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Deconstructing DignityA Critique of the Right-to-Die Debate$
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Scott Cutler Shershow

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226088129

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226088266.001.0001

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Dignity and Sanctity

Dignity and Sanctity

(p.29) Chapter Two Dignity and Sanctity
Deconstructing Dignity

Scott Cutler Shershow

University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers the semantic structure of two abstractions, dignity and sanctity, both individually and in terms of their relation and potential opposition. In the contemporary debate about a right to die, one side claims to uphold an ideal of “death with dignity,” the other an ideal of “the sanctity of life.” Yet it proves to be impossible either to distinguish rigorously between dignity and sanctity or to force them into simple identity. Dignity appears in contemporary parlance to convey a triangle of meanings that are related but potentially distinct: worth or value, status or rank, and bearing or comportment. The idea of “the sanctity of life” similarly contains inherent contradictions and inconsistencies, not least because such a concept remains obviously at the command of a sovereign “right to death.” Partisans on both sides of the debate about a right to die are thus constantly forced to reclaim and redefine one or the other (or both) of these principles.

Keywords:   Dignity, Death with Dignity, Sanctity of Life, Leon R. Kass

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