What does a death have dignity? In modern healthcare, the wide use of new technology has generated confusion around how to define and protect human dignity, especially in the case of death and dying. Those who advocate the legalization of assisted suicide often appeal to the right to “die with dignity” and the right to individual autonomy. The problem is that it is very difficult to justify one particular understanding of human dignity in the contemporary pluralistic world through a rational formulation without defining dignity.
In this paper, the authors attempt to respond to the current debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide from a Confucian perspective. The paper first defines the Confucian concept of human dignity and shows how the concept could be used in the case of dignity in death and dying. The authors argue that in Confucianism, there are two kinds of dignity: One is intrinsic dignity, which is endowed by Heaven on everyone, and the other is extrinsic dignity, which arises from the cultivation of virtues. This extrinsic dignity is also called “personal dignity.” Unlike the individual-oriented human dignity model, Confucian ethics argue for a family-oriented model of human dignity. That is to say, the Confucian ideal of human dignity is not satisfied by a concept of human dignity that is centered on individual rights and freedom of choice; instead, it focuses on relations in a concrete community in which a person’s human dignity is actualized through morals and virtues. In the case of euthanasia and assisted suicide, therefore, the decision should not be solely based on freedom of choice, but on what kinds of values and obligations the person has. In addition, the paper shows that the Confucian view of human dignity does not support the idea of prolonging life through technological means without restraints.