Euthanasia is now legalin Canada. Also known as mercy killing, euthanasiais the practice of intentionally ending someone’s life to relieve persistentpain and suffering. This may be done in several ways, one of the most commonbeing physician assisted suicides.
There are different types of euthanasia, butthe issue that will be discussed is about active, voluntary euthanasia, whereinthe doctors can actively provide a lethal dose that the patient has voluntarilyrequested and agreed to. A thirteen-year-old girl named Samantha is in the laststages of cancer and does not want any further treatment, including an experimentaltherapy for which there is some hope, because she does not believe it is goingto make her well. The doctors can end her life with a fatal dose of a drug, towhich her parents object, or they can sedate her and continue with thetreatment. From a utilitarian perspective, Samantha’s decision will cause moresuffering, even among her parents, outweighing the total happiness. Secondly,the natural law theory states that there is a higher law that must be followed,and so the preservation of Samantha’s life is more sacred than respecting herdecision.
Lastly, ending her life cannot be universalized and disrespects notonly her parent’s decision, but her personal worth, which is a directionviolation of two forms of Kant’s categorical imperative. For these reasons, I believe the doctors should sedate Samantha andproceed with the treatment, attempting to preserve her life in any way.Froma utilitarian perspective, the doctors’ decisions should be based on what willguarantee the maximum amount of happiness. Sarah’s death may relieve her ofpain and make her happy, but her loved ones will mourn her. If it is to becalculated based on the information given, the outcome of giving her the lethaldose will be that Samantha is happy and her parents will be left unhappy (1-2),so the net score is one unit of unhappiness. Therefore, it is best if the doctors continue with the treatment and sedateher, guaranteeing net happiness. AlthoughSamantha’s decision should be respected, the natural law theory states thatthere is a higher law that must be followed and that doctors are morally boundto keep her alive. Most physicians take an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oathat the beginning of their careers in which they swear to treat their patientsto the best of their ability and to “do no harm” (MacKinnon & Fiala, 2014).
One part of the oath states that they will “neither give a deadly drug toanybody who asked for it, nor will they make a suggestion to this effect(MedicineNet.com, 2016).” Moreover, St. Thomas Aquinas, who firmly believed innatural law theory, said it is our innate tendency to preserve our being andhealth and ought not to do things that will harm us.
It is against our humannature to succumb to death because humans are born with the will to live. Thoughit can be argued that natural law theory also asserts that we should honoureach other’s capacity to understand and choose freely, it must be taken intoconsideration that terminal illnesses can affect one’s mental competence andinfluence one to consider suicide. Accordingto Kant, suicide cannot be willed for all people, nor is it justified bycircumstance. He believed that euthanasia violates the first form of the categoricalimperative, since it is impossible to universalize (MacKinnon & Fiala,2014). If it was morally permissible for all people to commit suicide, we wouldsay that everyone should kill themselves, which is completely immoral. Relativistswill contend that Samantha’s situation warrants her decision to be taken intoconsideration. She is terminally ill and her treatment will only prolong hersuffering, possibly even to an unbearable extent. However, the only reasongiven for her choice to stop treatment is that she doesn’t believe they will work.
What one believes is not necessarily what is,especially if they are not based on scientific grounds as in medical cases.Furthermore, non-relativists can counter that even if a treatment for oneindividual will not be beneficial to another, the ultimate goal is maintaininghealth. The differences should primarily be in the way that optimal health isobtained and choosing to die does not achieve this. Samantha’sdecision to stop treatment is unethical because she would be using herself as ameans to an end.
This is in direct violation with Kant’s second form of thecategorical imperative (MacKinnon & Fiala, 2014). Ending her life would beher means to escape painful circumstances, the end ultimately being liberationfrom her suffering. Her parents would also likely be the ones to pay for thelethal dose (as well as her ongoing treatment), against their own wills, sothey too are being used as a means for her to get what she wants. Additionally,Samantha’s decision to end her life out of self interest-to escape pain-contradicts her own self worth. Kant describes self interest as self-love(MacKinnon & Fiala, 2014). Harming oneself out of self interest is not inone’s best interest. It can be disputed that it is better in the long term andthat the harm will only be temporary, but Samantha cannot even be sure whatawaits after death. There is no guarantee that she will find comfort,especially considering the possible existence of an afterlife.
Inconclusion, it is not necessarily Samantha’s age that affects the ethicalimplications of her decisions, but rather the situation as a whole. Thelegality of an act does not necessarily dub it as permissible either becausethere are many ethical considerations surrounding its morality. She isintending to relieve her suffering, but will only be creating unhappiness forthose who love her, resulting in net unhappiness. Doctors are morally bound bytheir profession to uphold the natural law and refuse to give Samantha a lethaldose as per her request.
From a non-relativist perspective, her situationshould not justify her decision either. Human nature dictates that we act tomaintain life and will to live. She may receive different treatment, but theend goal should be for the benefit of her health (while living).
Using herselfas a means to a literal end is self contradictory to her own self worth andcannot even guarantee her liberation from her suffering. The best decision isfor the doctors to sedate her and try the treatment of which there is some hopeto help her. Even little hope is betterthan none at all.