Kindness and the Ethics of Physician-Assisted Suicide

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In this paper I explain four features of kindness by examining how four artworks depict them: Giotto di Bondone’s painting of St. Francis of Assisi giving his robe to a beggar, the character Bishop Charles-Francois Myriel in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the person Adam in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and the role of Sonya Semyonovna Marmeladov in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. These four examples describe kindness as supererogatory, altruistic, a belief about how the world ought to be, and the possibility of unction. With this understanding of kindness, I examine the most likely moral motives of the physician in physician-assisted suicide and find that the practice does not display the four characteristics of kindness but rather displays the emotion (though it may be sincere) of condescending pity towards the unfortunate people who deem their lives are devoid of the value to live.

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Cite as: Dennis Sansom, “Kindness and the Ethics of Physician-Assisted Suicide,” Ethics & Medicine 36, no. 3 (2020): 153–173.

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About the Author

Dennis L. Sansom, PhD
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Dennis L. Sansom, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Samford University, where he has been teaching since 1988. Most of his research is in medical ethics, the relationship between literature and philosophy, and issues dealing with the philosophy of religion found in the history of philosophy.

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