“Any action or social policy is morally right if it serves to increase the amount of happiness in the word or to decrease the amount of misery. Conversely, an action or social policy is morally wrong if it serves to decrease happiness or to increase misery. ” (RSLI Rachels, EL 247) The utilitarian argument is used to justify and condemn many policies, however, I believe that the argument is especially fitting when it comes to the matter of active euthanasia. Mercy, an action that serves to decrease the overall misery in the world, is an unquestionable sign of kindness and correctness.
Mercy comes in many forms and is rarely frowned upon. Following this reasoning, why is mercy that takes the form of ending a suffering patient’s life considered unethical? It is my opinion that active euthanasia in qualifying cases is almost always just. Entertain, for a moment, the idea of a twenty year-old with stage four lung cancer. This patient has been admitted to the hospital an uncountable number of times in the past year and has now been given a terminal diagnosis.
The patient has four weeks to live, however, those four weeks will be spent in excruciating pain due to the placement of the tumors on/in their lungs. Doctors have tried their strongest painkillers to no avail, they dampen the pain but do not give any sort of real respite from the patient’s suffering. In 49 of the United States, the patient would have no options other than to live out the remainder of their days in agony without the possibility of euthanasia. The patient’s friends and family must now sit idly by as their loved on passes through hell.
Something seems a bit out of place here. “If an action promotes the best interests of everyone concerned and violates no one’s rights, then that action is morally permissible. In at least some cases, active euthanasia promotes the best interest of everyone concerned and violates no one’s rights, therefore, at least in some cases, active euthanasia is morally permissible. ” (RSL/Rachels, EL 249) This is the strongest argument for active euthanasia in my opinion. Those who oppose this argument may claim that euthanasia is not in the best interests of all parties involved.
The parties referenced are usually the friends/family/doctors and their grief over the situation or even the hospital and its shareholders losing money from the patient. First off, any person who wants to keep a family member alive who is in extreme pain for the sole reason of wanting to prolong being able to interact with them or to offset their own period of suffering following the family member’s death is incredibly selfish. The logical conclusion would be that family and friends of the patient would be relieved by their quick and early passing because of the avoidance of a month of suffering.
Yes, of course the family and friends of the patient will experience emotional trauma from the passing of their loved one, but in due time the loved one you will pass whether they like it or not. Second, when it comes to financial losses to the hospital and its shareholders, those who would put monetary gain over the wellbeing of another human being have serious misconceptions about what is right and wrong. Hospitals should be for helping people, not extorting them.
In my opinion, as long as a terminal patient is cognizant and in a healthy state of mind, no one should be able to stand in the way of their will when it comes to the decision of life and death. If one has a right to live, they should have the option to forfeit that right at their leisure. Let me take a moment to present some arguments against euthanasia. Velleman poses an interesting point in saying that “having an option can be harmful even if we do not exercise it and – more surprisingly – if we exercise it and gain by doing so. ” (83)
It seems that Velleman is bringing up the perceived etrimental psychological effects of the option of euthanasia on a patient. Velleman argues that once a patient is given a choice to live or die, they are forced to be responsible for the choice they make and may be made to justify their decision. Of course it would be in poor taste to ask a terminal patient why they insist on prolonging their suffering, but the internal psychological damage caused by the question could be a heavy burden to bear in someone’s final days. Velleman also brings up the pressure placed on the patient by the family after the question to live or die is posed.
A patient’s family could be adamant in keeping the patient alive until the very last moment, or they could try to coerce a patient into euthanasia for financial reasons. In short, Velleman believes that having more options places unneeded pressure on a patient, pressure that can negatively influence decisions made influencing the patient’s wellbeing. In response to the aforementioned arguments, I’d like to start off by saying that the decision to go through with euthanasia or not should be done between a patient and their doctor, no one else.
There should be no influencing factors outside of that patient’s desires. A patient should not have to live up to anyone’s expectations when it comes to a matter as serious as life and death. Along that line of thinking, a family member’s desires should ultimately not play a part in a worthy decision of euthanasia. If a terminal patient does not want to experience horrifying pain for an extended amount of time, they shouldn’t have to. As Alsop put it, “no human being with a spark of pity could let a living thing suffer… o no good end. ” (RSL, EL 247) Your life belongs to you, you decide how it pans out. Another argument that has been presented is that a patient in excruciating pain is technically not in a cognizant headspace, and therefore cannot make rational decisions about anything serious.
In the words of Rachels, “[terminal patient] suffering can be so terrible that we do not like even to read about it or think about it… the argument from mercy says euthanasia is justified because it provides an end to that. (RSL/Rachels, EL 246) How can we, who have not even come close to experiencing the type of pain that terminal patients must feel, make judgments about the actions they are allowed to take and deny them their only true method of escaping pain? By the logic of the above argument, terminal patients with high levels of pain would never be able to legally find a way out until their imminent death days, weeks, or months in the future. This is not mercy, it’s more akin to torture.
Maior flaws in the design of the argument surface when you compare it to the utilitarian argument. One of the most disputed arguments in this issue is that of the right to life. All humans are said to have a default right to life. Those who are anti-euthanasia say that voluntary assisted suicide violates one’s right to life, however, are we not entitled to waive our rights? If we are not able to waive our own rights, are they really rights? If we consent to X, and X would normally violate our rights, X should not violate our rights.
Sex with consent is fine in the eyes of the law, but sex without consent violates a person’s right to do with their body what they please and is considered rape. A doctor euthanizing a consenting cognizant patient should not violate their rights in the eyes of the law. I propose that euthanasia be a legal option, but only in very strict circumstances. Obviously those who are clinically depressed but have no serious health concerns should not be offered euthanasia. Cognizant patients that are in a position with absolutely no hope for recovery should have the choice to euthanize.
When it comes to patients that are not able to make a conscious decision, or are not conscious to begin with, an educated decision should be made based on medical advice from the patient’s physician with the patient’s durable power of attorney. Euthanasia should be offered at the physician’s discretion, and the topic should be fair game if a patient or durable power of attorney brings it up. We should not back away from what we consider to be barbaric or morally unjust because in all reality, euthanasia is a more humane option in many cases.
No one wants to see a loved one die, however, if death is imminent and is the only solution to horrible suffering, the logical course of action would be to release the loved one from the confines of pain. I subscribe to the utilitarian way of thinking, and in seeing that pain can be soothed and happiness can be created, I have no choice but to adamantly support my side of this argument. In my opinion, the pros of justified euthanasia vastly outweigh the cons and can always eliminate more misery than happiness from the world. Mercy is a virtue, and justified euthanasia is one of the most powerful forms of mercy we have.