Throughout the past few week in class we have been discussing morals and philosophers views on ethics. While diving into an exploration of some ethical issues one stood out for us, that topic being Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the intentional killing of another person as requested by them as they may be facing terminal, painful illness and would rather end their lives immediately than fade away slowly and painfully with time. There are different types of Euthanasia.
- Voluntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed has requested to be killed.
- Non-voluntary: When the person who is killed made no request and gave no consent.
- Involuntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed expressed a wish to the contrary.
- Assisted suicide: Someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that they will be used for this purpose. When it is a doctor who helps another person to kill themselves it is called “physician assisted suicide.”
- Euthanasia By Action: Intentionally causing a person’s death by performing an action such as by giving a lethal injection.
- Euthanasia By Omission: Intentionally causing death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water.
Euthanasia is currently illegal in most of Canada and many other countries around the world. As with all ethical problems, there are two side; for and against. The present law in Canada does not distinguish between euthanasia, assisted suicide and other forms of murder. The key consideration is the intention to cause death. Consent or motive – even one of compassion – does not change the reality of killing a human being.
People who are against Euthanasia are just that for a multitude of reasons.
Many believe that allowing Euthanasia to become a legal norm would weaken society’s value for human life. People with disabilities and illness may soon be viewed as burdens to society as they have the option to die sooner and no longer use up our hospital’s resources and space, a view that would negatively impact the mental health of millions of patients. Every human being has the right to be valued equally in society. By legalizing Euthanasia some may develop the mindset that the weak should simply be disposed of, a view that is detrimental to the equality of our society. Human life should not be a means to an end, it is a good in itself and should be treated as such.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that rational human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else. The fact that we are human has value in itself. Our inherent value doesn’t depend on anything else – it doesn’t depend on whether we are having a good life that we enjoy, or whether we are making other people’s lives better. We exist, so we have value. It applies to us too as we shouldn’t treat ourselves as a means to our own ends meaning that lives should not be taken for the sole reason that it seems like the most effective way to alleviate suffering. To do that, through the eyes of this moral argument, would be to disregard people’s inherent worth. This view is known as the Slippery slope argument, the idea that allowing something seemingly harmless to happen may enable it to eventually spiral and escalate to allowing more worse things, currently unthinkable things, to become the norm. If Euthanasia were to be legalized and made a norm, many believe that vulnerable people will be put under pressure to end their lives. It would be difficult, and possibly impossible, to stop people using persuasion or coercion to get people to request euthanasia when they don’t really want it.
Euthanasia is usually viewed from the viewpoint of the person who wants to die, but it affects other people too, and their rights should be considered.
- family and friends
- medical and other careers
- other people in a similar situation who may feel pressured by the decision of this patient
- society’s balance in general
To outline each and every argument against Euthanasia out there would make for a monstrous blog post, so instead here are some of the most common arguments against Euthanasia in point form:
- Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable
- Proper palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary
- There’s no way of properly regulating euthanasia
- Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill
- Allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives
- Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
- Euthanasia undermines the motivation to provide good care for the dying, and good pain relief
- Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives
- Moral pressure on elderly relatives by selfish families
- Moral pressure to free up medical resources
- Patients who are abandoned by their families may feel euthanasia is the only solution
In contrast, there are many who believe that Euthanasia is something that should be made legal for all people. There are a few different moral approaches that have come to this conclusion.
Consequentialism & Utilitarianism would focus on looking at the consequence of the affected people of the situation. John Stuart Mill said in his famous essay that
“good consequences are simply happiness, and happiness is pleasure and freedom from pain – not only physical pain but also distress of other kinds.”
The idea of this explains that there is the possibility of producing most pleasure and the least pain for everyone involved. Mills also stated
“ good consequences depend not only on the quantity of pleasure but also on the quality of the experiences which produce it and of the human being which is developed by them.”
According to this, the right action is something that promotes in oneself and others in a higher happiness.
Another approach to this issue would be Deontology, the idea that some or all actions are right or wrong in themselves because of the type of actions that they are. In this article by Elizabeth Telfer, she explains this concept by stating:
“Examples of these would be John Locke in the seventeenth century, Richard Price in the eighteenth century and David Ross and H. A. Prichard in the twentieth. Some Deontological philosophers speak in terms of duties, others of rights, but for our purposes they may be grouped together. However, we need to distinguish between two kinds of rights. Some rights, commonly called negative rights, are rights not to be treated in certain ways, and there are corresponding duties not to treat the owners of these rights in these ways. Other rights are positive rights to receive goods or services. Other people may have a duty to provide these, though it tends to be difficult to decide exactly who, as with such rights as the right to work.
There are two negative rights, found in most lists, which are particularly relevant to voluntary euthanasia. These are: the right not to be killed, corresponding to a duty not to kill, and the right to liberty corresponding to a duty to respect others’ liberty. I shall say a little about each of these. The notion of a duty not to kill seems at first to rule out euthanasia of any kind, and those who oppose euthanasia sometimes seem to think that all they need to do is to say ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in a suitably solemn voice. But we do not regard the prohibition of killing as absolute: we may think there can be justified wars or justified capital punishment, or that killing in self- defense or defense of others is justified. And it is easier to justify voluntary euthanasia than the killing in these other cases, where the person who dies does not choose to do so. If the reason why in general we ought not to kill is that life is a person’s most precious possession, then that reason can be overturned if the person no longer wants to live.”
The Moral theory of Egoism; the belief that the right action is always that which has the best consequences for the doer of the action, or agent, would further find that Euthanasia should be a legal right.Similar to topic one, this is more about how the doer of the action presents itself to something that benefits him/her. Such as a selfish family member that would rather have the money one gets from a fallen family member.Aristotle’s policy in life is not to pursue our own pleasure but to develop our own flourishing or foster our best selves. This however is the opposite of Egoism. One must find and develop a non-egoistic self. Someone who possesses moral virtues, which includes the act of regarding others values. Such as the idea of a death with dignity. Euthanasia lets someone have their values preserved and their better self is seen at the end, rather than a declined better self.
In general, those who are for Euthanasia believe that legalizing it and making it accessible to the people who are in dire pain would make their better self shine through at the end of their lifespan, would benefit many families and would give them the freedom to control their own lives.
Like many topics in this world, Euthanasia is extremely controversial. As it stands, Euthanasia is illegal in most of Canada, but there are many arguments against it. As is the case of all ethical situations, there are pro’s and con’s, what you believe and which philosopher you agree with is an opinion thats entirely up to you to form.