Essay: Morality of Active and Passive Euthanasia

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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy essays
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  • Published on: January 13, 2020
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  • Morality of Active and Passive Euthanasia
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Is there a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia? Rachels believes that there is no moral difference between the two. To start out, Rachels uses a clear example to explain why active euthanasia may be the preferred method. Lets say that there is a patient who is very ill with cancer and can only survive for so long, as long as they are receiving the treatment. If the patient decides that they do not want to suffer any more, according to a certain doctrine, it is wrong to intentionally kill the patient but permissible to withhold treatment. If the doctors are to withhold treatment, that patient may survive for an extended period of time but endure a longer period of pain before dying. If the doctor was allowed to take action and use active euthanasia, the patient would be able to end suffering immediately. This is one example where active euthanasia could seem no morally different than passive euthanasia, considering that it is in the patient\’s best interest.

Rachels also uses two different examples to help show how there could be no moral difference between the two. Lets say Smith has a child with Downs Syndrome. If the child dies, he will receive a large amount of money. Smith decides to drown the child while it is in the bath and frames it to look like a mishap. In the other example, Jones is in the same situation. The only difference is that when he goes to drown the child, the child has already slipped and fell in the water and can not get up. Jones chooses to let the child die. Although the example differs in the method of child dying, the motive was the same. Letting a child die is morally wrong, just like directly killing it.

The main argument made by Rachels is that there is no moral difference between active and passive euthanasia. Doctors are worried about the well-being of a patient and want the patient to avoid becoming a burden. In the case of helping a patient by ending their life, there is no moral difference between them. If a doctor kills a patient by active euthanasia, the moral reasoning behind the method is no different than the reasoning behind using passive euthanasia since they were carried out for humane reasons.

Contrary to what Rachels believes, Foot thinks that there is a moral difference between active and passive euthanasia. One of Foot\’s main points is that there is a difference between allowing someone to die and being the reason a sequence developed that lead to the death of a person. If you allow someone to die, there is no interference and the person died from whatever natural cause or problem occurred. If a person interferes though and kills someone, they are then held accountable for the fatality.

For example, Foot uses one example to show how someone can be the agent of death and be responsible for killing someone. A third world country has no edible or available food and will starve to death. A first world country sends the third world country poisoned food to end their lives. Originally, the inhabitants of the poor country would die of starvation and disease. When the first world country sends the poisoned food though, they are then responsible for the deaths. The motives behind the decision also affect the moral difference between killing and letting die, such as in the previous example.

To further explain what it means to be the agent, Foot uses two ideas to identify the word. One is important in the case of euthanasia. First off, like mentioned in the first paragraph about Foot, something or someone will start a fatal sequence that leads up to the death of someone. They are then responsible for the death since they did not let the natural cause continue the sequence. So in the case of active euthanasia, if the doctor administers some injection to end a persons life, they are the ones who are responsible for the death, not the disease.

Foot also mentions rights to help understand why being the agent of death is wrong. When a person interferes and starts a new fatal sequence, they are also infringing the rights to noninterference of a person. This is one right that humans should have no matter what. While people also have the right to goods and services, it should not be allowed for someone to break one right when using the other. If euthanasia (the goods and services) is used to start a new fatal sequence and be the ultimate cause of death, the right to noninterference is violated.

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