The Ethics of Death

The Ethics of Death: Religious and Philosophical Perspectives in Dialogue

Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    The Ethics of Death
    Book Description:

    For the living, death has a moral dimension. When we confront death and dying in our own lives and in the lives of others, we ask questions about the good, right, and fitting as they relate to our experiences of human mortality. When others die, the living are left with moral questions—questions that often generate personal inquiry as to whether a particular death was “good” or whether it was tragic, terrifying, or peaceful. In The Ethics of Death, the authors, one a philosopher and one a religious studies scholar, undertake an examination of the deaths that we experience as members of a larger moral community. Their respectful and engaging dialogue highlights the complex and challenging issues that surround many deaths in our modern world and helps readers frame thoughtful responses. Unafraid of difficult topics, Steffen and Cooley fully engage suicide, physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, capital punishment, abortion, and war as areas of life where death poses moral challenges.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-8757-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The title of this book is odd. Although ethical issues often take center stage in discussions of dying, particularly around actions to hasten, inflict, or prevent death, the idea of an “ethics of death” is peculiar. Ethics is to a large extent concerned with action, and death is not an action. It is more like a state, but to call it a state implies a state of being—namely, the state of being dead—and that is not quite right either.¹ Ethics is concerned with decision making, and while we can make decisions about what to do with someone who...

  4. 1 Ethical Perspectives
    (pp. 7-52)

    In all moral decision making, there are two necessary components: a value theory and a normative theory. The value theory tells us what things, including objects and properties, such as being pleased or being a living thing, have a worth that should be taken into account in some way when making a decision. Basically, values serve as the data in ethics. Normative theories, on the other hand, say how to use the data. Normative principles classify actions as morally right or wrong, or morally required, forbidden, or permissible. They also classify people, actions, and objects as good or bad. But...

  5. 2 Abortion
    (pp. 53-100)

    It would be trite but true to say that abortion is a contentious moral issue in the United States, although it seems less of a problem in other areas of the world. Many people’s feelings run deep on the issue, which makes it a very personal thing for them because it challenges who they think they are as moral agents. An unfortunate consequence is that both sides have done considerable demonizing of those holding opposing viewpoints. Of course, once demonization happens, or is even a live option, then it is obvious that people are failing to see each other as...

  6. 3 The Death Penalty
    (pp. 101-148)

    Discussions about the death penalty seem fewer and less volatile than in years past. Reasons for this include, but are not limited to, shifting attitudes about the death penalty and more pressing needs demanding attention, such as a continuing focus on abortion in some areas of the world and on war in others.

    However, the death penalty remains a critical moral issue, in part because it involves the state’s ability to kill its own people as well as visiting citizens from other countries, provided that the latter have transgressed some law that permits capital punishment. There are relatively few countries...

  7. 4 War
    (pp. 149-184)

    Although we generally begin each chapter by sketching out the arguments for or against a position, war does not lend itself as easily to this approach. This difference is likely caused by how bad wars are and the resulting destruction of life, relationships, stability, property, and other goods on which individuals and societies depend. Because of what it is and what it does, war needs to be justified in each and every situation in which someone claims it is a viable option.

    War is a major cause of death in the world today, mainly because it is the leading cause...

  8. 5 Suicide
    (pp. 185-228)

    Anyone thinking about the issue of suicide generally begins with negative attitudes and conclusions on the subject, although there is a clear distinction between suicides done for purely bad reasons and those done as sacrifices for others.¹ Suicide is just an evil thing and wrong to do, as the vast majority of folks will tell us. That is why we have major programs in place to prevent people from taking their lives, one of which is the It Gets Better Project founded by Dan Savage.² The goal is to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers deal with suicidal thoughts...

  9. 6 End of Life I: Physician-Assisted Suicide
    (pp. 229-268)

    We continue with an analysis of end-of-life issues, focusing in this chapter specifically on physician-assisted suicide, or PAS. PAS clearly falls under the heading of euthanasia, but because of the ethical commitment health care professionals make to work diligently toward the well-being of their patients (beneficence), it poses unique problems that need to be drawn out in their own way. In what follows, what is said about PAS applies equally well to anyone in the health care field who would play a role in active or passive voluntary euthanasia.¹

    I will begin as always with the main philosophical arguments for...

  10. 7 The End of Life II: Futility/Euthanasia
    (pp. 269-314)

    Medical science has extended life in ways that could not have been imagined a mere hundred years ago. Medical technologies, advanced life-sustaining treatments, new drug therapies, and all kinds of emergency interventions have contributed to holding death at bay as people face the end of their lives. Sometimes the difficulties surrounding end-of-life situations come to widespread public notice, as happened with Terri Schiavo in the most famous medical ethics case of recent years. Due to the success of EMTs who defibrillated her seven times before transporting her to the hospital, Terri Schiavo was kept alive and then went on to...

  11. 8 The Value of Death
    (pp. 315-318)
    Lloyd Steffen

    Deathis a value-laden term. The term reaches our ears shrouded in negativity; and to hear the word ‘death’ uttered can, as W. H. Auden put it, “stop all the clocks.” Death, even the mention of it, can be trusted to arouse feelings of apprehension as we suppress the anxiety that attaches to it and try to avoid thoughts of death, especially as those thoughts turn personal and the death that comes into view is our own. When we do confront death, we often do so with wariness, a sense of unreality and even fear. Death is a mystery to...

  12. Index of Names
    (pp. 319-322)
  13. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 323-325)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)