Bioethics: November 2005 Archives

In preparing for my discussion of euthanasia next week, I was reading through a summary of Dan Brock's positions on the matter. Brock is widely considered one of the foremost medical ethicists among philosophers. After explaining why self-determination is a good thing, he argues that one of the things that it's good to have self-determination about is our own death. There are important factors in self-determination that are served if we have control over our own death. I'll grant that having some control over some things to do with our death serves the value of self-determination in some important ways. But then he summarizes his discussion with the following statement:

If self-determination is a fundamental value, then the great variability among people on this question makes it especially important that individuals control the manner, circumstances, and timing of their dying and death.

Maybe I've been reading the Stoics too much, but this just sounds irrational. Someone who wants to die soon and figures out how to kill themselved in the way they want at the time they want can usually do a very good job of fulfilling this especially important goal, but most people would like to live fairly long lives if possible. Some might not want to live under certain conditions, which is his point, but how can someone who wants to keep living place this sort of control over your death as such an especially high level and then want to keep living? If it's that important, we should just kill ourselves and be done with it. Wouldn't it be better to live in such a way that if we die we would consider our life to have been what we would want it to have been in the time alotted to us? Putting such high value in something we can't control unless we choose to die soon just seems fruitless. The Stoics were right about at least this. It's setting yourself up for valuing something especially high that chances are you simply won't achieve. But if that's so, then I just can't understand choosing to value it at such a level.

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