On Human Rights and Freedom in Bioethics: A Philosophical Inquiry in Light of Buddhism

Ellen Ying ZHANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The concept of human rights, with its unique cultural matrix of socio-political and intellectual developments in the Enlightenment of the West, has been a highly disputed one in contemporary ethical discourse. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereafter UDHR, 1948) and its subsequent human rights conventions aim to make “the rights of every individual” a legally binding agreement that can go beyond cultural boundaries and religious or ideological differences. The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (hereafter UDBHR, 2005) follows the same direction. For instance, in Article 3:1, it is said, “Human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms are to be fully respected.” In Article 3:2, it is said, “The interests and welfare of the individual should have priority over the sole interest of science or society.” Here, we have three key words: dignity, rights, and freedoms, all of which point to a fundamental idea that each individual, as a free agent or a self-determined person, should be protected via recognition of his/her dignity and rights. In other words, the respect of human dignity and the protection of human rights define the minimum of what is necessary in order to safeguard the freedom of individual agency and freedom of self-determination. If we say that in politics, the concept of human rights sets limits to more powerful collectives and institutions such as state, society, and religion, the idea of human rights in bioethics sets limits to scientific research and experimentation, as well as various technological developments in medicine (e.g. stem-cell research and the use of various forms of genetic technology).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReligious Perspectives on Bioethics and Human Rights
EditorsJoseph Tham, Kai Man Kwan, Alberto Garcia
PublisherSpringer Cham
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9783319584317
ISBN (Print)9783319584294, 9783319864068
Publication statusPublished - 7 Sept 2017

Publication series

NameAdvancing Global Bioethics
ISSN (Print)2212-652X
ISSN (Electronic)2212-6538

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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