Euthanasia Essay: Assisted Suicide

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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

In her paper entitled "Euthanasia," Phillipa Foot notes that euthanasia should be thought of as "inducing or otherwise opting for death for the sake of the one who is to die" (MI, 8). In Moral Matters, Jan Narveson argues, successfully I think, that given moral grounds for suicide, voluntary euthanasia is morally acceptable (at least, in principle). Daniel Callahan, on the other hand, in his "When Self-Determination Runs Amok," counters that the traditional pro-(active) euthanasia arguments concerning self-determination, the distinction between killing and allowing to die, and the skepticism about harmful consequences for society, are flawed. I do not think Callahan's reasoning establishes that euthanasia is indeed morally wrong and legally impossible, and I will attempt to show that.

Callahan first goes on to state that euthanasia is different from suicide in that it involves not only the right of a person to self-determination, but the transfer of the right to kill to the acting agent (presumably a physician) as well. This right, however, is temporary and restricted to killing the patient only. It is not clear why this temporary transfer makes euthanasia wrong, for if this is wrong, then letting a patient die (in the case where the patient already has the assistance of life-supporting equipment) is also wrong, if there is no distinction between killing and letting die. So, we must return to this argument after addressing Callahan's claims of a distinction between killing and allowing to die.

The argument for the distinction is based on the cause of death. In the classic example of a doctor unplugging life-sustaining equipment, the cited cause of death is disease or...

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I have brought forward considerations that counter Callahan's reasoning against three types of arguments that support euthanasia: the right to self-determination, the insignificant difference between killing and letting a person die by removing their life-support, and euthanasia's good consequences outweighing the harmful consequences are all positive, relevant and valid factors in the moral evaluation of euthanasia. Callahan's objections against these reasons do not hold.

Works Cited

MI: Narveson, Jan, ed. Moral Issues. Toronto: Oxford, 1983.

EI: Soifer, Eldon, ed. Ethical Issues. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1997.

MM: Narveson, Jan. Moral Matters. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1993.

Callahan, Daniel. When Self-Determination Runs Amok, in Hastings Center Report, March-April 1992, pp. 52-55. In EI, pp.409-415.
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