Definition of Euthanasia and a Brief Introduction to the Debate
Euthanasia may be defined as the assistance provided to people who deliberately want to die due to suffering too much pain because of being terminally ill. There are two major issues people usually dispute over when speaking of the morality of legalizing euthanasia. The first one concerns the belief that a person’s life is a gift from God, and it is immoral and wrong to throw away this gift from a religious point of view. According to this position, the individual requesting euthanasia entitles oneself to the power of God when considering that he or she can decide what is to become of their lives.
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On the other hand, the doctor who helps a person to die is believed to take away someone’s life, that is, to kill, which is held as an evil and immoral act. Thus, many church leaders view euthanasia as sin both on the part of the patient and a physician. The second issue is concerned with the Hippocratic oath, which emphasizes the ‘do no harm principle. Still, some doctors believe they are helping their patients when performing euthanasia, thus not violating the oath. Meanwhile, the main argument used by those in favor of euthanasia is that it allows avoiding an inevitable painful death.
The utilitarian approach to ethics is outcome-oriented. The main premise of this concept is “to generate the greatest good for the greatest number” (Carper et al. 32). In accordance with this principle, euthanasia is supposed to maximize net happiness. Most importantly, the person who suffers from pain will gain physical and mental wellness. Being seriously ill makes one hurt physically, which further leads to psychological distress.
Hence, under utilitarianism, the level of happiness will increase when a person obtains the right to stop the agony accompanying his or her every move. If the patient’s family feels him or her be a burden, and if there is no opportunity or financial possibility to give such a person proper care and assistance, the family members will feel relieved and happy. Additionally, they will also be glad to know that their close one does not suffer any longer. Ultimately, the government will be happy due to not needing to allocate resources for hospices where terminally ill individuals remain upon becoming incapable of looking after themselves.
At the same time, opponents of euthanasia could employ utilitarianism as a tool for defending their opinion. Specifically, they might say that euthanasia brings happiness not to the greatest number of people but only to a limited circle. In many cases, the procedure of assisted suicide is likely to cause relief only for one person: the patient in question. Meanwhile, those who love this individual and care about him or her feel a deep loss and may develop stress or some mental disorder. Further, the healthcare system, in general, will not be happy since it will lose resources due to the loss of clients. Therefore, the opponents of euthanasia can argue that it fails to maximize net happiness if someone dies willingly.
Another important dimension in which euthanasia should be discussed is the principle of autonomy. This requirement is regarded as “an ethical imperative” since it gives a patient the right to choose treatment and to agree or disagree about any suggestions expressed by the physician (Hendrick 29). The proponents of euthanasia argue that having an opportunity to end one’s suffering is the embodiment of autonomy and respect for the patient’s capacity to pursue his or her goals.
Thus, an individual who is allowed euthanasia fulfills the purpose of doing what he or she wants with one’s life. In such a case, the autonomy of the patient is respected more than others. However, since it is precisely the person whose interests are the most crucial (and whose autonomy matters most), legalizing euthanasia respects the autonomy of the patient.
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The opponents of euthanasia might argue that giving people too much autonomy can lead to an uncontrolled number of deaths due to euthanasia. Also, they may say that allowing every individual to choose whether to live or die contradicts constitutional rights and principles, such as the right to life. The legalization of euthanasia may be viewed as a violation of the autonomy of family members and physicians. For instance, if someone cannot imagine their life without a close person, his or her right to choose the treatment approach for the loved one will be infringed. Additionally, too much autonomy may lead to the restriction of physicians’ and scientists’ desire to find a cure for complicated conditions, which they will not achieve without having patients who could try the new medicine.
The contractarianism approach lies in the connection of a person to society. According to Hobbes, people have one major right: the natural right to self-preservation. However, when an individual enters the so-called social contract, the right to self-preservation is no longer granted since everyone’s life is in the hands of the government (Forsyth 42). Meanwhile, Rawl’s theory of justice holds that all individuals have equal and fair rights (Hendrick 138). According to Rawls, everyone has equal rights because this is what people would agree to behind the veil of ignorance. The reason Rawls might support euthanasia is that he considers that individuals might want to have the option available in case they ever wanted it.
