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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 4, 1998

Bioethics and Medical Ethics

Patricia S. Mann
Pages 76-83

Meanings of Death

I examine the ways in which our cultural expectations with respect to death may be transformed by the legalization of assisted suicide. I suggest the inadequacy of the philosophical framework currently taken as the basis for discussing the advantages as well as the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide. I do not believe that individual autonomy is any sort of possibility for dying patients, regardless of the social policies that surround death in a society, insofar as our individual agency in this situation is necessarily intertwined with that of various relevant others. By means of a theory of agency relations, I attempt to show the dynamic ways in which we may all adjust to the option of assisted suicide as a preferred end-of-life option. My theory of agency relations does not deny individual choice; rather it explains the qualitative complexity of individual choice, as well as its dynamic social process of evolving.

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