“Terminalism” — discrimination against the dying — is the unseen prejudice of our times: In hospice care and hospitals, we prioritize those with more life to live over those who are terminally ill. What is that, if not prejudice? (Jonny Thomson, 11/11/23, Big Think)
Reed believes that a lot of people will find it somewhat ridiculous to call these instances a kind of discrimination. When presented with limited resources, surely it’s better to focus on those who have longer to live? In other words, isn’t it okay to value longevity over the moribund?
Reed calls this a structural “terminalist prejudice,” with little philosophical justification for it. He argues that “many of us tend to think, explicitly or implicitly, that a worthwhile life involves both the kind of life that has a future and also enables a person to ‘contribute meaningfully’ to society.”
We don’t want to see ourselves as cruel or prejudiced. We don’t want to accept that we are privately and socially devaluing human life based on our terminalist biases. Dying people are human beings as well. They have brothers and sisters; sons and daughters; or wives and husbands. They read books, watch TV, talk, laugh, and reminisce. If all humans have rights, the dying have rights, too. They are valuable in themselves, not for some abstract, unknown “contribution” they might make. As Reed puts it, “The reason that terminalism matters is that dying persons matter.”
“Life unworthy of life” as the Nazis called it.