The Face of the Good Death: Euthanasia and Levinas

Autumn/Winter 2016
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.04.2016

At various strata of the debate, the sense that arguments surrounding euthanasia are no longer making significant advances has provoked a variety of attempts to find alternative ethical approaches that might break with standard deadlocks. In this essay, we will trail one such move by giving a new account of what the ethical stance of Emmanuel Levinas might contribute towards the twin questions of the ethical justification and legalisation of euthanasia. Interpreting our fundamental relationship with the other in terms of the Biblical injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and refusing to draw any distinction between murder and other forms of killing, Levinas is commonly taken to have offered an ethical stance that is strongly opposed to euthanasia. Without disagreeing with this interpretation, we will offer an account of a further twist on this perspective that renders euthanasia ambiguously the exemplary ethical failure and the supreme culmination of ethics, simultaneously separating this ethical question entirely from legality.

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New Formations 89/90: Death and the Contemporary