I examine the ways in which our cultural expectations with respect to death may be transformed by the legalization of assisted suicide. I suggest the inadequacy of the philosophical framework currently taken as the basis for discussing the advantages as well as the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide. I do not believe that individual autonomy is any sort of possibility for dying patients, regardless of the social policies that surround death in a society, insofar as our individual agency in this situation is necessarily intertwined with that of various relevant others. By means of a theory of agency relations, I attempt to show the dynamic ways in which we may all adjust to the option of assisted suicide as a preferred end-of-life option. My theory of agency relations does not deny individual choice; rather it explains the qualitative complexity of individual choice, as well as its dynamic social process of evolving.
"What is the tie between two instants that have between them the whole interval, the whole abyss, that separates the present and death, this margin at once both insignificant and infinite, where there is always room enough for hope?" (1)
"Is death possible? Can I die? Can I say 'I can' with respect to death? Can I?" (2)
I. Comprehending Death: The Limits of Philosophy
We philosophers are always trying to get a grip on death, and always failing. Anthropologists and social historians are likely to do better than philosophers in their efforts to characterize death, insofar as they can investigate the many faces of death in different cultural contexts: death in battle may be heroic; death in youth may be tragic; death in old age benign. In different times and different cultures death me...
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...pp.14-15. As anthropologists, the Kleinmans find shifts in the American cultural rhetoric of illness which correspond with Hochschild's findings as to the devaluation of traditional domestic duties of women. Our cultural rhetoric, the Kleinmans remark, "is changing from the language of caring to the language of efficiency and cost; it is not surprising to hear patients themselves use this rhetoric to describe their problems. Thereby, the illness experience, for some, may be transformed from a consequential moral experience into a merely technical inexpediency."
(14) See Robert Kastenbaum, "Suicide as the Preferred Way of Death," in Edwin S. Shneidman, ed., Suicidology: Contemporary Developments (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1976), pp.425-441, for a much earlier analysis predicting that our society would readily embrace suicide as a desirable way of dying.
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