Rights and Voluntary Euthanasia

3678 words 15 pages
Essay Topic

Euthanasia Word count 3487

This paper tries to set the issue of voluntary euthanasia in a philosophical framework by showing how some of the main philosophical theories about morality would deal with the topic. Philosophers have not discussed euthanasia as such until recently, although it is now a popular topic. What has always been discussed, however, is suicide, which raises much the same moral problems as voluntary euthanasia. The moral similarity between voluntary euthanasia and suicide enables us to make a reasonable guess about what some of the great philosophers would say about
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The first is that it seems to justify too much: might it not sometimes justify involuntary euthanasia? If sufficient numbers of people would gain in happiness and quality of life from the death of one person, the Utilitarian has to agree that such an action would be justified, provided it could be carried out without causing a general panic which would outweigh the hoped-for gain in happiness.

This problem is one example of a general difficulty with Utilitarianism of any kind. If the rightness of an action is to be measured in overall consequences, there is no protection for the individual against the majority: they may do whatever they like to him, provided there is sufficient gain to outweigh his loss. We might put this point by saying that Utilitarianism does not safeguard the individual's rights. And it is just this inability to safeguard individuals' rights that leads many to reject the Utilitarian approach, as yielding results which are too much at variance with our moral intuitions.

A second problem is the line that the Utilitarian has to take on changing the law. We are apt to assume that the law should reflect private morality: if an action is right, then the law should permit it. But for the Utilitarian a law is right if it is useful: that is, if having such a law would maximise the good results in which he believes. Some Utilitarians say that a change in the law,

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