Deconstructing DignityA Critique of the Right-to-Die Debate

Deconstructing DignityA Critique of the Right-to-Die Debate

Scott Cutler Shershow

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226088129

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The question of a “right to die” — or what is sometimes called euthanasia or assisted-suicide — remains today the subject of vexed legal, political, ethical and philosophic debates. The Sacred Part brings the thought of deconstruction to bear on this debate to uncover the knot of unexamined assumptions at its core. The book first outlines a strategy and protocol of deconstruction to be employed in the analyses that follow. To contextualize the contemporary debate, the book provides a selective genealogy, from Cicero to Kant, of the concept of “human dignity,” and considers its relation to two other abstractions: “sovereignty” and “sanctity.” The book also considers a few outstanding examples of the philosophic approach to suicide in general. The concept of dignity proves to be characterized by a strange groundlessness by which it denotes the value of humanity in terms of a shifting relation of calculable and incalculable value. Similarly, the common theological and ethical prohibition of suicide proves to be recurrently troubled by a figure of sacrificial calculation. Such problems account for the unacknowledged contradictions that continue to emerge in the contemporary debate about a right to die. Finally, The Sacred Part rethinks the fundamental opposition at work in this question by envisioning a just care: a mutual commitment to one another that, making practically and economically possible the maintenance of life to its mortal limit, would correspondingly make possible a practical right to decide for death.