Michael Cholbi, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona – Philosophy, 3801 W. Temple Av., Pomona, California 91768, United States. Email:


This article addresses the question of whether the arguments for a duty to die given by John Hardwig, the most prominent philosophical advocate of such a duty, are sound. Hardwig believes that the duty to die is relatively widespread among those with burdensome illnesses, dependencies, or medical conditions. I argue that although there are rare circumstances in which individuals have a duty to die, the situations Hardwig describes are not among these.

After reconstructing Hardwig's argument for such a duty, highlighting his central premise that ill, dependent, or aged individuals can impose unfair burdens upon others by continuing to live, I clarify precisely what Hardwig intends by his thesis that many of us have a duty to die. I then show that an important disanalogy exists between an uncontroversial example in which an individual has a duty to die and the situations in which Hardwig proposes individuals have a duty to die. More specifically, in situations where a duty to die exists, an individual's having a duty to die logically implies that those she burdens have a right to kill that individual in self-defense. I then suggest that the burdens that ill, dependent, or aged individuals impose on their families, loved ones, or caregivers do not constitute the kind of threat that warrants the latter killing the former in self-defense. Hence, the duty to die is much rarer than Hardwig supposes.