Euthanasia Applied

  • Created by: JM
  • Created on: 30-04-13 09:12

What is Euthanasia?

  • Euthanasia comes from the Greek "Eu" which means well and easy and "thanatos" which means death.
  • It is the intentional premature ending of someones life by:
    • Direct means- Active Euthanasia:The intentional premature ending of someones life
    • Withholding medical treatment or food -Passive Euthanasia: treatment is withdrawn or not given to the patient in order to hasten death. This could include turning off a life support machine.
    • Because a patient asks for it- Voluntary Euthanasia
    • Or without the patients request - Involuntary Euthanasia: this is used when someone's life is ended to prevent suffering without the patients consent
  • Non-Voluntary Euthanasia: When a person is unable make the request themselves
  •  Assisted Suicide: Providing a seriously ill person with the means to commit suicide.
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Issues Concerning Euthanasia

  • The Sanctity of Life and the idea that it is God-given
  • The maintainance of Life as an absolute
  • Is the act in itself wrong or do the consequences make it wrong
  • The question of personal autonomy
  • The motives that lead to Euthanasia
  • The differernce between Killing and Letting Die
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Euthanasia and Utilitarianism

Basic principle of Utilitarianism: Greatest good for the greatest number.(RELATIVE, TELEOLOGICAL)

John Stuart Mill says that good consequences are simply happiness, and happiness = pleasure and freedom from pain- not only physical, but mental and psychological pain. Good consequences depend of the quality and quantity of pleasures. Mill's Victimless crime may be applied to Voluntary Euthanasia: as there is no victim of crime since the patient wishes to die. However even though the doctor is carrying out the patients wish, there are still the effects on society. 'death and dignity' through voluntary euthanasia also fits Mills Utilitarianism as it is possible to claim that the happiness they seek is not just the absence of pain but the preservation of dignity and the excersise of personal autonomy.Qualitative – pain is a lower pleasure, and therefore carries less weight.Jeremy Bentham's Hedonic calculus can be used to measure the extent of pain/pleasure Euthanasia will bring by looking at the intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, purity, extent and  duration of the pleasures. Bentham would say that if a persons continued existence brings more pain and suffering, both to them and their families, then their life could be ended. Utilitarianism would also look at the resources used to keep a person alive and could argue that if those resources were used in other ways it could produce more happiness.

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Euthanasia and Utilitarianism 2

  • Bentham's Hedonic Calculus can be used to weigh up the pleasure and pain caused by two courses of action - in this case, helping someone to die, or not doing so. Bentham would consider the Intensity of the pain and its Duration. He would have to weigh that against the number of people affected (Extent), and consider whether keeping someone alive woud lead to other pleasures (Richness). He would also need to add up the amount of other 'pains' the patient would face e.g. loss of dignity (Purity), and consider the chances that there' might be a cure or treatment in the future (Certainty). The pain is immediate, while possible future benefits are Remote.
  • Mill would also have supported euthanasia, as he believed in the sovereignty of the individual(‘Over himself, over his mind and body, the individual is sovereign’) - despite the principle of utility, if I'm harming no-one else, I can do what I please.
  • Mill did make a distinction between higher and lower pleasures, which can be shown effectively here. Thomas Hyde was 27 when Dr. Kevorkian helped him to die. He had ALS - the same condition that Stephen Hawking has. For Hyde, an athletic man, the thought of never using his body again was too much. Mill would argue that if his mind were still working, Hyde should have been able to enjoy a happy life. Someone with Alzheimers would be a different story, as Mill would see little benefit in continuing with life if your mind wasn't working properly.
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Euthanasia and Kantian Ethics


Applying Kant’s Categorical Imperative to euthanasia:

  The desire to die could be seen as going against good will and duty

  • 1)      The Universal Law
  • All moral statements should be both universalisable (applied to all people in a situations) and willed to be universalised. If they are not universalisable then they are contradictions in the Law of Nature, and if they cannot be willed to be universalised they are contradictions in the Law of the Will.
  • “So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle establishing universal law”
  •   The maxim ‘kill people’ is not universalisable as it would lead to the extinction of the human race and is therefore a contradiction in the Law of Nature. Equally, it could not be willed to be universalised since it would lead to your own death and the death of your loved ones. This is a contradiction in the Law of the Will
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Euthanasia and Kantian Ethics continued

  • 2)      Treat humans as ends in themselves
  • People should always be treated as ends in themselves and not as a means to an end
  •  Using a doctor as a means to an end is wrong as this gives them instrumental value rather than intrinsic value.
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Euthanasia and Kantian Ethics 2

  • For Kant, the outcome of an action is not relevant to whether or not it is ethical. This can easily be demonstrated - sometimes evil actions can lead to unintended good consequences. He also disagreed with making moral choices out of compassion, kindness etc. It is also easy to give an example of where kindness leads to doing the wrong thing (the road to hell is paved with good intentions). The only right thing is to do what reason dictates.
  • When considering euthanasia, then, Kant will not be interested in the level of suffering of the patient or relatives. He would not agree that we should do the loving thing. He would work out what the right thing to do was.
  • Deontological:We should ignore the consequences when making moral decisions (throwing out most of the arguments for euthanasia) and focus on the act itself.  Morality is to do with duty, not happiness. Is killing an innocent human being a good act?
  • However, Singer argues that the act is no different from withdrawing treatment.  Maybe the act of killing someone who doesn’t want to die is intrinsically wrong, but not euthanasia.
  • Our duty is the summum bonum – supreme good.  As we can’t achieve this in our life, Kant reasons that we must have an immortal soul.  This may change the way we view the act of euthanasia.
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Euthanasia and Kantian Ethics 3

