We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
The right-to-die exception: How the discourse of individual rights impoverishes bioethical discussions of disability and what we can do about it


Major considerations of disability studies—such as provision of care, accommodation for disabled people, and issues surrounding institutionalization—have been consistently marginalized in American bioethical discourse. The right to die, however, stands out as a paradigmatic bioethical debate. Why do advocates for expanding the volition and self-direction of disabled people emerge from the periphery only to help those disabled people who choose death? And why do the majority of people assume an unrealistically low quality of life for those with disabilities? This paper will argue that the dominance of the Western liberal tradition in American culture motivates both these phenomena: by emphasizing individual rights over duties and responsibilities, assuming the isolated and independent rights-bearer as the prototypical person, and evoking an unrealistically atomistic view of human interaction. As an alternative, I offer a framework rooted in feminist ethics that emphasizes context, gives moral weight to human relationships, abandons the problematic ideal of a lone rights-bearer, and emphasizes the mutual vulnerability of embodied individuals.