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Title: Death, Dignity, and the Theory of Value
Author(s): SULMASY, Daniel P.
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 9    Issue: 2-3   Date: 2002   
Pages: 103-130
DOI: 10.2143/EP.9.2.503850

Abstract :
The word ‘dignity’ arises continuously in the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide, both in Europe and in North America. Unlike the phrases ‘autonomy’ and ‘slippery slope’, ‘dignity’ is used by those on both sides of the question. For example, the organizations most prominently associated with the campaign that culminated in the recent legalization of euthanasia in Belgium are the Association pour la Droit de Mourir dans la Dignité and Recht op Waardig Sterven. Yet when Belgium passed its euthanasia law, that nation’s Catholic bishops declared, “All this is opposed to the fundamental respect for human life that lies at the heart of a society based on human dignity”. Or, consider the fact that the legislation that legalized assisted suicide in the state of Oregon, U.S.A., was called the “Death with Dignity Act.” Yet opponents of assisted suicide in the United States, such as the Family Research Council, have declared that, “The idea of assisted suicide is a poison pill that kills the dignity of a precious human life”.

Over and above differences in translation, the word ‘dignity’ cannot mean the same thing in all four of the preceding sentences. It cannot be the univocal basis of moral arguments both for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide. A better understanding of this word would therefore help to bring clarity and insight to the arguments about euthanasia and assisted suicide in Europe, North America, and throughout the world.

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