Margret Sumerville defines Euthanasia– Euthanasia is a deliberate act that causes death undertaken by one person with the primary intention of ending the life of another person, in order to relieve that persons suffering.

Three types of Euthanasia:

Voluntary :

-a person asks that his or her life be terminated as an act of mercy. Request could be in living will. Request could be specific ex. That certain life-saving measures are not taken or actively killed by other means.

-Someone may want to make this request because they are in intolerable pain, with no hope of relief. Losing his or her physical or mental abilities, such as MS or Alzheimer’s. Not wanting to undergo other invasive treatments.

Ex. Sue Rodriquez. Diagnosed with ALS

-Assisting someone to commit suicide is a prison term

-family members take their dying loved ones to Switzerland where it is legal to have assisted suicide. Does helping someone get to a clinic in another country mean assisted suicide?

-it is the patients wish


-Patient is suffering, but due to their condition, cannot direct how they should be treated

in this case family members believe that the person would want euthanasia if they were in a position to make their wishes known

-these situations rise when person is mentally incapacitated, usually from illness, or in a coma

-These cases are difficult because it has to be determined what the patient would want, but without being able to ask them. Not voluntary but not against their wishes


-The third category of euthanasia is the most controversial

-Involuntary euthanasia occurs when the patient does not want to be killed, or might reasonably be expected not to want to be killed if they were to make their wishes known

-In the case of involuntary euthanasia the action is often performed with the intent of relieving the burden of others to make their wishes known

-People are afraid that involuntary euthanasia could become widespread

– People fear this would happen if euthanasia were legalized

-Many are worried there would be a “slippey slope” from voluntary to involuntary euthanasia

Arguments Against Euthanasia

Argument 1: “slippery slope argument”

-If it was legal that there would be a slippery slope between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia

Argument 2: Values argument

-Somerville argues that killing patients goes against medicines fundamental values’ that medicine values life, healing and so on

-She argues we have to be careful of protecting society’s moral values, including the idea of killing. Allowing physicians to kill will erode these values

Argument 3: The sanctity of life argument

-many people argue that euthanasia devalues human life by making it expendable

-If human life is valuable in itself, it is valuable period-not just if the person is living a healthy life. We think killing is almost always wrong life is precious

Argument 4: the errors in medicine argument

-This argument points to the fact that doctors are sometimes wrong in their diagnoses

-What if a person is euthanized, and the cure is found the next day? What if they come out of their comma after?

How do you know if something is valid?

if there is not contradiction with the premises then the argument is valid.

If there is contradiction between the premises then the argument is invalid.

if the argument is invalid it doesn’t mater if the premises are true.=

Three Moral Principles

  • Many people think that the way to figure out what is right and what is wrong is to talk about moral principles.
  • A moral principle is a moral rule to live by, such as “help others.”
  • In an given moral problem, such as euthanasia, if we are to use moral principles, the first step is to figure out which moral principles are relevant.
  • The first moral principle relevant to the euthanasia case is the protection of human life principle.
  • To protect human life is to do two things:
  • One, to avoid taking human life, so to avoid murder and so on.
  • Two, to help others who need help in order to survive.
  • Many people think this is the right way to approach ethics.
  • The second moral principle is the avoidance of suffering principle.
  • We could state it as follows: “prevent others from suffering wherever possible.”
  • This principle teaches us to help others who are suffering, or to help them avoid it.
  • The reason that euthanasia is such an interesting case is that the two principles seem to contradict each other….if the only way to prevent a person’s suffering is to take their life, then what?
  • What do we do when principles come into conflict?
  • Those who are in favour of euthanasia, however, argue that the protection of life principle does not always have to come first.
  • In some cases, where suffering is particularly acute, the avoidance of suffering principle can come first, and euthanasia is justified.
  • A big part of moral reasoning is figuring out which principle is going to take precedence in a particular case.
  • However, your textbook editors argue that it is even more complicated than this; there is actually a third principle that is relevant to euthanasia.
  • The third moral principle is the principle of moral autonomy.
  • “Each person has as much freedom to act on his or her own moral beliefs as is compatible with others being able to do the same.”
  • In other words, so long as we are not harming others, we should be free to act on our own beliefs and values.
  • The trick is figuring out how to follow all three, or whether we even can!
  • This is especially hard in cases like euthanasia, where they seem to conflict.

Active and Passive Euthanasia

  • Margaret Somerville, in Tuesday’s reading, and James Rachels, in today’s reading, both talk about the difference between active and passive euthanasia.
  • It is a difference that many people think is very important, and in fact many forms of passive euthanasia are perfectly legal.
  • Active euthanasia occurs when a physician performs an action to bring about the death of his or her patient.
  • An example this would be giving a lethal injection of morphine.
  • Passive euthanasia also brings about the death of a patient, but it happens when a physician fails to act. In this case not doing something is what brings about the patient’s death.
  • Examples here would be withholding food or water, not performing CPR, or not performing necessary surgery.
  • Some cases are borderline, however:
  • Unplugging a person’s ventilator
  • Unplugging a person’s feeding tube and feeding them by mouth, knowing they can’t absorb much by mouth
  • It’s not always clear what counts as active and what counts as passive
  • James Rachels gives an extended argument to the effect that the distinction doesn’t make a moral difference.
  • In other words, if one is okay, the other is fine too, and if one isn’t okay, then neither is the other.
  • Either both are right or both are wrong.
  • Rachel’s uses a straightforward pair of cases to make his point.
  • First, you’ve got Smith, who stands to gain a huge inheritance if his six-year old cousin dies.  To get the money, he drowns his cousin in the bathtub, and then arranges it so it looks like an accident.–>active
  • Second, there is Jones, who also stands to gain from a cousin’s death.  He goes up to the bathroom intended to drown him, but notices that the child has bumped his head and is drowning anyway.  Standing back, he marvels at his good fortune.–> passive (not doing what is necessary)
  • Rachel’s argues that there is no relevant difference between the two cases.
  • Both did something that was terribly morally wrong, and both are equally culpable.–> same in euthanasia case
  • Is there a moral difference between giving them a lethal injection, and withholding treatment such as CPR?–: Rachels would say no difference
  • Some, instead of drawing the distinction between active and passive euthanasia, draw the distinction between “ordinary” and “extraordinary” treatment.
  • According to this, it is wrong to withhold ordinary treatment like food and water, but not extraordinary treatment like surgery.

Arguments for Euthanasia

The first argument is if a person has the right to do what they want with their body, they have the right to ask someone else to do it for them.

The second argument stems from the principle of avoiding suffering.

It is the claim that if the only thing that can prevent a person’s further suffering is taking their life, then that can be permitted if that is what the person wants.

Third, Nowell-Smith argues that if we have a right to life (which surely we do), then we have a right to let go of our life.–> moral autonomy

He argues that a right to life does not imply a duty to stay alive.

Fourth, the best interests argument. Nowell-Smith argues that if a person is choosing to die, then they have decided that for them, dying is better than staying alive.–>what they have decided is the choice for them

He argues that the person best able to know what is in their own best interests is the person themselves, and so they should decide.

These are the four main arguments in favour of euthanasia:

First, control over one’s own body

Second, avoiding suffering

Third, the right to life implies a right to end one’s life > Nowell-Smith

Fourth, the best interests argument: the person affected is best able to know what’s in his or her best interests  Nowell-Smith

Fifth, the fairness argument.

An able-bodied person can commit suicide without any help, and it is legal.

It is unfair to deny a person who is not able to commit suicide on their own the same right.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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