Arguing from autonomy and dignity for the legalization of assistance in suicide and voluntary euthanasia

Luke Gormally


Sommario: 1. Introduction. 2. The altered understanding of autonomy: from Kant to late modernity. 3. Ronald Dworkin on precedent autonomy and dignity. 4. A minimalist approach to defeating this reasoning. 5. The vulnerable and incompetent as our ‘friends’.

Abstract: Justifications of the legalization of assistance in suicide and euthanasia are offered in terms of benefit to patients on the grounds that they would be ‘better off dead’ because their lives are no longer worthwhile. Patients’ own judgments on the worth of their lives are held to have unique authority because their own choices, which are not criticisable by reference to objective criteria of human worth, are held to be constitutive of their worth/dignity. This view of human worth/dignity is shown to be incompatible with that understanding of human dignity which is indispensable to a defensible account of who are subjects of justice. Recognition of this basic dignity renders inadmissible the judgment that any human life is no longer worthwhile. The individualist, autonomy-based account of human dignity is contrasted with the Christian understanding of human dignity along with the response to fellow human beings it warrants.

Keywords: personal dignity, Ronald Dworkin, ethics, euthanasia.