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Ethical Obligations to Assist Euthanasia

Here’s some more follow-up thinking on Physician Assisted Suicide.

In this post, I will argue that provided sufficient conditions, any individual has a right (a claim on the assistance of others) to euthanasia of any kind. I do not believe this claim on others is restricted to passive euthanasia, in which the subject is merely allowed to die via a foreseen consequence of actions (or non-actions), but includes active euthanasia, in which the subject may ask for the assistance of and thereby obligate others to take action to end his/her life.

While I believe the intend/foresee distinction is a valid one, it will not enter into my post, as I believe both intentional and foreseen killing/euthanasia is permissible. Note I also will not take the time to outline the sufficient conditions for a right to die. While important, this can be argued elsewhere and I do not have the space.

Furthermore, I would argue that because the right to die can obligate others to actively assist in euthanizing, refusing to take part in an active process and force the subject into a situation in which they must await death as a foreseen consequence is unnecessarily cruel.

First, negative argument intended to dismantle objections:
One might argue that a right to death is far too demanding. Granting a claim on the assistance of others seems to unfairly obligate a third party to do something they don’t wish to partake in, violating their autonomy. My response is two-fold.

1. Demanding-ness is Meaningless. While the objector may have a valid concern that such a right is in fact demanding, I fail to see why such demands hamper the strength of my argument. For example, granted Kiddie Pool which was part of one of my recent posts (Walking by kid drowning, low risk to save him, you are obligated to save him), it seems that our intuitions sometimes think that it’s okay for a moral principle to place demands on others. Provided no/minimal risk, as in the case in both Kiddie Pool and active euthanasia, there is a duty to assist people in need, so we ought to think we’re obligated to assist the suffering person seeking assisted euthanasia.

2. This Isn’t About You. A naysayer might object, “Sure, but there’s a difference between Kiddie Pool and AE (active euthanasia)! I don’t have anything against the act of pulling a kid out of a pool, that’s a good action, but killing someone!? I can’t do that!” Let me refer this objection back to the title of this argument. This Isn’t About You. The action itself, be it a killing or letting die, is permissible granted the informed consent of the subject, regardless of whatever feelings you have about the act of killing. Any feelings you may have about the emotional damage you may or may not suffer (The brutalizing of the killer argument?) by assisting in a death are massively outweighed by the subject’s suffering. In short, I’m ambivalent to concerns you have about getting your hands dirty when someone is so miserable they want to die.

Looking at The Elizabeth Bouvia case (explained in more detail later), “Judge John H. Hews … [decided] allowing her to starve herself to death in the hospital would ‘have a profound effect’ on the staff, other patients, and other handicapped people.” This is a miserable reason to assert that someone continue to suffer. The argument, in effect, asserts that the autonomy and wellbeing of Bouvia is less important than the well-being of the people around her, who might be negatively affected. Give me a break. Better yet, give the suffering woman a break.

Now, positive argument in favor of active euthanasia:

Passive Euthanasia Defeats the Purpose. The point of euthanasia is to end/shorten suffering. Does passive euthanasia do this? Our response is mixed. Yes, it does end suffering, but it does not shorten it (case in point Elizabeth Bouvia, who eventually decides she can’t starve herself to death because the side effects would be too costly and actually worsen her suffering, despite her wishes to die). Passive euthanasia (often, in comparison to active) prolongs the very suffering euthanasia seeks to end, seemingly only for the reasons addressed in This Isn’t About You. While the intend/foresee distinction does have significant moral weight, if the very goal of euthanasia is to end/shorten suffering and This Isn’t About You is granted, it seems that PE (passive euthanasia) fails to achieve its goals. It should therefore be rejected in favor of AE.

I think it is important to lay out necessary/sufficient conditions upon which we think that a claim on others for AE is granted, but won’t argue for them here. What’s included is not meant to be an exhaustive list, merely some preliminary ideas that might guide the creation of necessary/sufficient conditions. Such conditions might include:
1. Subject’s inability to perform euthanasia themselves.
2. Physical and emotional suffering, where emotional suffering alone is sts insufficient for AE (physical suffering that does not cause emotional suffering seems unlikely to create a situation in which the subject would ask for AE).
2a. Emotional suffering may be sufficient for AE, should it be great enough, and the subject is of an age where they can make an informed decision (Perhaps above 21? 25? 30?) This quells worries about teen suicide.
3. The lack of dependents – a parent that is still able to provide for his/her children cannot ask for AE (if the parent is no longer providing, perhaps this condition is not necessary)

Provided such conditions are fulfilled, we ought to think AE is preferable to PE, and subjects have a right to demand AE from others.

About forthesakeofdebate

I enjoy intellectual discussion and learning, metal music, martial arts, and blades. Pretty soon I'll be your favorite misanthrope.

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