James Rachels' Death and Dying
James Rachels is one of the most controversial philosophers talked about in today's society. One of his most talked about topics is whether a person has a right to die or not. Not much is known about Rachels expect for the many articles and books he has written. In the controversy of letting a person die or killing him, he does not try to explain which method is good and which method is bad. He however tries to explain why they both are bad to a certain degree. Rachels does not take one side, but tries to convince why one is better than the other. In his opinion, letting a person starve to death or just putting him out of his misery by killing him is an ongoing struggle. If you let a person starve to death, it might be putting that person through a lot of pain but he'll still be alive (who knows, maybe a miracle cure will be found.) If you killed him on the spot with a lethal injection, it would be a more peaceful death but you would be shortening that person's life. Putting a person to death in a peaceful manner is called euthanasia. Euthanasia is an ancient word that means "easy death." There is also the issue of morality. Would killing someone by their own will or suicide be a moral act? What about a patient that is suffering from cancer? Is it moral to let that person suffer? These are some of the many questions people have been trying to answer for year without success.
Euthanasia is a very uncomfortable subject to talk about for most people because who wants to think about having to kill oneself or a person that is dear to his or her life. Even though nobody wants to go through the hardship of deciding whether a person should live or die, it happens everyday. There are two forms of euthanasia. There is an active euthanasia and a passive euthanasia (Jussim 7-13). This so-called distinction between active and passive was challenged by Rachels in a paper first published in 1975 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In that paper, Rachels challenges both the use and moral significance of that distinction. He argues that active euthanasia is in many cases is more humane than passive euthanasia. Rachels urges doctors to reconsider their views on active euthanasia. He writes: "To begin with a familiar type of situation, a patient who is dying of incurable cancer of the throat is in terrible pain, which can no longer be satisfactorily alleviated. He is certain to die within a few days even if present treatment is continued, but he does not want to go on living for those days since the pain is unbearable. So he asks the doctor for an end to it, and his family joins in this request (Rachels 106-108)." "Suppose the doctor agrees to withhold treatment. The justification for his doing so is that the patient is in terrible agony, and since he is going to die anyway, it would be wrong to prolong his suffering needlessly, but now notice this if one simply withholds treatment, it may take the patient longer to die, and so he may suffer more than he would if more direct action were taken and a lethal injection given. This fact provides strong reason for thinking that, once the initial decision not to prolong his agony has been made, active euthanasia is actually preferable to passive euthanasia, rather than the reverse (Rachels 106-108)." Let's take for example one of my favorites, Baby Jane Doe. She is a baby that was heavily deformed mentally and physically. The doctors said that she doesn't have a chance to live if she doesn't go into surgery. However, Baby Jane Doe has a slight chance of living if the surgery is done, but she would most likely live to be 18 years old or less. She would still be mentally retarded and would need constant attention from her parents. So if Baby Jane goes into surgery, it would be the same as passive euthanasia. The parents of Baby Jane decided that it would be better for them and her if she died peacefully rather than suffering...
Cited: Humphry, Derek. Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and
Assisted Suicide for the Dying. Oregon: The Hemlock Society, 1991.
Jussim, Daniel. Euthanasia: The "Right to Die" Issue. New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers Inc., 1993.
Kung, Hans, and Walter Jens. Dying with Dignity: A Plea for Personal
Responsibility. New York: Continuum, 1995.
Landau, Elaine. The Right to Die. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.
Rachels, James. The End of Life: Euthanasia and Morality. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1986.
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