'-------------------------------------------------- Cascoly Books: Life's Dominion

Cascoly Books - Life's Dominion


Not light reading or a polemic, but rather a carefully and closely reasoned investigation of how one comes to decisions about matters involving the taking of life, with particular emphasis on doing so under the US Constitution

Arguments about abortion

…the American Constitution, understood as one of principle, provides a better form of government than any in which the legislative and executive branches of government are legally free to disregard fundamental principles of justice and decency. A constitution of principle, enforced by independent judges, is not undemocratic. On the contrary, it is a precondition of legitimate democracy that government is required to treat individual citizens as equals, and to respect their fundamental liberties and dignity. Unless those conditions are met, there can be no genuine democracy, because unless they are met, the majority has no legitimate moral title to govern.

Starting with an in-depth look at the arguments about abortion, Dworkin moves out to wider considerations of euthanasia and suicide. He shows how many of the classic arguments in these areas are actually closer to each other than most participants would think or admit, and then shows where continued dialog and discussion might be useful, without asking either side to compromise basic principles. One of Dworkin’s main concerns is to show that a principled interpretation of the constitution should be both a liberal and a conservative mandate. Even in the divisive issue of abortion, principled stand based on the inherent value of life helps both sides: 

Of course, if we centered the abortion controversy on the question of whether a fetus is a person with a right to live, then one state’s having the right to forbid abortion would not mean that another had the right to require it. But that does follow once we recognize that the constitutional question at stake is whether a state can impose on everyone on official interpretation of the inherent value of life. It would be intolerable for a state to require an abortion to prevent the birth of a deformed child. In the United States, no one doubts that such a requirement would be unconstitutional. But the reason why – because it denies a pregnant woman’s right to decide for herself what the sanctity of life requires her to do about her own pregnancy – applies with exactly equal force in the other direction. A state just as seriously insults the dignity of a pregnant woman when it forces her to the opposite choice. That the choice is approved by a majority is no better justification in the one case than in the other.  

Some further examples demonstrate the depth of his discussions, but can only hint at the fully developed arguments present in the book. 

.. the distinction between the question of what acts or events are in some creature’s interests and the question of what acts or events respect the sanctity of that creature’s life. 

…the appeal to the sanctity of life raises here the same crucial political and constitutional issue that it raises about abortion. Once again the critical question is whether a decent society will choose coercion or responsibility, whether it will seek to impose a collective judgment on matters of the most profound spiritual character on everyone, or whether it will allow and ask its citizens to make the most central, personality-defining judgment about their own lives for themselves.  

The great moral issues of abortion and euthanasia, which bracket life in earnest, have a similar structure. Each involves decisions not just about the rights and interests of particular people, but about the intrinsic, cosmic importance of human life itself. In each case, opinions divide not because some people have contempt for values that others cherish, but on the contrary, because the values in questions are at the center of everyone’s lives, and no one can treat

them as trivial enough to accept other people’s orders about what they mean. Making someone die in a way that others approve, but he believes a horrifying contradiction of his life, is a devastating, odious form of tyranny.


Also by Dworkin and highly recommended: Freedom's Law

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