Dignity and compassion: exploring social justice through disability

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University of New Brunswick


This project seeks to answer the question: How can we ensure the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society? Defining personhood, and consequently human dignity, through rationality is restricting and has led to the exclusion of people with disabilities. Rationality, defined through capacities like self-awareness, self-reflection, and communication, hierarchizes human value and creates an individual autonomy centred understanding of human dignity. Through exploring the notions of personhood, dignity, and social justice, this thesis argues that society is well-structured when compassion is its foundation. This focus shift can be applied to dialogue surrounding physician assisted dying, and reveal the shortcomings of autonomy based politics in caring for people with disabilities. Highlighting the caring relationships that humans engage in shifts the focus of social justice from individual liberty to universal vulnerability and dependency. Founded in our mutual need for belonging, an ethic of compassion accentuates the relationality of human beings and centres care in the community.