The right-to-die debate has gone on for centuries, playing out most recently as a spectacle of protest surrounding figures such as Terry Schiavo. In Deconstructing Dignity, Scott Cutler Shershow offers a powerful new way of thinking about it philosophically. Focusing on the concepts of human dignity and the sanctity of life, he employs Derridean deconstruction to uncover self-contradictory and damaging assumptions that underlie both sides of the debate.
Shershow examines texts from Cicero’s De Officiis to Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals to court decisions and religious declarations. Through them he reveals how arguments both supporting and denying the right to die undermine their own unconditional concepts of human dignity and the sanctity of life with a hidden conditional logic, one often tied to practical economic concerns and the scarcity or unequal distribution of medical resources. He goes on to examine the exceptional case of self-sacrifice, closing with a vision of a society—one whose conditions we are far from meeting—in which the debate can finally be resolved. A sophisticated analysis of a heated topic, Deconstructing Dignity is also a masterful example of deconstructionist methods at work.
About the author
Scott Cutler Shershow is professor of English at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Puppets and ‘Popular’ Culture and The Work and the Gift, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press, and is also coeditor of Marxist Shakespeares. He lives in Davis, CA.
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