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Hastings Center Report

Burdening Others

Abstract: Many people are afraid they will, as they age or fall ill, become burdens to others. Some who fear this say they would be willing to hasten their own deaths—engaging in self-sacrifice through suicide, assisted suicide, or euthanasia—to avoid it. Still, some bioethicists and other critics of medical aid in dying reject the idea that fear of being a burden can be a good reason for self-sacrifice. They argue that dependency is nearly universal, emphasize that caregiving is a valuable pursuit, and raise concerns about the impact of aid-in-dying policies on vulnerable groups. After defining what it is to be a burden, articulating why being a burden is morally significant, and, crucially, distinguishing burdensomeness from what I call “mere dependency,” I defend the intuition that self-sacrifice can be justified by the desire to avoid being a burden and by the concern for the well-being of one’s caregivers that this choice implies.

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