Killing versus totally disabling: a reply to critics

Journal of Medical Ethics 39 (1):12-14 (2013)
We are very grateful to the commentators for taking the time to respond to our little article, ‘What Makes Killing Wrong?’ They raise many points, so we cannot respond to them all, but we do want to head off a few misinterpretations.Our critics in this journal avoid one careless misinterpretation, but less informed readers have pressed this misinterpretation in popular venues, so we need to start by renouncing it. We do not deny that killing humans is morally wrong. To the contrary, we argue that killing humans is almost always morally wrong, because killing humans is almost always disabling, and disabling is morally wrong. Here we do not disagree with common sense. We also do not deny that killing partially or even profoundly disabled humans is morally wrong. People who are disabled in some ways still retain many other valuable abilities. This should be obvious. To kill a person with some disabilities but many other valuable abilities is to disable that person, so that is morally wrong. Here again we do not disagree with common sense. The one and only surprising application of our theory is to humans who are alive but totally disabled. We argue that, apart from special circumstances, it is not morally wrong to kill live humans who are totally disabled, whereas many people think that it would be morally wrong to kill even in these extreme and unusual cases, because they assume that killing is morally wrong for reasons apart from disabling.What could those reasons be? DeGrazia mentions three possibilities. First, ‘the harm of killing —in those ordinary cases in …
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DOI 10.1136/medethics-2012-100948
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