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Right to die? Why not? Physician Assisted Suicide

Long time no post! I’ve decided to get some material on here simply by migrating material from my Biomedical ethics class onto here. I believe it’s appropriate, as it is meant to foster discussion, although it is unlike many of the topics I’ve discussed before.

Without further ado, argument for a position on Physician Assisted Suicide.

A right to die is a very demanding sounding right that the vast majority of people are frequently opposed to. A “right to die” has implicit positive claims on others, that if it is impossible for me to facilitate my own death, I can obligate another to assist in it, should I so desire.

Often times defenders of euthanasia take support weaker rights that don’t put a claim on the assistance of others. I don’t see the need to do so. Here are two cases.

Kiddie Pool: X is walking by his neighbors house when he spots their young child face down in the kiddie pool. The water is shallow, and there is no risk to X, (in terms of his safety, or legal risk) should he choose to assist the child by pulling him out of the pool.

Child in Pain: Bente Hindriks has Hallopeau-Siemens, a rare syndrome that results in a loose external skin layer that peels off easily, causing extreme pain as well as the potential for infection among other things. Hindriks’ parents and doctor have no way of curing the syndrome, but only the option of continuing her suffering until she dies naturally between ages 3-10, or taking measures to euthanize.

Now, I imagine that short Jimmy, the vast majority of people’s intuition about Kiddie Pool is that there is a moral obligation to assist. What is our reason in thinking so? Perhaps there is an obligation because there is no risk of damage to the agent, while an assistance can be given to the child. I’d argue that the same is the case with Child in Pain.

In Child in Pain, an assistance can be given to Hindriks by ending her life and thereby her extreme suffering, knowing that there is no way to ease the suffering should her life continue. Because there is no way to ease the suffering, we should be inclined to say that working to continue her life does not count as an assistance to her, as it does little other than prolong her suffering.

One might object that saving a life and ending a life are dis-analogous types of assistance. I’m inclined to agree. Regardless of this, I think it’s plain to see that between the two choices, keeping Hendriks alive as long as possible or ending her life and her suffering, the latter is the kinder option. Because one is significantly kinder (we might even say the other is cruel), AND there’s no risk to the agent (provided we correctly model our legal system after our ethical system, so that it isn’t legally impermissible to act this way because it’s ethically permissible to act this way) we ought to think that the parents/doctors are obligated to assist in Hindriks death.

Why else might we think that this is wrong?

Perhaps someone might object that the agent does in fact assume a risk by assisting in the death, some form of psychological scarring and/or memories of killing an infant that will cause them harm should they choose to assist.

Even if I grant this (which I won’t), I don’t believe the two harms are even remotely comparable. Scarring memories from killing a child (that likely would want to die, but I won’t visit this issue) and their associated psychological distress is NOT comparable to the physical agony that Hendriks would be forced to endure for years should the doctors choose not to act. Choosing not to act, even if the choice is grounded in risk analysis, would be selfish, as the risk associated is not comparable to the harm that currently exists.

In some cases, at least, we can say that patients unable to do so themselves have a right to the assistance of others for their death.


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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