Euthanasia

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Euthanasia, as defined by many philosophers, should only be morally permissible in certain circumstances where it benefits the one who dies. It is a widely held belief that an act of euthanasia aims at benefiting the one who dies. Using Kantian ethics as a model, one can determine that: It is morally permissible to engage in voluntary acts of euthanasia; it is morally permissible to engage in acts of nonvoluntary euthanasia, and; it is never morally permissible to engage in acts of involuntary euthanasia.

It is necessary to explore the different types of euthanasia first in order to fully understand what is involved in determining the moral worth of such acts. The two forms of euthanasia, active and passive, involve the actions of either ‘killing’ or ‘letting die’. An active form of euthanasia refers to the act of purposely taking positive measures, such as lethal injection, to bring about a person’s death. Thus, it is referred to as ‘killing’ many standards. On the other hand, a ‘passive’ form of euthanasia involves the action of either discontinuing medical treatment, or not giving treatment at all. James Rachels and Philippa Foot, both philosophers, have explored the realm of euthanasia from different moral points of view. In James Rachels’ essay, “Euthanasia and Suicide: Active and Passive Euthanasia”, he states that neither active nor passive euthanasia are morally different from each other because the intent is the same for both types: to benefit the one who is to die by bringing about the patient’s death. Rachels claims the doctrine held by the American Medical Association, which states that ‘it is permissible in some cases to withhold treatment and allow the patient to die, but is never permissible to take any positive action to end life’, is not morally justified because passive euthanasia prolongs the suffering of persons needlessly, whereas active euthanasia will bring about a quick and painless death. Rachels also believes that since both passive and active euthanasia have the same end, both are either morally permissible, or none at all, and, if given an option between passive and active euthanasia, active euthanasia would be more morally justified in the sense that it would be more ‘kind’ to the patient . Rachels also objects to the American Medical Association’s statement that ‘the cessation of medical treatment is not the intentional termination of a life’. Rachels believes that the cessation of medical treatment is the intentional termination of life; it is aimed at procuring the patient’s death for his own sake—an act of euthanasia. There are three distinct types of euthanasia, all of which are independent of either passive of active euthanasia: voluntary, involuntary, and nonvoluntary. James Rachels’ essay fails to address these three distinctions, whereas Philippa Foot’s essay, “Euthanasia”, does. These three aspects will be discussed later in the paper.

The amount of goods in a person’s life can affect his or her desire to live. Philippa Foot claims that the ordinary human life contains basic human goods; having support from family and friends; being able to satisfy human desires such as hunger, sex, and love; and having hopes for the future that can be reasonably obtained are all considered human goods. In Foot’s essay, she has mentioned that a person may have a great deal of evil in his life; this does not conclude that death will benefit him. Evil alone does not decide if a person’s life is a good or not, because a life with evil can still contain goods, and thus make that person’s life a good. There is a connection between life and good. We are under the assumption that life itself is not automatically a good, but that it is good because it contains various human goods; internal as well as external evils may either take these goods away, or make the goods unobtainable to a person. For example, the pain and nature of a serious and terminal illness can be an evil to a man if it prevents him...
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