Ethical Responses to Euthanasia

In this video I explore the different ethical responses to euthanasia including Natural Law, Utilitarianism (act,rule and preference), Kantian ethics, situation ethics and Christian ethics.

Kantian Ethics: Strength & Weaknesses

I have recently updated this table so not all strengths and weaknesses are discussed in the above video.



1. Creates a distinction between duty and inclination. Inclination is may be because something benefits us but morality is something above that it is about duty.

1. No rules if two duties conflict e.g. our duty to make other happy and our duty not use an embryo for genetic research even though genetic research makes people happy. Strangely Kant would argue in this situation one duty must not be a true duty. Furthermore, it can impractical in terms of trying to fufil all duties e.g. the duty to care for all patients equally in a hospital faced with a fixed budget.

2. Makes justice impartial because you cannot promote happiness if that happiness undermines another happiness. This is also a criticism of utilitarianism.

2. Personalised rules can not exist as they cannot be universalised. (Could also be a strength)

3. Humans are given intrinsic worth, dignity and respect. Demonstrates that humans have rights.

3. No allowance for compassion or sympathy.

4. We are equal individuals unlike some forms of Christian ethics which suggests that if you do not follow the Lord Jesus Christ you are not equal to other people.

4. What is more important consequences and people or actions? e.g.. man with axe example.

5. Easy to follow with a clear criteria because it is based on innate human reason. More importantly gives us answers which arguably other theories like Situation Ethics do not.

5. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative can be difficult to use in terms of world politics. For example, we cannot scarifice the few at war for the sake of many.

6. People generally do have the same idea about morality.

6. Kant’s deontological theory of ethics is in fact vague. The reason being no two moral situations are the same hence can one maxim fill both situations. No. Is murder the same as self-defence, suicide, abortion?

7. People recognise the idea of duty as a part of being human.

7. The theory only works if everyone agrees with it which is clearly not true. For Natural Law or Virtue Theory to work one doesn’t need everyone to work.

8. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God unlike Natural Law which if the existence of God is rejected then so is Natural Law.

8. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. can ought really imply can?

9. Is it really universal can everyone really be classified a rational moral agent?

10. Kant argues that happiness is the by-product of morality not the intention behind it – is this suggestion really logical – why would you follow it then?

11. Not everyone is capable of ration decision-making hence theory is not universal.

Kantian Ethics Revision Quiz

Questions (answers below)

1. What Century did Immanual Kant formulate his ethical theory and what nationality was Kant?


2. What quote can be used to sum up his theory?

3. Distinguish between the categorical and hypothetical imperative and give examples.

4. Why is the moral law, according to Kant, categorical?

5. How many formulations does he give of the categorical imperative, what are they and why does Kant give them?

6. Explain the formulations of the categorical imperative – what do they mean?

7. How many example of the first formulation are they? and what are they?

8. What is the distinction between duty and inclination?

9. By doing our duty what do we achieve?

10. Give 3 strengths and weaknesses of Kantian Ethics.


1. 18th C and he was German.

2. ‘Two things, above all others, fill the mind with ever increasing awe and wonder: the starry heavens above and the moral law within”

3. The Hypothetical Imperative looks to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision and you will get an A’ and the Categorical Imperative is an absolute command which does not look to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision’.

4. Because it was hypothetical it would not be universal – so if it said be moral so you can go to heaven it would be changeable and not universal as some people may not wish to go to heaven.

5. Three: (i) Universalisability (ii) Means to an end and (iii) Kingdom of ends – these are three ways given to understand the same moral law – categorical imperative.

6. Universalisability – only commit to an action that if the rest of the world did would be logical and sustainable. Means to an end – do not use people as a mere means to an end, rather you should respect and give then the same respect you give yourself. Kingdom of ends – if as a lawmaker of the world you could put your action into legislation then the action is moral. 

7. 4 – 2 are perfect duties (contradiction in conception) – do not commit suicide and do not commit false-promising and 2 are imperfect duties (contradiction in the will) – fulfil your own potential and gives others happiness.

8. Duty is what we ought to do and inclination is what we want to do (they don’t always conflict).

9. Goodwill because we eliminate selfish interests.

10. See post on strengths & weaknesses. 

Ethical Application to Abortion and Right to a Child

Approaches to abortion + Right to a child

Ultimately, as discussed in a previous post ethical theories accept or reject abortion on the basis of what they consider the status of the embryo to be.

