In this essay, we notice that the priority of persons, the unbridgeable political gap between persons and mere things, corresponds to a special sort of moral and legal treatment for persons, namely, as irreplaceable individuals. Normative language that conflates the category of person with fungible kinds of being can thus appear to justify destroying and replacing human beings, just as we do with things. Lethal consequences may result, for example, from a common but improper extension of the word “value” to persons. The attitude and act called “respect” brings forth much more adequately than “value” the distinctively individual priority of persons, allowing our common humanity to be a reason for each person’s separate significance. Unless we focus on the respect-worthiness of human life rather than on its value, we will not be able to argue coherently against those who think its destruction permissible.
Richard Stith, The Priority of Respect: How Our Common Humanity Can Ground Our Individual Dignity, 44 Int'l Phil. Q. 165 (2004).