In Human Dignity and Assisted Death. pp. 143-160 (2018)

Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh
That Kant’s moral thought is invoked by both advocates and opponents of a right to assisted dying attests to both the allure and and the elusiveness of Kant’s moral thought. In particular, the theses that individuals have a right to a ‘death with dignity’ and that assisting someone to die contravenes her dignity appear to gesture at one of Kant’s signature moral notions, dignity. The purposes of this article are to outline Kant’s understanding of dignity and its implications for the ethics of assisted dying. According to Kant, that which has dignity must be treated as an end in itself and may not permissibly be exchanged for that which merely has price. Kant’s reasoning thus seems to preclude acts of self-killing, including voluntary assisted dying, that rest on individual self-interest, since a person’s interests merely have price. However, a recognizably Kantian view of dignity can permit assisted dying under two sets of circumstances: First, it can be permissible for agents who anticipate a degradation of their rational agency due to conditions such as dementia to direct others to end their lives once sufficiently demented. In so doing, such agents in effect exercise a right to impose obligations on others regarding how their bodies, which will at some future point no longer be the vessels of their rational agency, are to be disposed of. Second, Kant errs in supposing that our dignity can stem solely from our moral personality, i.e., from our capacity to abide by universalizable moral principles. Rather, complete dignity also requires the capacity for setting discretionary ends and the means to those ends, i.e., the dignity of humanity. Individuals with prolonged and intense depression, in severe pain, or with serious disability may lack humanity while retaining their moral personality. In such cases, I propose that their opting to end their lives, with or without the assistance of others, does not amount to exchanging their dignified selves for something which merely has price and is therefore not objectionable on Kantian grounds.
Keywords Kantian ethics  suicide  assisted dying  dignity
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

A Right of Self‐Termination?J. David Velleman - 1999 - Ethics 109 (3):606-628.
Kant on Euthanasia and the Duty to Die: Clearing the Air.Michael Cholbi - 2015 - Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (8):607-610.
What is a Death with Dignity?Jyl Gentzler - 2003 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (4):461 – 487.
A Kantian Defense of Prudential Suicide.Michael Cholbi - 2010 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (4):489-515.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Kantian Ethics, Dignity and Perfection.Paul Formosa - 2017 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
What is a Death with Dignity?Jyl Gentzler - 2003 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (4):461 – 487.
A Kantian Defense of Prudential Suicide.Michael Cholbi - 2010 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 7 (4):489-515.
Human Dignity and the Right to Assisted Suicide.Baumann Holger & Schaber Peter - 2017 - In Sebastian Muders (ed.), Human dignity and assisted death. Oxford University Press. pp. 218-229.
Euthanasia - Who Is in Control?Gregory K. Pike - 2011 - Bioethics Research Notes 23 (2):31.
An Analysis of “Dignity”.Philip R. S. Johnson - 1998 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 19 (4):337-352.
Death, Dignity, and the Theory of Value.Daniel P. Sulmasy - 2002 - Ethical Perspectives 9 (2):103-130.
Kant's Conception of Human Dignity.Oliver Sensen - 2009 - Kant-Studien 100 (3):309-331.


Added to PP index

Total views
231 ( #47,555 of 2,498,739 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
57 ( #14,290 of 2,498,739 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes