Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Letters to the Editor

Dignity is Intrinsic

The editorial note ["Life and Death With Dignity," Winter 1997] preceding your article on assisted suicide contains a description of human dignity that is worrisome. If, in fact, we have come to believe that "human dignity rests in the ability to make and to execute decisions based on one's own values and plans," then we already are well down the conceptual slippery slope of euthanasia.

A more Catholic perspective holds that human dignity is intrinsic. It can not be chosen, conferred, or taken away; it can only be recognized or ignored. Individuals do not lose their dignity by losing control of decision making, bladder, or bowels. If human dignity is associated with choice, will those no longer able to choose become less worthy of our protection, our caring, and, ultimately, our health-care dollars?

Michael Grady, M.D.
Silverton, Oregon

Family Obligations

"The Tie That Binds" [by June Carbone, Winter 1997] was interesting, but I believe the authors cited have a flawed approach to families.

The family is a group in which each member has an obligation to the others. That obligation is to promote the welfare of the other members because the good of each member is the good of the others.

This obligation exists on the part of the spouses because of their commitment to each other as expressed in their marriage vows. The obligation exists on the part of the parents to the children when the parents decide to include those children within the group, either by birth or adoption. The obligation exists on the part of the children to the parents and even other siblings because the children receive the benefits of participating in the family group.

Thus, it is not just the commitment to children that is central here; it is the commitment of family members to one another. Exclusive focus on children is harmful to the family, just as exclusive focus on the parents is harmful to the family. Each approach is flawed.

Anthony Diepenbrock
San Jose, California