical and empirical materials, this paper explores some of the ways in which such a human dignity-based democracy may be conceptually imagined.