Euthanasia: Sanctity of life vs. Quality of life

Sanctity of Life and Quality of Life in relation to euthanasia.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia literally translates from the Greek as “good death” but it is more commonly defined as the intentional premature ending of life. There are four types.

 

Euthanasia can be one of two types; voluntary and involuntary

 

Voluntary = When individual requests for their life to be prematurely ended

 

Involuntary = When the individuals consent is not taken into account – even if the individual can make a consent.

 

There are two methods of terminating a life than can be classified as euthanasia

 

Active – this is when deliberate drugs are given to bring death

 

Passive – this is when drugs and other machinery on which the individual is reliant are withdrawn in order to hasten death.


What is the Sanctity of Life (SoL) argument?

The SoL argument states that human life is valuable in itself. According to SoL all life is worthy of RESPECT and REVERENCE and is intrinsically worthwhile. This implies all life is equal and we have a duty to protect it.

Ties with Christianity…

Christians sometimes use this argument to found some of the their ethics (particularly medical ones) because ‘the body is the temple of the holy spirit’.

Catholicism

 

The SoL principle is crucial to the catholic position. According to Natural Law any form of euthanasia should not be allowed because it conflicts the first primary precept of life – to live the supreme good. However, now it is recognised that not everyone can handle suffering physically and psychologically, it is impractical to assume that. So even though ‘suffering has a special place in God’s plan of salvation’ and it conflicts the primary precept, the Doctrine of double effect can be used to justify some acts. If the intention is to reduce pain by giving medication not to end the individuals life it can be justified as moral. The church distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary means and euthanasia is an extraordinary means which can occasionally be used.


Evaluation


Strengths

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power of using euthanasia for selfish reasons
– Includes Christian teachings of love and compassion

Weaknesses 

– Outdated – not practical for a world where world population is exponentially growing.

– It is unclear then when this extraordinary means can be utilised.

 

Quality of Life

 

The Quality of Life principle essentially uses the ideas about Personhood to argue when people are considered persons and their life is worthwhile living.

 

Daniel Maguire

 

Maguire who is a professor of Theology argues that saying that God creates life and can only destroy it implies that we are his property. He says that we intervene to save and preserve life  and there is no real difference between than and euthanasia because they both have the goal of ending life with a good death. 

 

Peter Singer

 

Singer says we should move away from the SoL ethic because it is leading to people having a low quality of life. An individual can judge them self whether euthanasia is appropriate and if they are in a position where they can’t consent someone else must do it for them depending on the quality of their life which could be measured medically. 

He puts forward five new commandments which he believes we should abide by:

1. Human beings do not possess equal worth

2. Accept responsibilities for the consequence for our actions

3. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

4. Do not discriminate on the basis of species

5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

Number 5 obviously tells us how Singer feels towards euthanasia.

Evaluation

 

Strengths

– By focusing on the quality of life, we are approaching the topic more practically  in the 21st century.

 

Weaknesses

-Individuals in Permanent Vegetative State and other forms of suffering can be sometimes seem as a life not worth living. But this has further implication such as that many disabled and handicapped people have a life which is also not worth living – this does not sit well with the vast majority of people.

Ethical Responses to Euthanasia

Utilitarianism

Act: Bentham would use the hedonic calculus to work out what the right thing to do is. Often in cases of euthanasia the pain is so great that Bentham would be for it as euthanasia is produces the greatest good for the greatest number.

Rule: Mill would agree with euthanasia because he held firm beliefs in the sovereignty of individual. He would however, look at each situation individually, e.g. Thomas Hyde who has the same condition as Steven Hawking ALS  would say that even though the body is dead the brain isn’t which is a higher pleasure and so the act of euthanasia would not be acting on the GHP.

 Singer – Singer was very much in favor of the QoL argument saying we should replace the outdate SoL principle with 5 new commandments:

  1. All humans do not possess equal worth
  2. We should take responsibility for out actions
  3. By saying humans are greater than animals we are committing specism 
  4. Bring children only in this world if they are wanted
  5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

The last commandment particularly forces us to accept euthanasia as a morally permissible act.

Kant

In order to work out Kant’s response to the ethics concerning euthanasia we must explore how they would fit in with the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.

1. Universalization

It would be absurd to say it is logical to universalize a law such as ‘I should help X die’ as that would imply that everyone is being helped to die. A claim like ‘ I should help X die if they are in  terrible pain and request to do so’ makes more sense if you are a Kantian and wish to embrace euthanasia. The problem is euthanasia is essentially form of suicide [assisted] and Kant gives the example of suicide being a perfect duty – something we should in no circumstances do.

2. Means to an end

By committing euthanasia we may be using the ill patient as a means to an end so we may be using it to cut costs, use the medical equipment etc for someone else, to be free of constantly visiting the hospital etc and Kant would say this is wrong. Some scholars however argue that euthanasia uses a person as an end in themselves because one is respecting their wishes. However, the problem is Kant clearly states that suicide is an immoral act and lists it as a perfect duty.

3. Kingdom of ends.

Here Kant says we should as though we were making the maxims into laws of nature and obviously euthanasia could not be a law of nature because it is unnatural and hence immoral.

Natural Law

Natural Law follows similar principles to the SoL principle. One of the primary precepts is to live – life the supreme good. This implies that secondary precepts which are absolute can be formed such as do not kill or commit suicide. As euthanasia is clearly a form of killing or suicide then Natural Law ethicists would be against it. However, it isn’t as absolute as Kant because the principle of double effect exists. If you overdose a patient with morphine with an intention to reduce pain and suffering but the by product is death – this can still justify euthanasia.

Situation ethics

A Christian God is personal one hence each situation should be looked at personally bar an legal rules and regulations. In many of these situations the most loving thing to do is to commit euthanasia and hence euthanasia can be accepted as a situation ethicist.

Religious Ethics

Bible

    • Job “God gives and God takes away”
  • Countless passages on SoL 
  • The body is the temple of the Holy Sprit 

All these hint towards a case against euthanasia

Catholicism

They see abortion and euthanasia as murder and hence it is immoral.

They believe in the strong SoL principle.

Church of England

    • Weak SoL
  • Recognises that in some situations it is necessary

Salvation army 

Direct challenge to Mill because they believe in the sovereignty of God.