Euthanasia, An Introduction - Religious Studies, Ethics [AS]

An introduction to the euthanasia section of the ethics module for AS religious studies. 

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Euthanasia literally means 'a good death' from the Greek 'eu' meaning 'well' or 'easy' and 'thanatos' meaning 'death'. 

Most ethicists would avoid this definition however, as it makes value judgment about the issue. A suitable, working definition may be 'the deliberate killing of a person for their own benefit'

Euthanasia can be either; 

Voluntary or Involuntary 

Within these titles, euthanasia can take different forms. 

These are; 'Physician-assisted suicide' (a doctor provides drugs for a patients suicide), 'Active euthanasia' (medication is giving to end someone's life) or 'Passive euthanasia' (the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment).

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In the UK euthanasia is illegal. However doctors can withdraw treatment even without specific consent (such as the case of Tony Bland'). However, in Switzerland, euthanasia has been legal since 2001, according to strict guidelines. Suicide, however, is legal in the UK, unlike euthanasia. 

Involuntary euthanasia where the patient does not want die, is a possibility. This is often used as an argument against the legalisation of euthanasia. 

Many questions are raised by the subject of euthanasia. If people suffering with a disability seek euthanasia, has their life been deemed inferior to the norm? 

The following concepts help come to ethical conclusions over euthanasia;

  • Sanctity of life
  • Personhood 
  • Quality of life
  • Purpose of suffering
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Sanctity of Life

Most societies teach that killing is wrong, however exceptions are often made to this rule.  

Religious may feel they hold an intrinsic value because they were created by God, therefore life is sacred and in God's hands. By going against this you are going against the will of God. 

When this principle is applied, euthanasia is deemed wrong.

Do you think a religious believer would argue against keeping someone alive, as this too is interfering with God's plan? 

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Categories for 'personhood' were suggested in the 'abortion' topic of the course. Warren suggested the following criteria; sentience, emotionality, reason, the capacity to communicate, self awareness and moral agency

The definition of personhood is very subjective. 

Would someone who had been declared brain-dead still be valued as a person?  
Would someone being kept alive by life support be valued as a person?
Would someone in a coma be valued as a person?
Would someone who was severely mentally handicapped be valued as a person?

This is a complicated ethical problem, which can be seen to devalue the lives of certain people. 

It has been suggested that with the continual advancements in medicine, could what is now a terminal condition always be without treatment? 

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Purpose of Suffering

Some Christian believers argue that suffering is purposeful, just as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, suffering brings you closer to Jesus. Suffering can be seen as character-building or as a test of fate. 

If this is the case, then humans have no right to intervene. 
Euthanasia is deemed wrong.

Euthanasia is a very complicated ethical issue. 
In further revision, ethical theories will be applied to this moral issue.  

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