Hal Morrissey Gillman
How far do you agree that sanctity of life is the most important consideration in decisions about the morality of euthanasia?
When the question of whether the act of euthanasia – that is, helping someone who is in suffering, to die in a medical context – is moral, there are various considerations to be made relating to various ethical and religious stances. These include the effect the procedure has on the medical profession and doctors within it, the potential for a slippery slope leading to a more common acceptance of such practices, social pressures, assessing the quality of the individual’s life, and whether the law should be able to breach people’s autonomy in the way that many argue euthanasia does. However, the most common consideration, given by many religions that are against the process, is sanctity of life – in other words, the intrinsic value of life. This essay will analyse three specific stances; sanctity of life, quality of life, and autonomy, whilst giving both sides of the argument on each point, and then arriving at a balanced conclusion after assessing all of the pros and cons.
Firstly, the issue of sanctity of life will be discussed. It is the view of many religions, the strongest of which is Catholicism, that life is inherently valuable regardless of condition or quality. As is often the case with Christianity, this view has arisen from passages of the bible that, though not specifically speaking on euthanasia, speak of how all life is worthwhile, and that “life is a gift from God”, meaning it should never be rejected or taken away, as this is the sole right of God. This is emphasised in Exodus 20:13 of the bible, which reads “you shall not kill” which, though rather general, does clearly state that one should not end another’s life, no matter what the circumstance. This is in fact one of the main strengths of this point of view; it is clear cut, absolutist, and easy for followers to understand. It is not subjective, as the quality of life debate often is. This view also protects the elderly, disabled, and vulnerable, who may see themselves as a burden on society, or feel pressured into dying, if euthanasia was made legal. Others also see sanctity of life as good for society; that it sets good solid values for citizens, and shows everyone in a community to be valuable and important, regardless of age, physical condition, or mental condition. However, it has also been argued that the sanctity of life principle is not valid, as it is largely based on Christian faith and the existence of God – something that cannot be proven. According to critics, law should not be based on religion, and so makes this argument void. Also, this denial of mercy killing is inconsistent with the Christian principle of a loving God who traditionally is said to be compassionate – surely therefore one that would permit the ending of suffering. To conclude then, sanctity of life, though being one of the most cited, commonly used arguments against euthanasia due to it’s absoluteness and morale-boosting potential, it is quite firmly rooted in belief of God, which not everybody shares. As non-religious, I would therefore say that personally, this argument is one of the least important considerations when considering the morality of euthanasia.
The next consideration to be analysed, will be quality of life; the judgement made by an individual (or their doctor in certain cases), concerning whether an individual’s existence is still valuable to others or themselves, and if not, whether the individual should then be allowed to go through with assisted dying if they wished it. It has also been seen that in certain extreme cases, where the patient may be in a condition like PVS, the doctor or family of the individual may make this decision for them. Over the last couple of decades, there have been many notable cases of individuals who have been euthanised after it was judged by themselves or...