  • Humans have an intrinsic worth as rational beings, and therefore should not be killed.
  • A person who wishes to die is not acting rationally.  Kant strongly believes in autonomy, but he would want to protect those people overcome by pain/emotion who had lost their capacity to reason.
  • Categorical Imperative:Says people should be treated as ends in themselves.  This is an argument against euthanasia which is a means to an end (the end of removing pain for example).  However, as ends in themselves, human autonomy and dignity is essential, so euthanasia might be a way of ensuring that someone can have dignity and self-control when very ill.
  • CI law of nature:Very similar to universalisability. Helping someone with ALS to die when they lose the use of their body would be the same as willing that people in that condition just died as a law of nature.  If this were the case, Stephen Hawking and many others would just have died long ago
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Euthanasia and Religious Ethics (Christian Ethics)

  • CHRISTIAN ETHICS : The division of the Christian church has lead to the development of three main traditions, each turning to a different source for moral teaching:
  • Authority – Roman Catholic (the encyclicals or papal teachings and the belief that the pope is infallible)
  • bible – Protestant (belief that the bible is the literal word of God)
  •  Conscience – Orthodox (belief that the conscience is the literal voice of God
  •  thou shall not kill 10 commandments: Exodus 20
  • 'God gives and God takes away' Job
  •  Jesus healed sick and dying didnt kill them!
  • God has a plan for everyone
  • Jesus suffered greatly= there may be a purpose in suffering
  • 'Love your neighbour as yourself' Matthew- most compassionate thing to do may be to help someone die
  • God created Humans in his image. Genesis 1:27:So God created man in his own image
  •  Humans are purposefully called into existence: Genesis 1:28: God blessed them and said to them, be fruitful and increase in number
  • Human life has intrinsic value because it has been made in God’s image: Genesis 9:6: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made them.’ 
  • Life is divinely and uniquely ordained from conception: Psalm 139:13: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb
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Euthanasia and Religious Ethics (Christian Ethics)

  • Overall the Bible shows that God has a plan for every individual as well as humanity as a whole.  Jesus redeemed mankind through his death on the cross.  The question for Christians is whether using medication to speed someone’s death could be part of God’s plan.
  • The Sanctity of Life argument can be seen as an absolute in the eyes of Christians.
  • The Roman Catholic Church
  • 1.  Totally against euthanasia.  Any act which deliberately brings about death is the same as murder. 
  • 2.  Does accept using pain killing drugs which are meant to relieve pain, but may shorten someone’s life.
  • 3.  “Ordinary” (proportionate) treatments, e.g. feeding a patient must always continue, but disproportionate treatments such as a complicated operation that is unlikely to succeed need not be given.  Euthanasia is always wrong, but it is also wrong to keep a patient alive at any cost.  People should be allowed to die, but only when nature, or God, decides.  ‘Passive euthanasia’ might therefore be permitted, but Catholics would avoid this term.
  • ‘Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God’  Pope John Paul II
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Euthanasia and Natural Law

Basic principle of Natural Law: everything is created for a purpose and when this is examined by human reason, a person should be able to judge how to act in order to find ultimate happiness.(ABSOLUTE, DEONTOLOGICAL)

 Natural Law considers the act of Euthanasia itself not the people involved, or the consequences of the action. Protection of life is a primary precept and the act of Euthanasia goes against this.

Self-preservation: Self preservation is one of Aquinas’ primary precepts. From this we could deduce secondary precept: no euthanasia and no suicide.

 Real & Apparent Goods: Aquinas’ Natural Law is routed in Aristotelian thought. Aristotle distinguished between real and apparent goods:

Real goods: lead to flourishing – a real good might be refusing to aid the ending of someone’s life

Apparent goods: appear to be good but don’t lead to flourishing – helping someone to die might appear to be a real good but in reality it is an apparent good and does not lead to human flourishing

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Euthanasia and Natural Law 2

God created us for a purpose (to know & love him) - euthanasia goes against this. 

(Traditional utilitarian arguments focus on pleasure/pain – but these can’t be the end or purpose of humans as animals experience them. )

Euthanasia would be an apparent good – it may seem the right thing to do but it does not draw us closer to God and gives us a sense of moral guilt. 

Man’s first precept, according to Aquinas, is self-preservation.  The other precepts, concerning our purpose in life, cannot be served by prematurely ending our lives.

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David cheese


slide 6 kant would not see it as using the doctor as a means because it is the doctors duty and "ought implies can" 



A little bit more depth on the issues around Euthanasia is needed, but other than that, this is a great resource, I loved it how you applied each of the ethical theories! Thanks!



Hey Louis.

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