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J. L. A. Garcia Are Some People Better Off Dead? A Reflection Those truly dedicated to philosophy are, actually, concerned with only one thing—with dying and death. Plato, Phaedo 64a Etymologically, the term 'euthanasia' should mean 'good death' and the claims that, for some people, their dying would be a good thing for them, or that their lives are not worth living, still figure prominently in intellectual defenses of mercy killing.These claims also lurk behind the stronger claim, now often made, that in some circumstances people have a right to die. My goal here is to cast doubt on the doctrines tiiat someone's dying can be a good thing for that person, that some lives are not worth living , and that there can be a right to die. ' Let us begin with the thesis that a person can be better offdead. Plainly, nobody thinks that either dying or being dead is in itself a good thing for anybody. Nonetheless, some thinkers seem to hold that dying is sometimes instrumentally good for a person, that is, Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 Are Some People Better Off Dead? good because it frees someone from pain, indignity, or other misfortune . Why, however, is relief from these misfortunes good? Normally, it is good not to be in pain—that is, it is good to be free from pain because such relief makes our lives go better. Securing a better life was also part ofthe reason some ancient writers endorsed apatheia (freedom from passion). They believed a life was improved to the extent it was lived without distress and disturbance. Indeed, most ofthe benefits we can secure for people are benefits insofar as they improve lives. In the least controversial cases, we benefit people by helping to make their lives happier, more educated, more virtuous , and less troubled. This suggests that many things we think of as human goods are good for us only insofar as they are parts of human life..They are goods when and because they are attained in life. Being free from such troubles as anxiety, physical pain, and despondency is good inasmuch as it yields a less troubled life, a life more nearly approaching the Stoics' and Epicureans' ideals of tranquility. When it is cut off from this uncontroversially beneficial result, as when you free me from pain by causing (or allowing) me to die, there is no explanation of the way in which this "relief" benefits (or does good). Indeed, it is not clear what such an explanation could be like. Dying can, in principle, bring you no good because, after death,you will no longer exist. Of course, it is a central element of Christian thought that a human being is a composite of body and soul, and that, while the body survives death only a short time, the soul is eternal. It is also sound doctrine that the disembodied soul can undergo certain experiences (in heaven, purgatory, or hell), and it is a long-cherished belief that the saved ones, at least, can act in response to our petitions. That there is much that is philosophically difficult in these beliefs, I will not deny. However, nothing in this tradition entails that the human person herself survives death, in effect, that we are immortals. Indeed, if the human being is an integral substance composed ofbody and soul, it follows that when these com69 70 Logos ponents are separated at death, the human being ceases to exist. Dying is not the annihilation of the self; something of us survives. However, it is the self's destruction. Death is not an illusion, even if it has lost its sting. All men are mortal, as the Schoolbook syllogism says. And women too. Christian hope lies in the resurrection of the body, when body and soul will be reunited, and those who have died will again live. Some martyrs may have welcomed death, of course, thinking that it would only hasten their being in the full presence of God; but, while we admire the strength of their faith, we needn't embrace the shakiness oftheir metaphysics.That their disembodied souls hasten to God does not mean that they do...


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pp. 68-81
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