Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die

Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die

Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die

Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die


Margaret Pabst Battin has established a reputation as one of the top philosophers working in bioethics today. This work is a sequel to Battin's 1994 volume The Least Worst Death. The last ten years have seen fast-moving developments in end-of-life issues, from the legalization ofphysician-assisted suicide in Oregon and the Netherlands, to a furor over proposed restrictions of scheduled drugs used for causing death, and the development of "NuTech" methods of assistance in dying. Battin's new collection covers a remarkably wide range of end-of-life topics, including suicideprevention, AIDS, suicide bombing, serpent-handling and other religious practices that pose a risk of death, genetic prognostication, suicide in old age, global justice and the "duty to die." It also examines suicide, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia in both American and internationalcontexts. As with the earlier volume, these new essays are theoretically adroit but draw richly from historical sources, fictional techniques, and ample factual material.


I want to talk in this collection about dying, about how we do it—and how we could do it, if we weren’t so caught in conceptual confusion, misleading assumptions, bad argument, and political friction over this issue. How we die, and how we could die, is an issue under sustained debate in the United States and in much of the developed world. The currently visible controversies over voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands and physician-assisted suicide in Oregon are, I believe, just iceberg-tips of a huge undercurrent of ongoing social ferment. Indeed, the social and political currents now in motion—some of which will be explored in this book—may well determine how we can and must die.

I have to confess that I’ve been thinking about this issue for twenty-five or thirty years. I go back and forth about it, and although I have a continuously articulated position in print I am still always plagued by the question of whether I should change my mind. You’ll see some currents swirling forth, some eddying back, a process of continuing inquiry and reflection that moves like a river, sluggish here, rushing there, heading in one general direction but forever forming backwaters, meanders, waterfalls, and huge deep lakes along the way. How we do and how we could do our dying is still a live issue for me, a troubling one.

The Great Divide Concerning How We Die

To begin to see the theoretical poles that define the scope and central problematic of this issue, think first about Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman . . .

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