Dignity in Dependency: A Christian Communal Alternative to Physician-Assisted Suicide




Weaver, Sarah Catherine

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Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is one manner of dying that people may choose when diagnosed with a terminal illness. Many people who pursue PAS do so because they fear the loss of autonomy that accompanies dying and believe that they will also lose their dignity in the vulnerability and dependency of dying. This thesis intends to challenge the notion that dignity is inherently tied to autonomy, a notion that devalues the lives of individuals who are living and dying with diminished autonomy, and will offer an approach toward dying that honors the dignity of the all people. The rhetoric of supporters of PAS relies on an idea of personhood in which a person is only dignified if they are autonomous. This view does not account for the dignity of all people. This thesis will examine the status of PAS in the United States, focusing on the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon and the supporters of PAS that identify with the ‘death with dignity’ movement. Next, various accounts of personhood will be discussed, and attention will be paid to their accounts of autonomy and dignity. Lastly, this thesis will propose an approach to end-of-life care based on the medieval Christian literary tradition of ars moriendi, or the art of dying. Aspects of the ars moriendi, particularly cultivation of virtues for the dying person and imitation of the life and death of Jesus, will be reclaimed to support a Christian approach to dying well within community.