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The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 1, 1999

Ethics

Felicia Ackerman
Pages 189-201

Death, Dying, and Dignity

The word ‘dignity’ is a staple of contemporary American medical ethics, where it often follows the words ‘death with’. People unfamiliar with this usage might expect it to apply to one’s manner of dying—for example, a stately exit involving ceremonial farewells. Instead, conventional usage generally holds that “death with dignity” ends or prevents life without dignity, by which is meant life marked not by buffoonery, but by illness and disability. Popular examples of dignity-depleters include dementia, incontinence, and being “dependent on machines”—provided the machines are respirators rather than furnaces, refrigerators, and computers.

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