Morals of Euthanasia

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Dena Furey
Euthanasia
March 8, 2013

Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the act of purposely making or helping someone die, instead of allowing nature to take its course. Basically, euthanasia means killing in the name of compassion. Often surrounded by heated arguments from both those in favor of and those against the practice, human euthanasia spurs the most conflict within political circles, differing cultural and religious attitudes, and the health care system. I will be defending Tom L. Beauchamp’s theory that euthanasia is ethically moral and sometimes permissible.

Beauchamp’s theory states that if voluntary passive euthanasia is sometimes permissible, then voluntary active euthanasia is sometimes permissible. Voluntary passive euthanasia is when a patient refuses treatment, such as a do not resuscitate (DNR) order. Voluntary active euthanasia is when a patient requests treatment, such a lethal dose. Beauchamp has a negative and positive thesis to his theory. They are: * Negative thesis-you cannot condemn physician assisted suicide by merely invoking the position of letting die and killing. * Positive thesis-physician assisted suicide is permissible when you’re not only not doing any harm but also have a valid authorization from the patient. The first part of Beauchamp’s thesis deals with the distinction between letting die and killing.

Opposers of Beauchamp’s thesis state that voluntary passive euthanasia (DNR) is permissible because you are letting the patient die, whereas voluntary active euthanasia (lethal dose) is killing the patient. Beauchamp thinks there is a problem with the definition of letting die and killing and that we need to make a clear distinction between them. Beauchamp presents a few ways we might be able to make that distinction. They are as follows: * Intentions-an act is a killing if and only if it is an intended death, you can foresee the consequences of your actions. Beauchamp presents a challenge to this. A DNR can be seen as an intended killing because the health care practitioner can foresee the consequences, and it could be interpreted as killing the patient if they do not revive him. Another example could be a drunken driving case. When a person drives drunk they do not intend to kill someone, is that now not considered a killing. So, Beauchamp thinks this definition of killing is wrong. * Wrongfulness-an act is a killing if and only if it is a wrongful death. Beauchamp presents a challenge to this. A DNR is considered not wrongful, but a lethal dose is wrongful, but going against a patient’s wishes could be considered wrongful in the lethal dose case. What is considered wrongful, that is what we are trying to answer. So, our conclusion is in our question, it makes a circular argument. Beauchamp thinks this definition of killing is wrong. * Causation-an act is a killing if and only if an agent as opposed to an underlying condition causes death. Beauchamp offers an example to show the problem with the causal theory. A policeman is hurt in the line of duty and placed on life support. A mafia guy who wants the policemen dead comes in and pulls the plug, which in turn causes the policeman to die. In this case, what the mafia guy did was not wrong because the policeman died of natural causes. It was the underlying condition that caused the policeman’s death, not the mafia guy. Is this acceptable? One opponent to Beauchamp, Bernard Gert, says he wants to hold onto the causal theory. He thinks the mafia guy did wrong because he did not have a valid refusal of treatment from the policeman, such as a DNR. Beauchamp offers an answer to Gert showing how the causal theory is still a wrong definition of killing and letting die. It was not really the letting die of the policeman that was important to Gert; it was the refusal of valid authorization to pull the plug which made it a killing. So, if what Gert thinks is pivotal is what the patient wants, then why is a lethal dose...
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