Arguments on Euthanasia

Updated on November 21, 2016



Different Views

Euthanasia may be described as a practice through which the life of a patient is intentionally/deliberately ended in order to relieve their pain and suffering. In this case, death is viewed as the better option given that the patient not longer gets to suffer from his or her condition. Euthanasia may be passive or active, and this may largely depend on whether it is legal or illegal in a given place/region etc. Euthanasia has been a controversial topic, which has raised a lot of debate on whether it should be legalized or not. A variety of arguments have been presented from both sides on a variety of bases. For instance, while J. Gay- Williams has a different perspective of euthanasia, and argues that it is a wrong idea/practice that should not be accepted at any level, James Rachels argues that active euthanasia is a much better alternative for patients who wish to end their lives as compared to passive euthanasia.



Views Against Euthanasia

Although Williams feels that Euthanasia, at least the idea has gained considerable acceptance in the society, he is opposed to it and argues that it is not only inherently wrong, but also wrongly judged from the perspective of self interest and that of practical effects. To support his arguments, Williams starts by introducing the argument from nature. According to his argument, human beings are naturally inclined to continue living, and surviving. For instance, in case of danger, where one is attacked say by a wild animal, the natural reflexes and response move the individual to fight the attacker or even flee to avoid harm. In the day to day life therefore, human beings are always taking the necessary measures to protect their lives and avoid dangers or harm. At the molecular level, Williams notes that the body will produce antibodies to fight other microbes or even produce fibrogen for the purposes of healing a wound. All these activities aim to enhance survival and continuation of life.From this perspective, it appears that euthanasia violates this goal given that it takes a life.

Thou Shalt Not Take a life

Although he does chooses not to go in-depth on the religious aspect, Williams also touches on why euthanasia is wrong, noting that it violates one of the commandments of God; that life is sacred and should never be taken without a just and compelling cause. Moreover, given that God entrusted man to preserve life, rather than destroy it, Williams notes that killing violates this trust. This argument is however largely for those who believe in God and Creation. Unlike other animals, which Williams claims are not conscious, human beings are conscious through reason of their nature and ends. Taking of human life therefore reduces them to something less.

Whose Life is it Anyways?


The Argument Against It

The second argument used is that that of self- interest. Given that death is irreversible, euthanasia is blamed working against the self interests of those who are deliberately killed. According to Williams, although modern medicine has proved very successful in almost all areas, it is not yet perfect. Given that people have actually been shown to recover from what had been described as untreatable medical conditions, euthanasia takes away any chance of recovery, and in the event that one may have had a good opportunity to recover, they needlessly die when euthanasia is carried out. Here, Williams asks that we consider a variety of other alternatives including experimental procedures and even chances of miraculous recovery. Although some may choose euthanasia to keep their loved ones from suffering emotional and financial burdens, the euthanasia option keeps people from surviving when it is a possibility.

The third argument introduced is that of practical effects. While health care professionals for most part are committed to saving lives with otherwise results being a personal failure and an insult to their professional, euthanasia opens another door that these professionals can take as a way out. With euthanasia being an option, Williams suggests that some health care professionals may not feel the need to go an extra mile to save a life. This, according to Williams is more so in seemingly hopeless situations, Rather than trying everything to save the life of a patient, some professionals may decide that some patients would be better off dead. In the event that this trend trickles down to the less seriously ill patients, Williams argues that the quality of health care system would significantly decline. On the other hand, Williams views the euthanasia policy as being a step in the wrong direction particularly in a case where hopelessly ill patients deputize others to make the decision to euthanize. This, according to Williams has the potential to result in result in involuntary euthanasia of patients in future based on the claim that they are incapable of making the right choice. For such individuals (regarded as having mental illnesses an incapable of making appropriate decisions) there is also a possibility of abuse in the event that they are locked away.

Whose Life?


