Death, Dignity and Degradation
Hershenov (David)
Source: Public Affairs Quarterly, 21:1, 2007, 21-36
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Many people believe that diseases and injuries which cause a significant deterioration in mental capabilities are undignified. A significant number of these people profess that they would rather die than live in a childlike state brought on by Alzheimer’s disease or some ailment with similar effects. They claim to find little to value in such undignified states.
  2. While I would not deny that the intrinsic value of persons in such impaired cognitive states is much less than what was possessed before the onset of their injury or illness, I do not believe such states are undignified. There are Kantian philosophers, most notably David Velleman, who insist that the complete absence or a considerable loss in reasoning capabilities results in an undignified state.
  3. However, I think there is considerable linguistic evidence for maintaining that the lack of reason and value, or their presence but at low levels, is not undignified. For example, despite their having little or no reason, we don’t consider newborns, very young children or the retarded to be undignified, while we do so label adults who could act but don’t in ways that respect the value of themselves or others. This suggests that to be undignified one must have the capacity to act appropriately and fail to do so.
  4. I believe that we can infer from this that adults whose rational capacities are destroyed by disease are no more undignified than those individuals who early in life don’t have the capacity to respond to value.

Comment:

For the full text, see Hershenov - Death, Dignity and Degradation.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
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