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Euthanasia, Philosophy, and the Law: A Jurist’s View from Madrid


In societies with an established system of rights, human dignity occupies the vertex of the moral statute. Freedom and equality are specific derivations of that higher value. Taking freedom and equality seriously necessarily means articulating a system of rights that places at its apex the value that unifies both: human dignity.

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1. The concept of dignity is, to a large extent, rather abstract. Identifying its concrete contents and dissecting its components is a complex task. It is simpler to point out determined situations as violations of human dignity. Nonetheless, human dignity presents an irreducible core, pervaded by the notions of autonomy and self-realization. See Peces-Barba G. La dignidad de la persona desde la Filosofía del Derecho. Madrid: Dykinson; 2003.

2. Cortina A. Bioethics and public reason: A report on ethics and public discourse in Spain. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2009;18:241–250 (this issue).

3. Dworkin R. Life's Dominion. New York: Vintage Books; 1994:189.

4. Lalatta Costerbosa M. Eutanasia e filosofia morale: L'autonomia e le sue insidie. In: Zanetti G, ed. Elementi di Etica Pratica. Rome: Carocci; 2003:190–1; Lecaldano E. Bioetica. Le scelte morali. Bari, Italy: Laterza; 1999:69.

5. See note 3, Dworkin 1994:195.

6. Rachels J. Euthanasia and the End of Life. New York: Oxford University Press; 1986:38.

7. Simón Lorda P, Couceiro Vidal A. Decisiones éticas conflictivas en torno al final de la vida: Una introducción general y un marco de análisis. In: Urraca S, ed. Eutanasia Hoy. Un Debate Abierto. Madrid: Noesis; 1996:313–54 at p. 336.

8. Jonsen AR, Siegler M, Winslade WJ. Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Clinical Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2002:131.

9. Foot P. Euthanasia. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1977;6(2):85–112 at p. 88.

10. Becchi P. I dilemi dell'eutanasia. Teoria Politica 1993;IX(1)123–49 at p. 126.

11. Gracia D. Historia de la eutanasia. In: de Gafo J. La Eutanasia y el Arte de Morir. Madrid: Universidad Pontificia de Comillas; 1990:13-32 at p. 30 (emphasis added).

12. Ferrater J, Cohn P. Etica Aplicada. Del Aborto a la Violencia. Madrid: Alianza; 1992:104.

13. See note 12, Ferrater, Cohn 1992:104.

14. See note 12, Ferrater, Cohn 1992:106.

15. Dworkin R, Nagel T, Nozick R, Rawls J, Scanlon TM, Jarvis Thomson J. Assisted suicide: The philosopher's brief. The New York Review of Books 1997;44(5):41–7.

16. See note 12, Ferrater, Cohn, 1992:107.

17. Mill JS. On Liberty. London: Penguin Classics; 1985:68.

18. See note 17, Mill 1985:68–9.

19. Dworkin G. Paternalism. In: Wasserstrom RA, ed. Morality and the Law. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 1971:110–1.

20. See note 19, Dworkin 1971:108.

21. Garzón Valdés E. ¿Es éticamente justificable el paternalismo jurídico? In: Garzón Valdés E. Derecho, Ética y Política. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Constitucionales; 1993:361–78 at p. 371.

22. Feinberg J. Voluntary euthanasia and the inalienable right to die. In: Feinberg J. Rights, Justice and the Bounds of Liberty. Essays in Social Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 1980:221–51.

23. See note 4, Lecaldano 1999:83.

24. Mendez Baiges V. Sobre Morir. Eutanasias, Derechos, Razones. Madrid: Trotta; 2002:54–7.

25. Küng H, Jens W. Morir con Dignidad. Un Alegato a Favor de la Responsabilidad. Madrid: Trotta; 1997:32.

This work is part of Proyecto Consolider-Ingenio 2010 “El tiempo de los derechos,” CSD2008-0007.

Translated from the Spanish original by Pablo Rodríguez del Pozo and Joseph J. Fins.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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