Natural Law

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.



-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.


    • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.


  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.


The right to a child

Reproduction, is of course a significant aspect to being a natural law theorist. However, this does not imply that everyone has a right to a child, the outcome of reproduction, they have a right to try to procreate.

One of the reasons why a couple does not have a right to a child is because the various methods such as surrogacy and AID threaten the sanctity of marriage which as Aquinas said is one of the important constructs of society. It also enables homosexual couples to have babies which is unnatural and opposed by the Natural Law theory.

Another primary precept is ordered society and some of the artificial techniques used to get the child involve a child having theoretically several parents which may result in mental problems and a loss of identity and this is a threat to the ordered society in which we live in.

Kantian Ethics


Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong. However, if the moral status of an embryo is not a person then abortion is acceptable.

The right to a child

Kant would not agree that we have a right to a child because a parent does not have a right to a real live child then how can a person have a right on a hypothetical child.

– If a child is born in response to a person’s emotional needs then it is being used as a means to an end not end in itself.

-Reason is King so one must be taken adrift with emotion, this is immoral



In general all forms of utilitarianism would be in favour of  abortion because it always women to have a choice as well as unwanted pregnancies in general lead to nothing but pain which is what a utilitarian seeks to avoid.

Right to a child 

Right to a child is a little bit more difficult to say that utilitarianism would be in favour because of the vast amount of factors a utilitarian would have to consider here are some.


– joy of parents

– benefits may be unknown such as if the child turns out to discover an important theory

– Women are given the choice to sell their reproductive organs

– Financial benefits to surrogate


– harm to unborn child if surrogate mother fails to take care of herself

– No way of avoiding medical problems which can affect the individuals involved

– psychological harm to the child of having multiple parents

– Possibility of rejection if child is born handicapped

– What if surrogate bonds with baby?

– Surrogate mother could black mail parents?

As we can see it is really difficult to work out a utilitarian answer to this ethic dilemma. We can however look at past experiences in  this matter and create generalised rules which would follow Mill’s rule utilitarianism which one would guess would be in favour for couples having a right to a child.

Religious Ethics – Here we would use the SoL principle

Kantian Ethics

Kantian Ethics is summarised in the video tutorial below:



The strengths & weaknesses of the theory can be summarised as follows:

Strengths and weaknesses to Kant’s deontological theory of ethics

  1. The clear distinction between ‘emotions’ and ‘duty’ is important, it ensures that decisions are made out of something more than ‘urges of the moment’. For example, if you see someone hurt on the street, rather than acting just out of compassion, it is better to act of duty. This is gives something extra to the action taken.
  2. The theory can be applied to everyone, regardless of culture, race, religion etc.
  3. The appeal to innate human reason establishes a clear criteria for what constitutes a moral action. This makes it easier to deduce right actions to take.
  4. It respects human life without exception. Kant’s deontological of theory goes against suicide, abortion, murder etc. Even killing out of love is seen as unmoral.
  5. This respect in time demonstrates that human beings have rights e.g. they have a right to be told the truth.
  6. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God.
  1. It works only if everyone agrees to it especially when fulfilling the maxim of Kingdom of Ends.
  2. There can be conflicts of duty e.g. we have a duty to protect human life as well as we have duty not to lie but what if lying is the only way to save someone’s life? Kant’s reply to this criticism is interesting, he says that there is no such thing as a conflict in duty we need to identify which one of the two is not a duty.
  3. Kant’s theory falls into making a naturalistic fallacy – can ‘ought’ really imply ‘can’ and if this fails so does Kant’s ethical system.
  4. Can we really say that the action itself is really more important than the consequences?
  5. Does this theory really apply to everyone – what if someone is not capable of rational decision- making like a baby or someone with a disability.
  6. There is not a mutual consensus between everyone tat ‘my duty in one situation is my duty in every situation’
  7. Can this theory really be used in real life e.g. to be moral does everyone really need to try and fulfill their potential or give others happiness, can they not just be happy in themselves without causing others harm.
  8. Is Kant correct in saying that happiness is a by-product of leading a moral life not the intention behind it.
  9. For Kant, ‘rationality’ is extremely important, but just following the above point is it really realistic for Kant to overlook ‘fellowship’ because emotions, concerns, hopes etc are not part of his moral equation. I mean after all we are mortals.
  10. Obviously, for some theist the fact that God is excluded from the moral exclusion is a definite negative.