A debate on Euthanasia

A Debate on Euthanasia
A: I want euthanasia legalised for egoistic reasons. If I were to become incurably ill, I would want to be put out of my misery.
B Yes, but not everyone would; some persons want to hang on to life even though they are in great pain (“When there’s life there’s hope”). They would see the legalisation of euthanasia as a threat. If euthanasia were legalised, the legalisation would apply to everyone, including those who don’t want it. Those persons would oppose it for egoistic reasons. If two egoists disagree on a policy which must be adopted for everyone or rejected for everyone, what is to be done? That’s the problem with egoism; unless agreement can be reached, it is helpless to deal with matters of social policy.

A: Can’t we assume at least that pain is an evil – at least pain that leads to no positive good? If your dog is enduring great pain from an incurable injury, it would be an act of mercy on your part to put the animal painlessly to sleep; you don’t care much for your dog if you won’t at least do that for him. Exactly the same consideration applies to human beings who are terminally ill; to keep them alive would be cruel and pointless.

B: Now you are speaking as a utilitarian. Very well, but there is a difference. Human beings can give their consent or withhold it. To kill a person, however ill, without that person’s consent would be murder. The dog of course can’t give its consent, or withhold it either; he depends on you to do your best for him.

A: True, people can consent and dogs can’t; so let’s say people must first consent. But when must the consent take place? A very ill person may no longer be able to give consent. Or she may give consent at one moment and withhold it at another. Should you take what she says during a moment of discouragement that may soon pass, and use that as an excuse for getting her out of the way? Then greedy relatives would hover about waiting for that weak moment, so as to collect the inheritance early.

B: That could be taken care of by having the patient sign a notarised form in advance, preferably even before becoming ill, and witnessed by three or more doctors, saying that if she should ever become terminally ill a lethal shot can be administered.

A: What if she changes her mind after she becomes ill, and is no longer physically able to communicate to others this change of mind?

B: That is a risk, to be sure – not a great one, because there’s usually some way for people to communicate. But it’s preferable to a condition of needless suffering that can’t be ended because anyone who tries to do the merciful thing faces a murder charge. Put in all the safeguards that you like, but at least make it possible for people to end their own misery.

A: I suspect that if this became a general policy, patients would be afraid to got to the hospital, fearing that they would be silently killed while they were there.

B: Not if the safeguards were present and enforced. Instead of dread, they might well feel relief, that if their suffering became too great there is a legal way to end it.

C: I think you are both mistaken. Every person has a right to his or her life, and this implies at least that this life cannot be taken away by others.

A: The right involved is not to be killed (or harmed etc) without the person’s consent. You can surrender your right to your possessions by voluntarily giving them away. In exactly the same way you can surrender your right to life. If you want to give it up, no one else has the right to insist that you must hang on to it. Your life is not the property of others, so it is not for them to say when you should give it up. Even if you have a chance of recovering, you still have every right to say, with Marcus Aurelius, “The room is smoky, so I leave it.”

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