From ars moriendi to assisted suicide: Bonhoefferian explorations into cultures of death and dying

Bernd Wannenwetsch

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The essay is intended to shed light on the back-stage of contemporary debates about death and the dying, and more specifically on newer trends that emphasise the importance of ‘dying well’ and the moral viability of a ‘good death’. It raises the question as to whether there is a hidden conceptual link between the high medieval tradition of ars moriendi and the modern trend towards embracing (assisted) suicide as a final expression of human autonomy and suggests that this link becomes visible only when death is theologically understood in a twofold way: according to its spiritual side on the one hand, and according to its physical on the other. Drawing inspiration from Bonhoeffer’s exposition of the biblical myth of the Fall and his insights into the link between thanatos and techne, the essay suggests that the compulsive fashion in which modern societies tend to shy away from any contact with the dying that is not mediated by technology or bureaucracy is owed to their refusal to acknowledge the dual character of death, as it is open to theological analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-440
Number of pages13
JournalStudies in Christian Ethics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011



  • ars moriendi
  • assisted suicide
  • Bonhoeffer
  • death
  • dying
  • euthanasia
  • technology

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