Against these considerations, the clever ones will propose that if we could do away with death, we would do away with the need for posterity. But that is a self-serving and shallow answer, one that thinks of life and aging solely in terms of the state of the body. It ignores the psychological effects simply of the passage of time – of experiencing and learning about the way things are. After a while, no matter how healthy we are, no matter how respected and well placed we are socially, most of us cease to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Little surprises us, nothing shocks us, righteous indignation at injustice dies out. We have seen it all already, seen it all. We have often been deceived, we have made many mistakes of our own. Many of us become small-souled, having been humbled not by bodily decline or the loss of loved ones but by life itself. So our ambition also begins to flag, or at least our noblest ambitions. As we grow older, Aristotle already noted, we “aspire to nothing great and exalted and crave the mere necessities and comfort of existence.” At some point, most of us turn and say to our intimates, Is this all there is? We settle, we accept our situation – if we are lucky enough to be able to accept it. In many ways, perhaps in the most profound ways, most of us go to sleep long before our deaths – and we might even do so earlier in life if death no longer spurred us to make something of ourselves.
In contrast, it is in the young where aspiration, hope, freshness, boldness and openness spring anew – even when they take the form of overrunning our monuments. Immortality for oneself through children may be a delusion, but participating in the natural and eternal renewal of human possibility through children is not – not even in today’s world.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.272
Why do so many teach the promise of life after death, of something eternal, of something imperishable? This takes us to the heart of the matter.
What is the meaning of this concern with immortality? Why do we human being seek immortality? Why do we want to live longer or forever? Is it really first and most because we do not want to die, because we do not want to leave this embodied life on earth or give up our earthly pastimes, because we want to see more and do more? I do not think so. This may be what we say, but it is not what we finally mean, Morality as such is not our defect, nor bodily immortality our goal, Rather, mortality is at most a pointer, a derivative manifestation, or an accompaniment of some deeper deficiency. The promise of immortality and eternity answers rather to a deep truth about the human soul: the human soul yearns for, longs for, aspires to some condition, some state, some goal toward which our earthly activities are directed but which cannot be attained in earthly life. Our soul’s reach exceeds our grasp; it seeks more than continuance; it reaches for something beyond us, something that for the most part eludes us. Our distress with mortality is derivative manifestation of the conflict between the transcendent longings of the soul and the all-too-finite powers and fleshly concerns of the body.
What is it that we lack and long for, but cannot reach?
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.269
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
Human beings, alone among the earthly creatures, speak, plan, create, contemplate and judge. Human beings, alone among the creatures, can articulate a future goal and bring it into being by their own purposive conduct. Human beings, alone among the creatures, can think about the whole, marvel at its articulated order, and feel awe in beholding its grandeur and in pondering the mystery of its source.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.241
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
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
For human eros is the fruit of the peculiar conjunction of and competition between two contrary aspirations in a single living body: one, a self-regarding concern for one’s own permanence and fulfillment; the other, a self-denying aspiration for something that transcends our own finite existence, and for the sake of which we spend and even give our lives. Nothing humanly fine, let alone great, will come out of a society that has crushed the source of human aspiration, the germ of which is to be found in the meaning of the sexual complementary two that seek unity wholeness and holiness.
Human procreation, in sum, is not simply an activity of our rational wills. It is a more complete activity precisely because it engages us bodily, erotically and even spiritually, as well as rationally. There is wisdom in the mystery of nature that has joined the pleasure of sex, the inarticulate longing for union, the communication of the loving embrace, and the deep-seated and only partially articulate desire for children in the very activity by which we continue the chain of human existence and participate in the renewal of human possibility. Whether we know it or not – and we are already well on the way to forgetting it – the severing of procreation from sex, love and intimacy is inherently dehumanizing, no matter how good the product.
Leon R. Kass – Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics p.157