Thursday, September 16, 2010

Selling Life-Years

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior has an interesting piece on whether we should be able to sell years of our lifespans.

This is, I think, exactly the question addressed by J. David Velleman in his article Against the Right to Die, wherein he argues that giving people a choice can make them less well-off, even if, given the choice, they choose correctly. Velleman is concerned with assisted suicide - shortening lifespan to avoid suffering near the end of life. Ozimek is concerned with shortening lifespan to promote other values, but the moral logic is, I think, the same. I respond to Velleman's article in my piece Velleman's Sorrow of Options.

Also exactly on point is Velleman's related article A Right of Self-Termination? in which he argues that it is morally unproblematic to force people to remain alive, because by choosing to shorten our lifespans, we somehow abrogate human dignity, which belongs to everyone, not just to ourselves. Velleman thinks, for instance, that accepting a shorter lifespan in exchange for the pleasure of smoking is morally wrong and an affront to all humanity. I respond to this in my piece Respecting and Erasing, essentially challenging the notion that limiting the span of something in time denies its dignity.

Other writers think that dignity, as distinct from autonomy, is just stupid.

3 comments:

  1. Shortening one's lifespan makes it less abundant and abundance is often linked to decreased value, if we're going to get all economic with the human lifespan. For me, suicide as ending pain does involve the acknowledgment that human life is not infinitely valuable. The assumption that human life is infinitely valuable is silly, I think. Most people accept it as a premise, but don't seem to think about it this explicitly. It is fine if he is thinking about it explicitly and still deciding that human life is infinitely valuable, but I disagree. Sometimes there are facts and disagreement among them changes nothing. However, this is a matter of personal values. Just as Velleman believes that my suicide is an affront to all humanity, including himself; his insistence that everyone follow his rules about valuing human life is an affront to the values and freedoms of others, including myself.

    But of course, when someone decides to value something infinitely, nothing can ever serve as an exception, because nothing else is of infinite value. There is never even any allowance for there to be some unknown thing of infinite value that might devalue, in this case, human life. I happen to think that this is a lazy way of thinking: one never has to seriously weigh the value of things in comparison to human life because human life always wins by definition. It means you can declare everyone else wrong and smugly leave the discussion, because, from that perspective, there is nothing to discuss. I also think this is a very anti compassionate stance because it does not allow for a compassionate end to life, nor does it allow for empathy or understanding for those with other perspectives. I consider it chauvinism.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In practice, most people's description of life's value as "infinite" is just unthinking rhetoric based on their own life and the lives of people who are "good", "play by the rules", etc. In practice, most people think of life as being of "immense but finite value". Look for further than death penalty advocates for proof. Also, even if you are against the death penalty, who would you make more effort to rescue from a dangerous situation if you had to rescue only one: an ordinary average working Joe or Jane, or a known violent criminal or even a non-violent con artist?

    As for the broader issue of the post, whether suicide is an affront to human dignity - I say that suicide ought to be a personal choice, though certainly not one made without consulting family and friends. This is especially true in the terminal-illness instances.

    Also, killing one's self says nothing about the dignity of even that person, let alone all other humans. At least this seems quite correct if you believe true human dignity necessitates Freedom to Choose your own destiny. I admit this gets into the age-old battle of individual rights vs rights of others, but there's always the quality of live dimension to look at. "Death With Dignity" in terminal illness cases especially seems to be gaining favor among more and more people.

    Having said that, I think if the depression causing the suicidal feelings can be alleviated, I think we should make every effort to cure the depression, and thereby much of the motivation for suicide. Even so, that does not render suicide an affront on the dignity of ALL humans, or even the dignity of the individual. After all, there are instances where one may say it's more dignified to simply end life rather than fight a hopeless battle.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Another thought. When I was in hospital for being suicidal, something I was told was that suicide was not an option. In order to leave the hospital, I had to stop being so suicidal. In order to stop being so suicidal, every time I convinced myself that I was so awful, such a terrible person, that I was not worthy of any end to my suffering, even by suicide. To force someone to stay alive despite massive suffering is to value a person's life over the person. I think is a massive affront to the dignity of that person.

    ReplyDelete

Tweets by @TheViewFromHell