Physician-Assisted Suicide From Utilitarian Theory Point Of View

 PHI 208 Ethics and Moral Reasoning – Ethical Question

Should physicians be allowed to administer lethal injections to assist terminally ill patients to end their lives, if and when they decide to?

Sample Answer

Introduction

Physician-assisted suicide is one of the hotly contested topics. It is defined as the process of ending life of a patient who has a terminal illness or who faces great pain through the administration of a lethal injection either directly by a physician or with the assistance by the physician (Graham, 2011). Physician assisted suicide or euthanasia is a controversial procedure that has raised great ethical and legal issues. As a result many theories have been advanced for or against physician assisted suicide. The utilitarian theory focuses on the act and the rule aspect of an action, Kantian theory focuses on the ethical aspect of an act. Throughout the paper, the utilitarian theory shall be applied. The act of euthanasia is justified on the point of view of patient’s suffering; however the act has bad effects to the relatives and other patients.

The Utilitarian Theory

According to (Singer, 2003, p. 526) utilitarian theory is consequential in nature. The author asserts that the theory offers its perspectives based on the consequences of an act. The act-utilitarian asserts that an act is considered right if it is open to the person carrying it and that it offers better consequences than those offered by other actions open to the agent. The theory judges the ethics of the individual acts independently. The rule-utilitarian asserts that an action is right if when followed leads to consequences that are better than or not worse as the other actions that might be followed in a situation.

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Euthanasia has two possible consequences; pain and pleasure or suffering and happiness (Singer, 2003, p. 527). The happiness and pleasure constitute good and desired things, while pain and suffering are bad and undesired consequences. According to the author, people will generally strive to live life with less happiness and more suffering if it leads to fulfillment of important life preferences. For instance, an individual will strive to attain excellence in a profession like sport even if they undergo pain in their attempts with the knowledge of the available options that can guarantee happiness.

The main objection towards euthanasia emanates from the rule that it is wrong to kill an individual who is innocent (McLachlan, 2008). However, this role offers great concern for the rule and act-utilitarianism (Singer, 2003). The act-utilitarian will not accept the rule without being convinced that the rule will offer the best consequences that would be followed in similar instances. Similarly, the rule-utilitarian will not accept the rule until they are convinced that it will result in the greatest consequences than any other available rule.

The moral component that prohibits humans against euthanasia is the religious doctrine that draws a distinction between the human beings and other animals (McLachlan, 2008). The other plausible reason against euthanasia is the utilitarian view of the boundary between the species. According to the utilitarian principle of boundary between humans and other species, allowing euthanasia will likely lead to a slippery slope that will result in a mass unjustified killings.

In arguments for euthanasia, the utilitarian theory gives a reason to kill if the future of individual life gives more negatives than positives (Singer, 2003). For example, if the future offers more negatives that positives, unhappiness than happiness and more frustrations on preferences than satisfaction of the preferences. Regarding who is to give powers to make choice for euthanasia, John Stuart Mill, pointed that individuals are their own best judges and guardians in making decisions regarding whether to undergo physician-assisted suicide. However, this does not apply to an individual who possess unimpaired capacities for judgment.

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Moreover, the act of killing can offer devastating consequences to the close families of those killed. The same can lead to fears and anxiety among the patients who suffer the same or from illnesses that offer much suffering to them. However, such fears can be transformed into an argument for euthanasia if the individuals are killed upon their request.  More so, it becomes relieving if the ill and the elderly learn that they can be assisted by physicians to die as a way to relive pain and distress.

Physician-Assisted Suicide From Utilitarian Theory Point Of View

The reasoning behind the utilitarian theory can be applied for argument for physician-assisted suicide. The terminally ill patients face life ending illnesses, such as cancer, while the elderly might undergo distress and suffering owing to the complications that arise due to the nature of their anatomy.

The physician-assisted suicide is justified under the act-utilitarian principle. Terminally ill patients and the elderly undergo untold pain and at that moment, the best cause of happiness for them is to die. Dying, through the assistance of a qualified physician offers the best preference for them. Moreover, caring for the terminally ill or elderly patients often involve huge financial costs. For example, a terminally ill patient suffering from cancer must undergo a painful chemotherapy, with no chance of life in addition to huge financial implications of performing the procedure. The consequences are huge negatives, which outweigh the benefits of physician-assisted suicide, which offers comfort to the terminally ill and absolving the family the misery of huge financial burden.

Moreover, allowing the patients to decide when to die offers them more satisfaction as it goes according to their wishes. No one knows the kind of pain that a patient with terminal illness undergoes. Such illnesses are source of physical, psychological and emotional pain to the patients. Ultimately, the benefits of physician-assisted suicide to the patient outweigh the negatives that the patient attains due to the illness.

Objection

Although physician-assisted suicide can be justified by the act-utilitarian, it raises huge concerns regarding patients who are incapacitated, making the utilitarian arguments problematic. An objection towards the act-utilitarian arises when patients do not possess the capacity to make sound judgments. According to the 19th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, a person who wishes to die with assistance from a physician is her/his own best judge and guardian to make the decision.

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However, an individual who faces illness that incapacitates them may wish to make a request to be afforded physician-assisted suicide. Such a scenario raises many questions on whether such a patient should be granted his/her wish or denied. If granted, will it be ethical on the objective of his/her incapacity to make informed decisions? Conversely, if denied, does it not go against his/her to end life owing to the huge suffering that such a patient undergoes? Moreover, it would be against the utilitarian theory to assist such a patient in making decisions.

Conclusion

Euthanasia continues to be a contentious and controversial topic both in legal and ethical perspectives. Many theories have been advanced to explain the reasons for and against the process. The utilitarian theory is a consequential theory that stresses on the impact of euthanasia. According to the theory, euthanasia is right if the positives are far good for the patient than the negatives. Terminally ill patients should be allowed to be assisted to die, upon their personal decisions. However, the process can be problematic if such patients are incapacitated yet express their desires to be assisted by physician to die.

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