Taking these views into consideration, it seems that rules protecting euthanasia should be put in the social contract. That way, every person will have the right to end one’s life in case of unbearable pain. As Hobbes argues, the ultimate manifestation of citizens’ rights is possible only if the right is included in the social contract. Therefore, if euthanasia is legalized, it will be accessible to everyone who needs it.
Meanwhile, those who consider the right to euthanasia wrong might not agree with the inclusion of such a freedom in the social contract. The opponents may vote for the prohibition of euthanasia to enter the social contract. Hobbes’s theory might be applied here since Hobbes believes that everyone has the right to preserve his or her life. Meanwhile, euthanasia is the opposite of this right as it deprives people of self-preservation. Therefore, according to Hobbes, euthanasia should not be included in the social contract since it would violate the natural right of any individual to preserve life.
Concluding Moral Judgment
Having analyzed euthanasia from the point of utilitarianism, autonomy, and social contract, it seems reasonable to conclude that assisted suicide should be legalized. However, it is necessary to outline the conditions making one eligible for euthanasia. First of all, it is wrong to limit the right to only older people since many young individuals also suffer from incurable diseases. It will probably be necessary to include the patients’ parents’ consent in the process of obtaining the right to euthanasia for such persons.
However, they should also have a right to a dignified death. Secondly, it is necessary to adjust the conditions of mental health, allowing or forbidding one to be euthanized. For instance, if a person is conscious of his or her decision today but unconscious in several weeks, such an individual should also be eligible. Despite the variations in definitions and approaches, the final moral judgment is that euthanasia should be legalized.
Reasons to Support the Conclusion
The key reason supporting the conclusion is that every person should have the right to make decisions associated with their health and life. One may starve to death, stop caring about one’s immune system, or quit taking pills if one wants to die faster none of these actions is prohibited by law. However, euthanasia, which is practically the same, is not allowed in many countries. As a result, the decision of lawmakers seems absurd since they do not mind people dying in other ways but oppose the deliberate decision of a patient to die with the doctor’s assistance. Every person’s life belongs only to him or her, and the government should not control the process of maintaining the life or stopping it.
The Strongest Objection to My View and Response to It
The most powerful argument against the selected moral judgment is that of religious nature. Many people consider it sinful to throw away the gift of life that God has given so magnanimously. Because of such an opinion, some individuals prefer to suffer or see their close ones suffer because of the fear of being blamed for committing such a serious crime. However, it is also in God’s nature to be kind and patient to people. Thus, if one truly believes in God, he or she should not want to observe the agony of someone whose condition will never improve.
The Evaluation of John Shield’s Story
In light of my conclusion, John Shield’s euthanasia was an act of utmost love, compassion, and support. Also, it was the proclamation of the gift of death, as the man put it. John made an emphasis on the fact that not only life but also death was a great present that should be taken care of with proper respect and dignity. Mr. Shield had lived an exciting life, full of good deeds and meaningful actions (Porter). He deserved to find relief and peace in his last days, as well as he had the right to decide when those last days should happen. In that situation, the legalization of euthanasia was the correct judgment since it allowed John Shield to pass away peacefully, surrounded by the closest people.
In the story, no one acted immorally since everyone was supportive and helpful. Mr. Shield “treasured independence” and could not stand the thought of “being trapped in his own body” (Porter). Hence, the way how his last will was implemented to the minute detail was the manifestation of his close people’s respect. Dr. Green’s and Ms. Hood’s behavior may be called exemplary. The physician explained every detail of the procedure to Mr. Shield and his family.
Meanwhile, his wife did everything she could to satisfy her husband’s last will. Mr. Shield’s story is the depiction of how euthanasia can help a man plan his last days and not feel disgusted toward himself or afraid of dying while being unconscious. To increase the opportunities for many people all over the world for such a dignified death, it is necessary to legalize euthanasia.
Carper, Donald L., et al. Understanding the Law. 5th ed., Thomson West, 2008.
Forsyth, Murray. “Hobbes’s Contractarianism: A Comparative Analysis.” The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls, edited by David Boucher and Paul Kelly, Routledge, 2005, pp. 35-50.
Hendrick, Judith. Law and Ethics in Nursing and Health Care. Stanley Thornes Publishers, 2001.
Porter, Catherine. “At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death.” New York Times, 2017. Web.
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Rawls, John. Critical Assessment of Leading Political Philosophers. Edited by Chandran Kukathas. Vol. 2, Routledge, 2003.