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Bioethics: Euthanasia I
I. Defining Euthanasia
• Derived from Greek eu and thanatos – literally, ‘a good death’.
• In modern contexts;
o Typically refers to ‘mercy killing’ – A intentionally ends the life of B, for the sake of B.
o Typically in medical contexts – e.g. euthanasia as a remedy for severe, incurable suffering.
• Kuhse (1991, p. 168) – euthanasia has two distinctive features;
o It involves deliberately and intentionally ending the life of another human being.
o The life in question is ended for the sake of the person whose life it is.
• Euthanasia is enormously controversial, from a moral point of view – and legal arrangements vary very
widely. Most forms of euthanasia still illegal in most states of Australia. WA passed ‘voluntary assisted
dying’ legislation in December, 2019. To be legal from mid-2021. Key stipulations;
o Must be 18+, Australian citizen or permanent resident, resident of WA for at least 12 months.
o Must have been diagnosed with at least 1 disease, illness, or medical condition that will cause
death within a period of 6 months (12 if neurodegenerative) and is causing suffering that cannot
be relieved and the person finds intolerable.
o Person must have decision-making capacity, must be acting voluntarily and without coercion.
o Person must be independently assessed by two medical practitioners.
o Person must make three separate requests for assisted dying.
 Info available here: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/voluntaryassisteddying
• Two questions for today and, and next week;
o Is euthanasia, at least sometimes, morally permissible?
o Should euthanasia be legal?
• Important to begin by clearly defining terms.
I.i. Voluntary, Non-voluntary & Involuntary Euthanasia
• Voluntary euthanasia: euthanasia carried out by A at the request of B.
o Request might be contemporaneous – e.g. a fully conscious, mentally competent patient might
request that a doctor end her life to alleviate her suffering.
o Request might be made ‘in advance’ – e.g. a fully competent person might record in an
‘advanced care directive’ that, should their health deteriorate to a point where they are no longer
mentally competent, there life is to be ended.
• Non-voluntary euthanasia: euthanasia carried out by A in circumstances where B is unable to express
their wishes.
o Examples: patient might be a newborn infant, or a person who’s not previously indicated their
preferences and is now in a state of permanent mental incompetence.
• Involuntary euthanasia: euthanasia carried out by A either against B’s express wishes, or in circumstances
where B is able to express their wishes but has not been asked.
o Possible example: euthanasia in conflict with a patient’s advanced care directive.
I.ii. Active and Passive Euthanasia
• Two ways in which A can see to it that B’s life is ended;
o Active Euthanasia: A can causally intervene on B, with the aim of killing B.
 E.g. a doctor might administer a lethal injection to a patient that would otherwise have
lived three more weeks.
o Passive Euthanasia: A can fail to causally intervene on B, and thereby let B die.
 E.g. a doctor might withdraw, or fail to administer, life-sustaining treatment.
• So, there are really six different kinds of euthanasia: voluntary-active, voluntary-passive, non-voluntaryactive, non-voluntary-passive, involuntary-active, involuntary-passive.
I.iii. Euthanasia: Three Possible Positions
• As already mentioned, there’s significant diversity in legal arrangements with respect to euthanasia.
• There’s also a broad range of positions on morality of euthanasia. Three general positions;
o The restrictive view: no acts of euthanasia (passive or active) are permissible.
o The moderate view: some acts of passive euthanasia are permissible, but no acts of active
euthanasia are permissible.
o The permissive view: some acts of euthanasia, including some acts of active euthanasia are
• With some important exceptions (e.g. The Netherlands, WA). Most societies embody some version of
the moderate view in law. E.g. the American Medical Association, 1973 (quoted in Rachels, 1975, p. 78).
o “The intentional termination of the life of one human being by another – mercy killing – is
contrary to that for which the medical profession stands… The cessation of extraordinary means
to prolong the life of the body where there is irrefutable evidence that biological death is
imminent is the decision of the patient and/or his immediate family…”
• We’ll consider a famous critique of the moderate position from James Rachels (1975).
II. Foot on Life and Good
• Euthanasia is supposed to be performed for the sake of the patient in question.
• But what does this mean?
o Presumably, that it is in the interests of the patient. Or that it is performed to benefit them. But this
just pushes the problem back a step…
• The simple view: ending A’s life will benefit A if and only if A’s life contains a greater overall amount of
bad experiences than good experiences (from the perspective of A’s interests).
• Foot (1977, pp. 87-8): this is simply not generally true. “Most people’s lives contain evils such as grief or
pain, but we do not therefore think that death would be a blessing to them. On the contrary life is
generally supposed to be a good even for someone who is unusually happy or frustrated.”
o Possible response: in the cases where this seems plausible to us, this is simply evidence that the
bad for A does not outweigh the good for A.
• To seriously investigate the issue, then, we must ask: what is the connection between living and good?
o An alternative simple view, from Nagel (1979, ch. 1): experience, itself, is good. Even if we are
experiencing more bad than good, this may be outweighed by the value of experience, itself.

Type Of Service: Academic paper writing
Type Of assignment: Essay
Subject: Philosophy
Pages/words: 6/1500
Number of sources: N/A
Academic Level: Junior(College 3rd year)
Paper Format: MLA
Line Spacing: Double
Language style: AU English

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