Suicide, Euthanasia and Human Dignity

Acta Analytica 16:7-34 (2001)
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Kant has famously argued that human beings or persons, in virtue of their capacity for rational and autonomous choice and agency, possess dignity, which is an intrinsic, final, unconditional, inviolable, incomparable and irreplaceable value. This value, wherever found, commands respect and imposes rather strict moral constraints on our deliberations, intentions and actions. This paper deals with the question of whether, as some Kantians have recently argued, certain types of (physician-assisted) suicide and active euthanasia, most notably the intentional destruction of the life of a terminally-ill, but rational and autonomous patient in order to prevent certain serious harms, such as enduring or recurring pain or the loss of the meaning in life, from befalling him really are inconsistent with respect for the patient’s human dignity. I focus on two independent, though interrelated explications of the rather vague initial idea that the patient (as well as the doctor), in intending and bringing about his death, treats his person or rational nature merely as a means and so denigrates his dignity: (i) that in doing what he is doing, he does not act for the sake of his person, but for the sake of something else; (ii) that, by trading his person for pain relief, he engages himself in an irrational and hence immoral exchange. After critically discussing some suggestions about how to understand this charge, I eventually find Kantian objections to suicide and (active) euthanasia, based on the idea of human dignity, less than compelling. For all the paper proves, suicide and (active) euthanasia may still be morally impermissible, but then this must be so for some other reason than the one given above.



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Friderik Klampfer
University of Maribor

Citations of this work

Testing for intrinsic value, for us as we are.Daniel Coren - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 66 (5):773-798.
Euthanasia Laws, Slippery Slopes, and (Un)reasonable Precaution.Friderik Klampfer - 2019 - Prolegomena: Časopis Za Filozofiju 18 (2):121-147.

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Love as a moral emotion.J. David Velleman - 1999 - Ethics 109 (2):338-374.
Intrinsic Value: Concept and Warrant.Noah Marcelino Lemos - 1994 - New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
A distinction in value: Intrinsic and for its own sake.Wlodek Rabinowicz & Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen - 2000 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100 (1):33–51.
A right of self‐termination?J. David Velleman - 1999 - Ethics 109 (3):606-628.

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