Religion and Ethics - Euthanasia


Quality and Sanctity of Life, Christian Belief

  • Quality of Life: The idea about how good/worthwhile someone's life is. This isn't just about material goods (money, property, objects etc.), it's about someone's physical and mental wellbeing. Their ability to live without excessive suffering, to experience life, and to communicate and interact with others, and if they choose - with God. Human life has to possess certain attributes in order to have value (e.g mental and physical wellbeing). Euthanasia is often morally accepted on grounds that it ends suffering and pain. The quality of life idea is more secular than the idea of the sanctity of life. 
  • Sanctity of Life: The idea rooted in religion, that all human life is sacred, because it is made in the image of God (''God made man in his image"). It is sacred in value and this means euthanasia is not accepted on these grounds. 
  • Christian beliefs: Talk about human life as sacred when considering issues such as abortion, euthanasia, embryo research and care of the elderly or disabled. They believe that there is something special or holy about human life. Every human, Christians believe, is special to God. 
1 of 5

Euthanasia - Definitions

  • Voluntary euthanasia: The person expresses a desire to end their life and is aided in doing this, usually by a physician. 
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia: Occurs when the person cannot make a decision for themselves (i.e they're in a permanent vegetative state). Family members or friends decide whether to stop administering life saving drugs/treatement (thus it's passive). 
  • In-voluntary euthanasia: Where the person involved expresses no desire or need to die but is killed anyway, e.g the case of the trapped lorry driver. 
  • Passive euthanasia: Taking away life saving treatment resulting in a patient's death. 
  • Active euthanasia: Actively giving a patient a lethal dose of drugs which results in their death. 
  • Suicide Act 1961: Criminalised assisted suicide/euthanasia in the UK. 

Issues with legalising euthanasia: 

  • The powers of doctors may be abused. Slippery slope argument: could easily lead to chaos/involuntary euthanasia
  • People might think they want to die but they actually don't - they could just as easily turn their lives around (e.g if they're suffering from a mental illness). 
  • Some people get better from their painful illnesses and permitting euthanasia could prevent us reaching our full potential. 
2 of 5

Euthanasia and Moral Autonomy

Should a person have complete autonomy over their own lives? 

  • Case of Dianne Pretty: Paralysed from motor neurone disease, Dianne Pretty asked doctors to assist her in her suicide. Her lawyers argued that this was acceptabe since she should have the right to ''self-determination''. Her case was not upheld and so she took it to the European Court of Human Rights. The court ruled that while people have the right to live, they do not have the right to die. 
  • Helga Khuse: People say that the Nazis represent a transgression of the moral laws regarding euthanasia - the slippery slope. Arguing that people should die because they're undesirable etc. However, euthanasia is about compassion and so we should not compare the two because they are COMPLETELY different. The Nazi genocide cannot represent a ''slippery slope'' because none of Hitler's actions evoked compassion and were only in the interests of Hitler himself, not the people involved. The Netherlands have furthermore allowed euthanasia and this hasn't led to a ''slippery slope''. 
  • While Christians take the view that all life is sacred and special, the idea regarding self-autonomy is perhaps more secular. 
3 of 5

Euthanasia and Natural Law

  • Natural Law - influenced by religion so likely to preserve the sanctity of life. Aquinas says it's wrong to kill rational beings, because human reason is a special gift. 
  • Must take into accordance the moral precepts. Euthanasia goes against the precept ''protection and preservation of human life'' so is not accepted. 
  • Euthanasia is an apparent good rather than an actual good. Those who request it are not pursuing their true telos. 
  • Avoids the ''slippery slope'' - if we allow something relatively harmless today, we may spark a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted. 
  • Disagrees with active euthanasia but may allow for passive euthanasia in the Doctrine of Double Effect, since it's not sustainable to keep someone alive, we might have to stop administering them life saving treatment, but this is NOT with the intention of killing them. 
  • Double Effect: E.g a patient being given a lethal dose of painkillers to alleviate their pain. Since the intended outcome was to relieve their pain, them sadly dying as a result (which is what they might have wanted anyway), means there's no transgression of the natural law. 
  • Divine law tells us ''do not kill'' and ''choose life''. 
  • However... Doesn't take into account the individuals decision and may cause prolonged suffering. 
  • Outdated and not applicable to modern day issues. 
4 of 5

Euthanasia and Situation Ethics

  • Puts love ahead of anything else. Rooted in Christian theology (e.g 1st Letter to the Corinthians, the Parable of the Good Samaritan). ''Love thy neighbour as you love yourself''. 
  • Four Working Principles: Pragmatism, Personalism, Positivism and Relativism - apply to the situation. Situationism generally accepts euthanasia on the grounds that it is loving. 
  • Relative (situationist and therefore the moral decision depends on the culture, society or situation), teleological (emphasises the most loving outcome). 
  • Killing is neither right nor wrong, it depends on the situation. 
  • Fletcher was keen on medical ethics and wrote a book called ''Morals and Medicine'' which spoke about euthanasia. 
  • Fletcher described euthanasia as ''death control'' (like birth control, implying we have total autonomy over our decisions). 
  • The quality of the life of a person is more important than the sanctity of life. 
  • More flexible than natural law. Takes into account desires and emotions and it's relative. 
  • However... It can allow us to do the wrong thing and then justify it as loving. For example; involuntary euthanasia (slippery slope) - the case of a man smothering his wife as a pillow because she had a disability, could easily be justified as loving and the man would get away with it. 
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Ethics resources »