Arguments for Euthanasia

Rachels starts by acknowledging that even passive euthanasia is a form of euthanasia given that it is a deliberate decision taken to ultimately allow the patient to die. According to Williams, passive euthanasia is not euthanasia since the patient dies naturally without being killed actively though the use of drugs or other preferable method. According to Rachels, active euthanasia is much better and even preferable as compared to passive euthanasia. Here, an example of a baby born with such conditions as Down's syndrome and other congenital defects as intestinal obstructions is used. For such babies, the decision by both parents and doctors may be not to operate and thus allow the baby to die. However, according to the doctor quoted in this argument, the child is allowed to die naturally, which may take hours or even days. According to the doctor, this is a terrible ordeal for both the health care professionals and parents. From such a perspective, active euthanasia becomes preferable.

Passive and Active Euthanasia

Here, he notes that the primary aim of euthanasia is to relieve the patient of any more suffering. If this is the case, Rachels suggests that active euthanasia is a much better way in that it takes the life of the patient immediately as compared to passive euthanasia, which simply involves discontinuation of treatment and thus allows the patient to continue suffering for some time before they ultimately die of their condition. Rachels therefore suggests the use of lethal injections for patients who choose euthanasia given that it is quick and painless. Rachels also claims that one often reasons passive euthanasia is preferred than active euthanasia is because many feel that there is a moral difference. He disagrees, and goes to use examples of killing a person and allowing them to die while one watches to show that there is no moral difference between the two. For this reason, there should be no hesitation carrying out active euthanasia. Passive euthanasia is therefore viewed as sadistic and even worse than the active form in that it results in more suffering and pain before the patient eventually dies.

Some Final Thoughts

Although Rachels does indeed have a convincing argument, it is Williams who presents a more reasonable case between the two. According to Rachels, active euthanasia is a better alternative given that it relieves pain and suffering quickly and without any additional pain. According to Williams however, it is important to look at the consequences of allowing euthanasia in any society. One of these consequences includes a gradual decline in the quality of health care services given that the option of euthanasia would be available. Without the euthanasia policy, from Williams' perspective, health care professional would be encouraged and motivated to put their focus on finding cures for various ailments, relieving the suffering and pain of patients and ultimately treating their conditions. In this case therefore, treatment and increasing the quality of life of the patient would be the sole goal without looking at euthanasia as the easy way out. On the other hand, accepting euthanasia has the potential of allowing abuse where the patient viewed as hopelessly ill may be described as incapable of making reasonable choices. In the event that someone else may make a choice on their behalf, they no longer have control of whether they get treatment or not. In such cases therefore, euthanasia is involuntary. Although Williams does sympathize with the seriously ill, who are suffering and in pain, he argues that more should be done to improve their health and quality of life rather than simply assisting them in dying as a way out.
Williams also touches on the fact that medicine has not yet been perfected, and therefore errors are always likely. With new forms of treatment being discovered every other day all over the world, it is safe to agree with Williams that there is always hope for a patient get the treatment they need to recover. On the other hand, there are countless cases in which patients recover from their conditions miraculously, which add to the reasons why euthanasia should be rejected. Being permanent and irreversible, death through euthanasia takes away any chance of recovery, even in cases where the patient may have benefited from experimental treatments or even simply recovered without any good explanation. Rachels only argues that active euthanasia is the better option, which fails to consider all the factors that Williams present. Williams therefore presents a more convincing argument, which are supported by various facts in the world of medicine.

Questions & Answers

    What's Your Thoughts on Euthanasia

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      • Patrick Patrick profile imageAUTHOR


        3 years ago from Nairobi

        It is a difficult subject. On one hand it is a way out for those who experience excessive pain and discomfort due to their respective conditions, and on the other hand it may open another door we'd rather remain closed

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        This is difficult question with shades of grey. However, in saying that I have now decided that I am against the legalization of euthanasia. Why? Without going into all the details, I will suffice to say, I believe euthanasia is already being carried out by medicos at their discression. That is enough.


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