Euthanasia is a hotly debated topic within the medical, legal and philosophical world. To euthanize a person is to kill them out of mercy; primarily, if a person were to be suffering more in life than they would be in death, or if their quality of life had declined to a point at which they were in misery and they requested an end. This paper will argue the moral permissibility of voluntary euthanasia, along with the permissibility, and possible preferability, of active euthanasia. At this point, it serves a great deal to define the types of euthanasia: voluntary, involuntary, and non-voluntary– each with a subset of active and passive.
Arguments in favor of euthanasia include the ending of human suffering and the right to die. Counter arguments of this focus on the value of a person’s life and the possibility of a “slippery slope” to legalized murder.The distinctions between types of euthanasia must first be made clear. Voluntary euthanasia is the circumstance in which a patient requests for their life to be ended, unlike involuntary euthanasia in which the person does not want their life to end. The non-voluntary definitions covers any circumstance in which the person cannot communicate their wishes, or would not have an understanding of the situation– for example, those who are in a vegetative state or those who suffer from severe mental handicaps. Active versus passive killing has a far greater effect in the consideration of arguments. Active euthanasia is when a healthcare provider, or other designated person, executes an action that kills the suffering person directly (e.g.
pushing too much morphine causing organ failure); whereas passive euthanasia is when a person’s body shuts down of its own accord, following the actions of someone else (e.g. pulling the plug on life support). At first, these appear to be vastly different in their morality– it is, in essence, killing versus letting die. These concepts are not as separate as they may seem though, as what truly matters here is intent.
To put this in another light, take a man who is unhappy in his marriage, and wants his wife to die so he can collect money on her life insurance. One night, she trips and falls, hitting her head and falling into a fountain. The man stands above her, taking this as the perfect opportunity- if she surfaces he’ll push her back down, if not he’ll leave her there to die. Both of these cases would be morally wrong, regardless of his killing or his letting her die, as morally wrong intent is present.
However, this can separated from the permissibility of euthanasia as the man does not have his wife’s best interested heart. The intent is what matters most in the differentiation between cases, and proves the contrast between killing and letting die to be null. In many situations, active voluntary euthanasia becomes one of the best options for a patient, considering that active euthanasia is often less tortuous than passive. Active euthanasia, which takes as few as five minutes, is considered to cause far less suffering than passive, which takes a length of time Rachels describes as “patently cruel” (1996, p.482). Knowing this, it would be reasonable to assume that if a person were to kill, the better option would be one in which suffering is reduced, thus leading us to the conclusion that active and passive euthanasia have the same moral standing, and that active may be more permissible than passive.
Seeing as certain aspects of activity in euthanasia are considered morally permissible, it is key to outline why euthanasia is, in and of itself, also permissible. Primarily, any fully cognizant person ought to have the right to die. As ACLU stated in Vacco v.
Quill, “The right of a competent, terminally ill person to avoid excruciating pain and embrace a timely and dignified death… is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” (American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Dec. 10, 1996). Euthanasia is administered where one already feels that their liberty has been deprived, be it through immense pain, neurodegenerative disease or other crippling conditions and this right to die restores their freedom and control over their own body.In summary, while opponents of euthanasia may argue that it goes against the sanctity of human life and may lead to a slippery slope to legal murder, these arguments are week in that the former does not factor in the beliefs of the individual who wishes to be euthanized, and the latter that there are numerous safeguards put in place by other countries that already have euthanasia. Additionally, this essay has contested that not only is euthanasia morally permissible, it is the morally right choice when an individual who is suffering wishes to die and all other options have been exhausted.