Euthanasia Michael Lacewing [email protected] © Michael Lacewing Euthanasia • 6 types – Involuntary, voluntary, non-voluntary – Passive, active Utilitarian thoughts • Act utilitarianism – Look at each act of euthanasia individually; not making a rule – Involuntary: person doesn’t want to die, so is made unhappy by the thought of their death – Voluntary: person does want to die, often believing they will be less unhappy by dying Morality v. legality • One of the most common arguments against euthanasia is the possibility of abuse (pressure from relatives) or bad choices (from pain or depression). • Whether a practice should be legalized is a separate debate from whether it is moral acceptable. • These arguments are only relevant when looking at rule utilitarianism. Metaethics and practical ethics • Act utilitarianism says that the (objectively) right thing to do may vary in different situations (including what people want). This is different from saying that what is right is subjective. • Don’t get into metaethics – The premise of practical ethics is that we are searching for the (or a) right thing to do. So don’t start talking about relativism or subjectivism. Kant on suicide • Euthanasia is sometimes called assisted suicide. • Kant argued that people who commit suicide destroy their rationality in service to something else – pain. – So asking for euthanasia does not show respect for our own rationality. • This doesn’t cover cases in which the person loses their reason. Kant on suicide • We may agree that rationality is what bestows dignity on human beings, and we must respect people’s dignity. – A human being who may lose their dignity through illness may legitimately request euthanasia. • We respect and protect their dignity by helping them die in circumstances of their own choosing. • But it is not right to help someone do something that is morally wrong. Active v. passive euthanasia • Is there a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia? • Act utilitarianism: no • Deontology: yes – Active: more like murder, in that there is intervention to cause death: justice – Passive: often combined with intended pain relief: charity Justice and charity • Justice: we must not kill people • Charity: we should help others, not let them die – Not giving to charity is not as bad as actually killing people the money would have saved – But not providing your child with food is murder. Justice and charity • In voluntary euthanasia, the person wants to die. – Do we have a duty not to kill even those who want to die? – Do doctors have a special duty not to kill their patients? – But doctors should do what is best for their patients, which may mean killing them. The doctrine of double effect • We may bring about a foreseen harmful effect in pursuit of a good end – The good end is intended, the harmful effect is unintended – If we could bring about the good end without the harmful effect, we would • High doses of painkillers can bring about death more quickly Two practical points • Separate empirical (sociology, psychology) from philosophical – E.g. don’t spend long discussing whether or not a slippery slope would actually occur. • The conclusion is often conditional – E.g. ‘if allowing voluntary euthanasia in some cases caused people to seek it wrongly, then it would be wrong to allow it at all’ Complexity • So is voluntary euthanasia permissible? • Utilitarianism – Pro: Individuals suffer differently – Con: It has bad consequences, so look at better alternatives • Deontology – Pro: We should respect people’s choices – Con: Bringing about death unnecessarily is always wrong Complexity • Virtue theory (and deontology) – Active euthanasia is unjust? – (Passive) euthanasia is not unjust, and is charitable Two final practical points • Avoid oversimplification – Normative theories might not deliver just one answer, but give reasons both for and against. Noting this is important for evaluation. • Don’t say ‘Who knows? Who can say?’ – You are the thinker – this is your attempt to try to say. – Why think practical ethics should or could be easy?