Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gendered Autonomy: No Physician-Aid-in-Dying for Women

The campaign in Washington State for a law allowing voluntary physician-aid-in-dying (PAID) is the subject of a piece in The New York Time Magazine this past Sunday. In the article, bioethicist Susan Wolf, who opposes PAID, is quoted extensively on “the woman question” – how to think about the implications of such a law for women. It troubles me that Wolf is often identified as feminist and progressive; her views on women and PAID strike me as grounded in paternalism and privilege. Instead of deploying very real feminist worries about sexism and gendered distinctions in quality-of-life assessments to empower women, she provides the justification for the control of our choices in dying by denying that “autonomy” can be properly attributed to anyone other than “a person of means untroubled by oppression.” Clearly, effective moral agency is a function of privileging or disadvantaging social identities as well as economic and caregiving resources. Rather than making sexism an excuse to deny women choices in dying, feminists should devote themselves to securing the conditions for women’s effective moral agency in this and other matters of choice in medical decision-making.

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