Assisted dying in the context of biopower

  • Anna E. Kubiak Polish Academy of Sciences
Keywords: assisted dying, biopower, biopolitics, thanatopolitics, bioethics, physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, medicalisation, juridification


The aim of this article is to establish a debate over assisted dying in a biopolitical context, i.e. the juridico-medical form of biopower that influences, to the highest extent, issues of life and death. The old rule of the sanctity of life is replaced by a distinction between lives worth and not worth living. In the face of new challenges, issues of death as unsocialised become the object of the calculation in the arguments of biopower. Death is still managed at controlling institutions: doctors are priests, equipped with life supporting devices, deciding whether or not to push a button (e.g. a respirator switch-off) and having means to prolong or to terminate life. National authorities, i.e. courts, coroners, and parliaments, take part in ultimate decisions. However, there are growing margins, “grey zones”, to biopower. New bodies are created, between life and death, neomortos, hybrids, whose boundaries are blurred. Transgression of these limits is, in the current culture, associated with power and danger. The author asks a fundamental question: do the debates over and social movements concerning assisted dying break the system of biopower or are they simply extensions of the existing discussion?