Deontological Response to Euthanasia

Euthanasia has given birth to numerous debates over the past couple of decades. As with any other major topic, there are those who support, and those who strongly oppose it. This paper looks at the issue of euthanasia from the Deontological standpoint, and strives to evaluate whether euthanasia can be considered rational, or ethically acceptable. However, before proceeding to the central argument of the paper, it is important to define the issue of euthanasia. The Oxford Dictionary provides three entries for the term 'euthanasia;' the first is "a quiet and easy death;" the second, "the means of procuring this," whereas the third is "the action of inducing a quiet and easy death." (Foot 85) This is a widely accepted definition of the term, and this is the main reason why I have chosen it. However, I think that euthanasia implies much more than a quiet and easy death, the means, or the action of inducing this, and the consequences of this act are central to the present paper.

The topic of euthanasia cannot be discussed outside of a philosophical framework. In this sense, it is important to note here that not even the legalistic approach to the matter excludes the philosophical arguments which arise. From the philosophical standpoint, euthanasia has deep moral implications which resemble those associated with suicide. Nonetheless, euthanasia also raises questions about moral authority, and whether or not it grants a certain individual the right to decide over someone else's life. Aside from the ethical aspect, there is also the rational one. Since euthanasia is a voluntary act which implies the consent of both parties involved, it becomes rather self-evident that euthanasia can be regarded as "assisted suicide." In addition, similarly to suicide, which can become a rational act if it meets five criteria, euthanasia can also be considered a rational decision in certain cases.

Can euthanasia be considered a rational decision on the part of the person who chooses death over life? Providing a valid answer to this question is definitely not an easy task. However, in my attempt to find the answer, I will asses the criteria associated with what is referred to as "rational suicide." Margaret P. Battin talks about a set of five criteria which explore whether or not the decision of committing suicide can be made in a "rational way," and whether or not this decision is ever "the rational thing to do." These criteria are the ability to reason, a realistic world view, adequacy of information, avoidance of harm, and accordance with fundamental interests (Werth 13).

The ability to reason refers to two different aspects; we must consider whether or not the person who makes the decision to commit suicide has the ability to follow logics, i.e. does not make errors in linking the premises to the conclusion, and to evaluate the consequences of his or her act, namely suicide. Secondly, a realistic world view is the basis of any rational decision. From this point-of-view, the person who correctly assesses his or her place in the world, identity, current situation, etc., and concludes that these are worse than death - irrespective of what they imply - is making a rational decision when choosing death. The adequacy of information states that the person in question must be informed on both present and future circumstances. In fact, in many situations, those who decide to end their own lives are ignorant of important facts which could change their situation. Nevertheless, things are not that simple since there is information which cannot be obtained or predicted; however, the decision becomes irrational if the person makes no effort to obtain it, or distorts it once obtained. Also, this argument is perhaps the most important in the case of euthanasia because most physicians will not agree that a particular case is hopeless, and will argue that there have been numerous miraculous recoveries even with patients suffering from terminal illnesses. There is also the moral aspect to take into consideration here. Physicians who oppose performing physician-assisted suicides argue that this act implies intending the patient's death which is both morally and ethically forbidden. However, one must acknowledge that physician-assisted suicides cannot be differentiated from other non-controversial decisions that doctors make which are, in fact, conducive to theā€¦