Right to Die Ethical Case Analysis

Topics: Ethics, Virtue ethics, Catholic Church Pages: 7 (2358 words) Published: August 14, 2012
UNITS 5 & 6

Case Study Analysis

Physician-Assisted Death

Rob Thibodeau
July, 2012

This assignment will discuss a case involving an individual known to me. It centres on the real and contentious issue of the “right to die”, specifically in the context of physician-assisted death. This issue is widely debated in the public eye for two reasons. The first considers under what conditions a person can choose when to die and the second considers if someone ever actually has a ‘right to die’. The following analysis will consider solutions to the ethical dilemma of physician-assisted death through the lens of three ethical theories. It will also take into account the potential influence of an individual’s religious beliefs in making ethical decisions. Robert is a 48 year-old husband and father of 2 teenage children. He is employed in the public service and has lived a relatively healthy life. In January, Rob experienced symptoms including muscle weakness, clumsy hand movements, and stiffness in his body. He presented to his regular physician who put him through a series of tests, then referred him to a specialist. After several months of further testing, Rob was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). This news was a tremendous shock to him and his family. The doctors began a regimen of medications to assist him in his daily functioning however there is no cure or chance of remission for this disease in the current medical environment. The disease eventually causes complete paralysis of many normal functions and can be accompanied by increasing emotional and physical pain. The progression of the disease made life increasingly difficult and painful for Rob. He eventually reached a decision where he wanted to avoid further physical and emotional suffering to both himself and his family. He approached his family physician and asked him to assist in terminating his life. Though ALS eventually leads to death in the long-term, Rob was asking to

be put to death prior to the disease’s full progression. Consequently, Rob’s physician was faced with an ethical dilemma of choosing to assist Rob with termination of life or not. For the purposes of this assignment, the ethical theories of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics will be explored to analyze the possible courses of action the doctor could undertake in addressing Rob’s request to terminate his life. What will also be considered is the influence of Rob’s religion on the solution to the ethical dilemma. First let us consider utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham, a founding utilitarian philosopher believed that the right act is the one which, of all those open to the individual, will probably, or actually, produce the greatest amount of pleasure in the world at large (Bentham’s hedonistic calculus, http://philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/calculus.html: Philosophy 302: Ethics The Hedonistic Calculus). This was based on his idea that pleasure and pain form the basis for determining moral action – right and wrong. Bentham’s calculus of pleasure and pain in determining the right action can be used in the case of the ethical dilemma presented to Rob’s doctor. According to hedonic theory, the doctor, in determining what will produce the greatest pleasure in the world at large, must weigh the pleasure and pain in choosing to terminate Rob’s life or not. Utilitarianism considers both the intensity of the pain and its duration, weighs it against the number of people affected, termed extent, and considers the pleasures that will come from the decision, termed richness. Additionally, the doctor would need to add up the amount of other 'pains' the patient could face, like loss of dignity, or purity, and make further considerations that could impact the certainty of the decision, like the chances that there might be a cure or treatment in the future. (Bentham’s hedonistic calculus, Philosophy 302: Ethics the Hedonistic Calculus).

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