In its March 27 issue, The New York Review of Books published what
has come to be known as "The Philosophers' Brief"--an amicus brief
written by six of the country's most distinguished moral philosophers in connection
with a pair of "right to die" cases that came before the Supreme Court earlier
this year. This important contribution to public discussion is part of The
New York Review's long tradition of publishing serious moral-philosophical
argument on issues of public controversy. (One small note of complaint: the
editors' choice of title suggests excessive reverence, reminiscent of Aquinas'
references to Aristotle as "The Philosopher." Editors should admire their
authors, not exalt them.)
Our current issue continues the discussion with a pair of articles on similar
themes. Vivian Rothstein offers a deeply personal set of moral reflections
on death and assisted suicide. Moral philosopher Frances Kamm offers an analytical
case in support of the moral permissibility of euthanasia and physician-assisted
suicide. Though Rothstein and Kamm argue in very different ways, they implicitly
converge in their skepticism about a central idea in the amicus brief:
that we can always move from the moral permissibility of letting a patient
die by removing treatment to the moral permissibility of assisted suicide.
If Rothstein and Kamm are right, then The Philosophers have not said The Last
Word on this profound subject.
On a lighter note: In our last issue I said we would be inviting responses
to Marjorie Perloff's essay on the Yasusada affair ("In Search of the Authentic
Other," Boston Review, April/May 1997). I also promised "vigilance
in combating the intellectual corruptions that Perloff's essay so powerfully
depicts." I had no idea just how much vigilance it would take to monitor the
responses. We had one doubly pseudonymous submission: a Japanese man's name
on the response, a woman's name on the cover letter, an American man's name
on the subsequent telephone message asking us to withdraw the submission.
Another response, printed here, was surrounded with suspicions about its true
authorship. Arthur Vogelsang captures the strangeness of the whole business
in his amusing contribution to this issue.