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Euthanasia is, according to Webster dictionary, the act of killing an individual for the reason of mercy. This paper will examen the issue of active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia is an intervention that would cause death to take place when it would not otherwise happen. Passive euthanasia is the decision to withold help from an individual, ultimately leading to the death of the individual.
This paper is supposed to deal with the circumstances, if any, that euthanasia, active or passive, would be morally permissible. Before I build the wall of moral delineation between these two scenarios, consider that they are but two possible choices on a broad continuum of options about death. I would suggest that there are three “hard points” on this continuum;
1. Do not allow death if at all possible
2. Do not interfere with death
3. Death is a choice
Under this logic, #1 & #3 define the continuum limits and #2 the center point. I would argue that both active and passive are between #2 and #3. Active is clearly close to #3 while passive still advocates interference with the natural process of death. Passive euthanasia is a choice to allow death when you have the option to prevent it, even in the face of the wishes of the sufferer means that you are exercising a choice about death. So maybe there are really only two hard points to the continuum; #1 and #3? Indeed, even the deciding when to exercise #1 means that you are at #3!
The circumstances in which euthanasia would be morally permissible must therefore be drawn upon #3 of the continuum. The #3 says that death is a choice and that both passive and active euthanasia are choices of death. Death being a choice indicates that a decision must be made. The decision therefore lies in the hands of the patient, because he has a natural right to his life and his body. This right to life is “self-evident” and universal.
The problem with this argument becomes evident when the patient is not able to present a desicision, whether he is unconscious or has other inabilities of communication or thought processes. Who then, if anybody, should make the decision between intervention preventing death or intervention causing death? Consent then, is the issue that I will base the moral permissibility of euthanasia on. Should euthanasia be morally okay with consent, without consent, both, or neither?
First I will argue that euthanasia is morally permissible. Through the continuum, I have concluded that death is a choice. Accepting this viewpoint, you accept that someone should be able to decide to die. Accepting this, then you justify suicide. This argument is not based upon suffering because I have drawn no definition to the acceptable limit of suffering. If suicide is okay, then why not assisted suicide? Remember that just standing idle when you could prevent death is a decision to allow suicide. Arranging an injection with a push button so all the patient has to do is push a button to die would be considered suicide, which is morally acceptable. This would mean that it is acceptable for an individual to die if they were physically capable of doing it themselves. What logic would you deny the same right to those who were mentally competant but physically incapable? A person who is physically incapable of killing themselves must be killed by another if they choose to die. If a person has a right to die and cannot physically kill themselves, than euthanasia is the only way they could excersise their choice to death. If a person wants to die because they are in a unfavorable condition, whether the choice to die is implied by the patient at the present, or by instructions previously given, they have a right to chose to die and their choice should be honored. Therefore I believe that euthanasia with consent in one way or another is morally permissible in most circumstances.
The moral permissibility of euthanasia without consent now must be considered. Everybody has a right to chose to die if they want to. Who is to chose whether a person should die or not when the person cannot make the decision on their own, and their was no previous decision made? If no decision was previously made, and no consent can be given at the present time, than can a decision be made on the life or death of another? Unless we are willing to prevent death with every means available for every individual, we choose to exercise choice over death. The reasons we make those choices are varied and often ones we are not willing to face. Killing to end the pain and suffering of the one being killed could be one of the most noble choices we could make. I believe that in cases where no consent can be given, a decision must be made to intervene to prevent death or to intervene and cause death. The decision making itself is moral because death is a choice. The person or people who make the decision will vary with each circumstance. I believe that if the person is in experiencing pain and suffering, then the euthanasia would be morally permissible, even when no consent can be given.
To sum up my argument thus far, I have come to the conlusion that euthanasia with consent, and euthanasia without consent in most circumstanes would be morally permissible. I have developed a supposed continuum, where I have come to the conclusion that death is a choice. Passive and active euthanasia are both decisions leading to death, and therefore are both morally permissible because they excersise death as a choice. A choice must be made to intervene to prevent death and to intervene to cause death. This choice may be based on consent of an individual, or in cases where no consent can be given, the condition of the individual.
An opposition to my argument would be that death is not a choice, and everything must be done to prevent death from occuring. This argument may be backed up by the value of life because life is a good that is desirable to pursue or possess. If death was not a choice, then the right to chose to die, and in turn the morallity of euthanasia would not be permissible. In this viewpoint, a person could not chose to die, and that everything must be done to preserve life.
While it is true that life is a valuable thing to possess, it might only be valuable in certain circumstances. If a person is suffering from chronic pain, then is the person’s life really valuable if even the person himself does not hold any value in it? If the person’s life is not valuable any longer in this situation, then why must the persons life be preserved by all means? The argument is based on the value of life. The value of life is the supposed reason of the argument that death is not a choice. Now that I have argued that life is not always a valuable commodity, then death as a choice cannot always be eliminated. In the situations where the persons life no longer holds value to the person, death becomes an option and a choice. Death is a choice, and I believe that everybody should have the moral right to chose between intervention to prevent death and intervention to cause death. This argument against the beliefs in this paper does not in anyway take away the moral permissibility of death as a choice.
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