Death's Distinctive Harm

American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (4):317-30 (2012)
Abstract
Despite widespread support for the claim that death can harm the one who dies, debate continues over how to rescue this harm thesis (HT) from Epicurus’s challenge. Disagreements focus on two of the three issues that any defense of HT must resolve: the subject of death’s harm and the timing of its injury. About the nature of death’s harm, however, a consensus has emerged around the view that death harms a subject (when it does) by depriving her of the goods life would’ve afforded had she continued living. This deprivation view of death’s harm (DV) derives some of its credibility from the general deprivation theory of which it is an instance: mortal harm is subject to the same kind of analysis plausibly given of other non-mortal harms. Furthermore, note that the weak formulation of HT—asserting only that death can inflict harm, not that it always or necessarily does—accommodates the intuition that instances of rational suicide and justifiable euthanasia present cases in which death fails to harm. DV is equipped to explain how in these cases the harms involved in continued existence outweigh the goods of which death deprives the subject. I agree that suicide can be rational and that euthanasia can be justifiable. Likewise I accept both HT and DV as far as they go. But they do not go far enough. Specifically, I argue here that death harms even those who die as a result of rational suicide or justifiable euthanasia; that death’s harm is neither undifferentiated nor wholly contingent, but multifaceted and partly necessary; that the necessary part of death’s harm is distinctive, inflicting a peculiar restriction on the autonomy of one who dies; and, regarding the timing and subject issues, that this restriction harm is inflicted on the antemortem subject prior to her death.
Keywords death  harm
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