Canada Has Lost a True Understanding of Human Dignity


The modern misunderstanding of human dignity devalues the inherent and equal worth of all people.


October 28, 2019

OTTAWA, ON – Canada needs to regain a full and robust understanding of human dignity as something that is inherent to a person’s being, cannot be taken away, and does not depend on external factors such as intellectual or physical abilities. Who are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity, a new report by the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute (CRFI), finds this understanding of human dignity has been lost in a culture focused on individual autonomy.

“The dignity as autonomy position makes personal choice the highest good at the expense of other goods. In this view, nothing is inherently good. Things are only good if an individual chooses them,” write co-authors Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, the director of the CRFI, and Aaron Neil, a Cardus researcher, in their report. “Freedom is not simply the ability to choose. It is the ability to choose rightly.”

The paper also points out a potential danger: As Canadian society moves further away from a proper understanding of human dignity, increasing violations of that dignity will take place. This will lead to an impoverished public square and diminish the fundamental freedoms that flow from human dignity, such as freedom of religion and conscience. Rev. Dr. Bennett says faith leaders need to grapple with the issue of human dignity within their congregations.

“Canadians of faith are not immune to current cultural trends, including the modern misunderstanding of human dignity,” says Rev. Dr. Bennett. “That’s why it’s so important to reinforce – and in some cases re-learn – what human dignity is from a basic, theological perspective.”

Who are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity comes following a CRFI symposium in Ottawa on September 26, 2019 to address questions about what human dignity is, where it comes from, and how it is put into practice. Participants included:

  • Dr. Moira McQueen from the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute
  • Prof. Douglas Farrow from the School of Religious Studies at McGill University
  • Prof. Faisal Bhabha from Osgoode Law School at York University
  • Prof. Victor Muniz-Fraticelli from the Faculty of Law at McGill University
  • Dr. Lucas Vivas from the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians and Societies
  • Leslie Rosenblood from the Canadian Secular Alliance

Who are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity is freely available online.


Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications
613-241-4500 x508


Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society's institutions can work together for the common good.