Euthanasia: a Moral Act Under the Circumstances

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A common global theme, particularly throughout the Western world suggests that murder or intentional harm toward another individual is wrong. The term itself is surrounded by controversy as morals and ethical standards are used loosely within a society. That is, while there are general standards pertaining to what are considered ethical one would be valid in making an opposing argument. Morals are not concrete. Despite the majority opinion holding that murder (intentional death) toward another human being or any living thing is unethical, the environment and situation become the determining factor in validating this claim. To kill another for personal benefit or with the intention of invoking vengeance clearly crosses moral boundaries.

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This paper determines that in certain environments and under specific circumstances, killing another individual is ethical. While heavy attention is paid to the strict guidelines that permit death toward another, the critical factor to consider is that one should have control over one’s life and not be confined by the ethical standards of an alternative individual. One’s adherence to autonomy is critical toward determining whether an individual can be euthanized in an ethical manner. Under autonomy, an individual has the right to make a decision relative to his or her own life.

Of course, the action cannot impose harm toward another. Ebrahimi introduces a rights-based argument under the concept of autonomy. That is, if a patient wishes to die he or she has the right to do so under autonomy. “Advocates of euthanasia argue that a patient has the right to make the decision about when and how they should die, based on the principles of autonomy and self-determination” (Ebrahimi 74). Naturally, one could respond that this death will have a harmful effect on others. The family members will grieve and mourn the death of their loved one, bringing pain to the family and surrounding environment. This argument is easily disputed when one considers the quality of life the individual would be forced into if he or she chooses to live, or is forced to make this choice (Sandel). Autonomy argues that an individual has control over his or her body. The decision to essentially end the body’s existence is not dismissed in this argument. As Ebrahimi states, “it is argued that as part of our human rights, there is a right to make our own decisions and a right to a dignified death” (74). A peaceful and dignified death is a welcome alternative to a long and painful death in complete agony. Philosophy has taught us to think critically; we go beyond the surface. In doing so, one begins to understand that there is no concrete truth. Perception plays a critical role in the philosophical environment and shapes our decisions. Human rights fall under this category. There are those who distinctly believe that certain individuals should not have the same rights as others; they abandon the theory of equality (Sandel). They have the right to do so as individual morals are not shaped by universal law.

At the same time, one must take initiative to categorize one’s morals and abide by them when making decisions. Collectively, Plato and Asclepius believed that “in cases where there was no feasible effective treatment and when life expectancy was short, the physician could refuse to administer any kind of treatment, since to treat such a patient would be of no benefit to the person or to society” (Papadimitriou 26). Not only does the treatment of this individual deliver no benefit to society, but his or her treatment comes with significant cost. Medical treatment is expensive and not cost effective toward an individual that is on the verge of death. Furthermore, continuing to provide hope to those who are wishing for a successful recovery is damaging as false hope is problematic (Sandel). Plato was against what would now be considered euthanasia. His Laws generally suggested that doctors who contributed to the death of another should be punished by death.

Further, Plato was against suicide as he believed that it was against the will of the gods (Papadimitriou). Even though he believed that those who committed suicide should be left in unmarked graves in a deserted area, isolated from anything that would resemble peace, he was tolerant of those who were under an insurmountable amount of pain. As an individual becomes desperate, Plato believes that he inherits the right to commit suicide (Papadimitriou). In essence, these individuals are deserving of some form of forgiveness as they are unable to maintain a life in constant pain and agony, and are deserving of relief. While he believed that only a coward would commit suicide under any other circumstance, there was a sense of sympathy toward the individuals who were left without hope; they needed death to end the agony.

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