What is euthanasia?
The delibrate killing of a person for their own benefit.
Physician Assisted sucide: doctor provides drugs that will end a patient life, usually the patient takes the drug themselves but if the doctor adminstrates the drug then its
- Active Euthanasia: the doctor will provide medication with express purpose of shortening the patient life
- Passive Euthanasia: the doctor will withdraw esstential treatment, leading to the persons death
Euthanasia can be voluntary (where the patient makes a specific choice), non-voluntary (where the patient is not in a position to make a choice, e.g. in a Persistent Vegetative State) or in-voluntary (where the patient does not want to die).
What issues are raised by euthanasia?
Is it wrong to Kill?
Is killing the same as letting someone die?
What would happen if we legalised euthanasia?
- Some people campaign constantly, arguing that there are many people suffering greatly who would benefit hugely if euthanasia were legalised. The response given by some is that the number of people who would feel threatened by a law allowing euthanasia is much greater - the elderly, people with disabilities, people who are unwell etc.
Do we have a right to die?
- Some people claim that we have the right to die others say we have a right to diginity and euthanasia can provided a dignifed, peaceful death, rather than a prolonged period of lost diginity and great suffering
Case studies of euthanasia
- Dianne Pretty was suffering from motor neurone disease and wanted to die. She and her husband petitioned the courts to give immunity from prosecution to her husband if he were to help her to kill herself. He did not get immunity, the disease took its inevitable course, and Dianne Pretty died in hospital under exactly the sort of conditions she had wanted to avoid.
- A documentary crew recorded the suffering and loss of dignity that Dianne Pretty endured, and this made her case very well known in England. The court cases, show an interesting range of ethical responses, ending with the statement from the European Courts only weeks before she died that Dianne Pretty did not have the right to die.
- The deontological argument about the 'right to die' is not the only position to come out of the courts. An earlier statement said that, though in Dianne Pretty's case her horrific suffering would justify assisting her suicide, to change the law would lead to more harm than good. In other words, a rule utilitarian response was chosen, even though an act utilitarian would disagree.
Ethical responses to euthanasia (1)
The Hedonic Calculus can be used to weigh up the pleasure and pain caused by two courses of the action or not doing so. Bentham would consider the Intensity of the pain and how long it lasts. He would have to weigh that against the number of people affected and consider whether keeping someone alive woud lead to other pleasures. He would also need to add up the amount of other 'pains' the patient would face e.g. loss of dignity and consider the chances that there' might be a cure or treatment in the future
In most cases, the degree of pain is so great that Bentham's theory would support euthanasia.
Ethical responses to euthanasia (2)
Situation Ethics is easy to apply here. Quite simply, you can forget the rules about killing, because the most loving thing to do may well be to give someone a peaceful death. Situation Ethics is Personal - it puts people before rules. It is also Pragmatic, allowing us to do whatever works best in the circumstances. What is the use in keeping someone alive to suffer?
Relativism is at the heart of the theory. This means that in any situation, when faced with a difficult decision about whether to help someone to die, we need to act out of love, which means ignoring any hard and fast rule and doing what the situation requires.
Situation Ethics isn't helpful when it comes to legislation, largely because it would ignore any rules that were made anyway if the situation demanded it. Situationists may well be worried that a law that allowed euthanasia might put pressure on people who didn't want to die. They might argue that there need to be great safeguards against the misuse of any euthanasia rules. However, they are likely to argue in favour of allowing euthanasia. A situation ethicist would probably say that, even if euthanasia was not allowed, it may well be right to break the law and help someone to die.
Ethical responses to euthanasia (3)
Natural Moral Law
Natural Moral Law deals in moral absolutes - secondary precepts that cannot be broken regardless of the situation, The end never justifies the means, so no amount of suffering can justify an 'evil act' (Do good, avoid evil).
One of the primary precepts is to 'protect and preserve the innocent'. It is an absolute moral rule that you should never kill an innocent person. It would seem that euthanasia is always wrong. You couldn't argue for assisted suicide, as the same principle would outlaw killing oneself even if you could justify helping someone to die , which is unlikely.
While Natural Law clearly doesn't support active euthanasia, it may well allow an action whose intention is merely to relieve pain, even if the action leads to death.
Christian responses to euthanasia
What the Bible says
- In Job 1:21 it says "What God gives God takes away"
What the Church says
- The Roman Catholic Church is completely against euthanasia, seeing it in the same light as murder.
- The Church of England disagrees with euthanasia. Theyare the same as the Roman Catholic Church in their belief in the sanctity of human life. However, they also teach that it is not always right to strive to keep a patient alive for as long as possible regardless of their quality of life.
- The Salvation Army believes that people do not have the right to death by their own decision...Only God is sovereign over life and death...the grace of God can sustain through any ordeal or adversity.
- The Orthodox Church opposes murder, whether it be suicide, euthanasia or whatever, and regardless if it is cloaked in terms like 'death with dignity.' A person contemplating ending it all because of despondency instead should turn to God for strength and support. The Book of Job serves as a prime example of how someone overcomes extreme suffering by staying focused on God.