The phrase ‘the value of life’ is important in bioethics, particularly for those who hold the traditional views that life has intrinsic value and that the distinction between killing and allowing to die is valid. Ambiguities in the meaning of ‘the value of life,’ however, can lead to errors in medical ethical analysis by those who hold these traditional views. This essay notes three sources of such ambiguity: (1) three senses of the verb ‘is,’ (2) the difference between the transcendent and the transcendental, and (3) the difference between the transcendental and the empirical. On the basis of these distinctions, several conclusions are drawn: that the value of life is transcendental, not transcendent, both finite and priceless, that decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatments are always judgments about the qualities of a person’s life, so one cannot universally condemn “quality of life judgments,” that the traditional distinction between killing and allowing to die tracks the distinction between the transcendental and the empirical, that “life itself” is not a benefit of treatment, and that foregoing treatments that are not futile can be consistent with respect for the value of life.


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pp. 181-199
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