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.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism Bentham – Act Utilitarianism Mill – Rule Utilitarianism
Strengths (Bentham 2 – 5 taken from Wiki answers ) 1. Easy to use – clear criteria and offers a systematic approach to ethics.

2. Utilitarianism cannot be faulted on its morals as it clearly seeks the happiness and fairness for the largest number of people, which has always been an important consideration in the works of government and other major powers, as well as in everyone’s everyday life.

3. Designed for global politics unlike Kantian ethics.
Also, it considers the consequences of all actions, which is key in building a civilized society. If people were not aware of consequences then there would be no deterrent to commit crime.

4. Also, it encourages a democratic approach to decision making, and minorities are not allowed to dominate.

5. It does not rely on any controversial or unverifiable theological or metaphysical claims or principals, so it is accessible to everyone.

1. Mill considers emotions a form of higher pleasure which is a strength because it can make the theory a little less impartial and allow more room for emotions. In the house on fire example (Bentham Weakness 3) Mill could possibly allow you to save your mother arguing  your emotions are a higher pleasure and since he gives no explanation of what to do if pleasures clash we could justice the saving of the mother.

2. Mill’s idea of creating generalized rules makes the theory more objective and provides us a means to creating universal rules.

Weaknesses 1. Difficult to predict consequences e.g. if you plan to hit someone you might predict that they will be upset because 99.9% of the time this is the result however, what if the person turns out to enjoy it and get pleasure out of pain – all you consequences are wrong!

2.Utilitarianism is a demanding theory as something as simple as buying an ice-cream can be deemed immoral because you know that the money could be spent elsewhere in order to get the greatest good for the greatest number.

3. Some critics argue it is too impartial – if a house was on fire and you could only save your mother or the world’s best sergeant you would according to the PoU (principle of utility) have to save the sergeant. No room for emotions. John Rawls advocates this criticisms pointing out that it could support a more dictatorial society just because it produces the greatest amount of pleasure.

4.Utilitarianism is subjective – what is moral for one person isn’t the same for another implying that no such universal law system can exist.

5. Utilitarianism implies that everyone has a moral faculty (awareness that gives us a sense of moral judgement) and not everyone has this young kids, disables persons etc. This alienates people from the theory.

6.Bentham and Mill both commit a naturalistic fallacy according to G.E.Moore, just because something is desirable and produces a lot of pleasure does not imply that we ought to pursue that action.

1. Difficult to predict consequences e.g. if you plan to hit someone you might predict that they will be upset because 99.9% of the time this is the result however, what if the person turns out to enjoy it and get pleasure out of pain – all you consequences are wrong!

2. Utilitarianism is a demanding theory as something as simple as buying an ice-cream can be deemed immoral because you know that the money could be spent elsewhere in order to get the greatest good for the greatest number.

3. Utilitarianism implies that everyone has a moral faculty (awareness that gives us a sense of moral judgement) and not everyone has this young kids, disables persons etc. This alienates people from the theory.

4. Mill makes several elitist claims e.g. for example it is better to a dis-satisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig (comparing not so intelligent people to pigs), claiming that the higher your moral faculty the more difficult to find pleasure (as not so intelligent people are satisfied with almost anything). Yet what Mill fails to acknowledge is if through utilitarian values a pig can be satisfied then this devalues the intellectual ability of all humans.

5. Mill uses non-utilitarian values such as justice (supreme moral good) and from this we can infer that there are more important things than happiness and this inference destroys the foundation of utilitarianism.

6. As mentioned previously, Mill does not discuss what happens if rules/higher pleasure conflict. Adding to the ambiguous nature of utilitarianism.

7. Furthermore, given that the rules are generalized and formulated through experience this means that they are not absolute and can be broken. But it is difficult to see how one would know when an exception could be added and if we keeping using exceptions and don’t make Mill’s utilitarianism rigid then this some scholars imply collapse it back to act utilitarianism. E.g. the rule tell the truth unless a lie produces more pleasure isn’t that essentially Bentham’s form.

8. No two moral situations are exactly the same so how can rules based on past different (Albeit similar) circumstances helps us with new situations?

9. Moreover, Mill argues that a competent judge would always pick higher pleasures over lower pleasures yet this is not true for all circumstances e.g. if Mill was somehow stranded in a desert he would not pursuit poetry or imagination he would pursue drinking water – which is a lower pleasure- doesn’t this mean he has an infirmity of the mind?

10. Bentham and Mill both commit a naturalistic fallacy according to G.E.Moore, just because something is desirable and produces a lot of pleasure does not imply that we ought to pursue that action.

Quiz on Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Please find answers below.

1. What is the Hedonic Calculus and another name for it?

2. Distinguish between higher and lower pleasure giving examples.

3. Which utilitarian theory focuses upon the quantity of pleasure and which on the quality of pleasure?

4. What are 4 components of the hedonic calculus?

5. What does Bentham believe is the supreme moral good and Mill? Does Mill agree?

6. If you pick a lower pleasure over a higher pleasure what are you said to have?

7. What is Mill’s famous quote (hint. think pig)

8. How would you describe Utilitarianism?

9. What are three strengths of Utilitarianism (Act or Rule)?

10. What are three Weaknesses of Utilitarianism (Act or Rule)?

______________________________________________________________________

Answers

1. Felicific Calculus –  this is a calculation used by the universal hedonists to calculate how much pleasure an action produces.

2. Higher pleasure are those of the mind e.g. feelings, imagination and intellectual pursuits. Lower pleasures are bodily pleasures e.g. sex, drinking and eating.

3. Bentham’s Act utilitarianism focuses upon the quantity of pleasure and Mill’s Rule utilitarianism focuses upon the quality of pleasure.

4. Any 4 from: (i) Remoteness (ii) Certainty (iii)Fecundity (iv)Purity (v)Intensity (vi)Duration (vii) Extent

5. Bentham believes the supreme moral good is happiness and Mill disagrees saying it is justice.

6. An infirmity of the mind.

7. “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”.

8. Secular, Consequentialist and Teleological theory.

9 and 10. For list of strengths and Weaknesses see my other post.

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.