Liberalism's Troubled Search for Equality

Religion and Cultural Bias in the Oregon Physician-Assisted Suicide Debates

Robert P. Jones

In Liberalism’s Troubled Search for Equality, Robert P. Jones presents a penetrating examination of physician-assisted suicide that exposes unresolved tensions deep within liberal political theory. Jones asks why egalitarian liberal philosophers—most notably, Ronald Dworkin and John Rawls—support legalized physician-assisted suicide in direct opposition to groups of disadvantaged citizens they theoretically champion. Jones argues that egalitarian liberals ought to oppose physician-assisted suicide—at least until we find the political will to ensure access to health care for all. More broadly, Jones challenges progressives to find the heart of the liberal tradition not in allegedly neutral appeals to “choice” but in a renewed commitment to equality and social justice that welcomes public religious voices as allies.

“In this engrossing study of debates over physician-assisted suicide, Jones has issued a challenge to liberals. The old idea that liberalism is morally neutral and culturally unbiased will have to be discarded. But in doing so, liberals just may find allies among religious and other voices fighting for equality.” —Amy Sullivan, The Washington Monthly

”Liberalism’s Troubled Search for Equality is the most sophisticated analysis I have read that gives a social and philosophical context to the Oregon debate on assisted death. Jones’s meaningful discussion of moral values in liberal political philosophy incorporates strong scholarship and an impressive use of interviews and ethnography.” —Courtney S. Campbell, Oregon State University

“A fresh, challenging, and timely approach to the political intersections of religion and progressive politics. Cutting through the headlines on the contentious physician assisted suicide issue, Jones’s intellectually rigorous focus on equality and justice as the key to shaping an authentic liberal response will have great appeal across political and religious lines. His approach offers precisely the right prescription for a stronger progressive movement.” —Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Robert P. Jones is director and senior fellow at the Center for American Values in Public Life, People for the American Way Foundation.