Chapter 7: Matters of Life and Death
INTRODUCTION The intentional deprivation of life has been widely regarded as one of the most sinful acts a person can engage in. This chapter will mainly focus on cannibalism and capital punishment, but we must first clarify the nature of lifedepriving acts and intentions. As ever this discussion is rooted in economics; a detailed philosophical treatment of the issues in this chapter can be found in Glover (1977). The right to life seems initially to be a simple concept; however, we quickly get into problems of what it is that any such right entitles one to. According to two economists writing on the relationship between economics and philosophy, the libertarian view is that ‘The right to life . . . is a right not to be killed, not a right to be given subsistence’ [Hausman & MacPherson (1993, p. 703)]. Such a view rules out the death of individuals, through poverty caused by the greed of others, as a sin on the part of the ‘others’. As phrased, it is ambiguous on the contentious areas of euthanasia, abortion, artificial insemination/surrogacy and all attempts to ‘create’ life by scientific means. The sustained interest in Mary Shelley’s 1818 tale of Dr Frankenstein’s monster suggests that opposition to such tinkerings with life is rooted in the ‘not natural’ idea of sin discussed in our first chapter. The crucial distinction, in secular humanitarian and ‘moderate’ religious thought, is between taking away something that exists and denying the conditions for something, which does not exist, from coming into being....
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