Assisted Suicide, Suffering, and the Meaning of a Life
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. 1999 Jun; 20(3): 287-298.
The ethical problems surrounding voluntary assisted suicide remain formidable, and are unlikely to be resolved in pluralist societies. An examination of historical attitudes to suicide suggests that modernity has inherited a formidable complex of religious and moral attitudes to suicide, whether assisted or not. Advocates usually invoke the ending of intolerable suffering as one justification for euthanasia of this kind. This does not provide an adequate justification by itself, because there are (at least theoretically) methods which would relieve suffering without causing the physical death of the suffering person. Carried to extremes, these methods would finish the life worth living, but leave a being which was technically alive. Such acts, however, would provide no moral escape, since they would create beings without meaning. Arguments seeking to justify ending the lives of others need some grounding in concepts of the meaning of a life. The euthanasia discourse therefore needs to take at least some account of the meaning we construct for our lives and the lives of others.
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