A strange form of entertainment appeared among French youth at the beginning of the 1990s. Local discotheques started to organize ‘dwarf tossing’
events, in which a dwarf, wearing suitable protective gear, would allow himself to be thrown short distances onto an air bed by the clients. French
authorities soon prohibited these events, on the basis that the practice violated the principle of human dignity. In a series of appeals, the case was
brought before the French Conseil d’Etat and the UN Human Rights Committee. The applicant, Mr. Wackenheim, one of dwarf employees in question, claimed that
banning him from his work had an adverse effect on his life and represented an affront to his dignity, since human dignity consists in having a job.
Although his petition was rejected by both forums, Mr. Wackenheim’s reasoning raises interesting issues both from an ethical and legal point of view.
In this paper, we shall investigate the central question of the case, namely: What are the acceptable limits of state intervention to protect competent
individuals from their own self-harming conduct? Put it more directly, what are the rules and limits of paternalistic interventions?
How to cite this document:Antal Szerletics , Paternalism,
© The Essex Autonomy Project 2011