Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.252

Proponents of euthanasia do not understand human dignity, which, at best, they confuse with humaneness. One of their favorite arguments proves this point: why, they say, do we put animal out of their misery but insist on compelling fellow human being to suffer to the bitter end? Why, if it is not a contradiction for the veterinarian, does the medical ethic absolutely rule our mercy killing? Is this not simply inhumane?

Perhaps inhumane, but not thereby inhuman. On the contrary, it is precisely because animals are not human that we must treat them (merely) humanely. We put dumb animals to sleep because they do not know that they are dying, because they can make nothing of their misery or mortality, and because, therefore, they cannot live deliberately – that is, humanly – in the face of their own suffering or dying. They cannot live out a fitting end. Compassion for their weakness and dumbness is our only appropriate emotion, and given our responsibility for their care and well-being, we do the only humane thing we can. But when a conscious human being asks us for death, by that very action he displays the presence of something that precludes our regarding him as a dumb animal. Humanity is owed humanity, not humaneness. Humanity is owed the bolstering of the human, even or especially in its dying moments, in resistance to the temptation to ignore its presence in the sight of suffering.

What humanity needs most in the face of evils is courage, the ability to stand against fear and pain and thoughts of nothingness. The deaths we most admire are those of people who, knowing that they are dying, face the fact frontally and act accordingly: they set their affairs in order, they arrange what could be final meetings with their loved ones, and yet, with strength of soul and a small reservoir of hope, they continue to live and work and love as much as they can for as long as they can. Because such conclusions of life require courage, they call for our encouragement – and for the many small speeches and deeds that shore up the human spirit against despair and defeat.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.252

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.238

There is something obviously troubling in this way of thinking about crimes against persons. Indeed, the most abominable practices, proscribed in virtually all societies, are not excused by consent. Incest, even between consenting adults, is still incest; cannibalism would not become merely delicatessen if the victim freely gave permission; ownership of human beings, voluntarily accepted would still be slavery. The violation of the other is independent of the state of the will (in fact, of both victim and perpetrator).

The questions can be put this way: Is the life of another human being to be respected only because that person (or society) deems or wills it respectable, or is it to be respected because it is in itself respectable? If the former, then human worth depends solely on agreement or human will; since will confers dignity, will can take it away, and permission to violate nullifies the violation. If the latter, then one can never be released from the obligation to respect human life by a request to do so, say from some who no longer values his own life.

This latter view squares best with our intuitions. We are not entitled to dismember the corpse of a suicide nor may we kill innocently those consumed by self-hatred. According to our law, killing the willing, the unwilling, and the nonwilling (for example, infants or the comatose) are all equally murder. Beneath the human will, indeed the ground of human will. is something that commands respect and restraint, willy-nilly. We are to abstain from killing because of something respectable about human beings as such.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.238

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity p.216

It is a heavy irony that it should be autonomy, the moral notion the world owes mainly to Kant, that is now invoked as the justifying ground of a right to die. For Kant, autonomy, which literally means “self-legislation,” requires acting in accordance with one’s true self – that is, with one’s rational will determined by a universalizable, that is, rational maxim. Being autonomous means not being a slave to instinct, impulse or whim, but rather doing as one ought, as a rational being. But “autonomy” has now come to mean “doing as you please,” comparable no less with self-indulgence than with self-control. Herewith, one sees clearly the triumph of the Nietzschean self, who finds reason just as enslaving as blind instinct and who finds his true “self” rather in unconditioned acts of pure creative will.


Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.216