Sunday, July 31, 2016

Active vs. Passive Euthanasia

From guest blogger, Wadea.

Bioethics is the study of moral values as they apply to medicine in clinical settings. Two very relevant and controversial ethical issues in medicine and science today are Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) and euthanasia.
The difference between the two is simple: PAS is the person doing the actual killing, only assisted by the doctor, whereas euthanasia is the doctor doing the killing. Two different people are physically doing the killing with the same intention behind the act in each case—to end a person’s life who has given extended consent, experiencing deep pain, without a valuable future, and will die in the near future, regardless of any treatment. The official position of the World Medical Association is: "Physicians-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. However, the right to decline medical treatment is a basic right of the patient and the physician does not act unethically even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.” I agree with the consistency of the position—that BOTH cases are seen as morally impermissible; however, I disagree with the direction of their position. What is our reasoning, morally speaking (and for those with religious beliefs—religious reasons), for arguing that these two acts are always wrong.
Let me propose a thought experiment. Imagine you are a soldier at war, fighting for your country. You see your brother, your best friend and partner in crime, lying in the dirt, grasping for air. You notice that he has both legs chopped off, a bullet in his neck, in which it is only a matter of time before he dies, a slow, painful death. You say your goodbyes. He asks you to shoot him in a place he will instantly die in order to surpass the suffering that is inevitably already occurring and ahead. Would this be a “wrongful” act of killing? Would it be morally impermissible for you to grant his wishes? What would be the alternative? Let your brother you care so much about suffer even greater pain? Would it be justifiable if he shoots himself, making him reach over for the gun when that is the last place he wants to exert any energy left into. Or, would you use your best moral discernment at that moment, knowing killing him is probably the best option, allowing him to go to a place where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, saving him from going through the trouble of having to do it himself.
What position do the rest of you take? Is it possible to view one of these as ethical and the other as unethical?


Ming Yuan said...

Hi Wadea,

It is an interesting blog, especially the thought experiment you mentioned in the end.
I think even though the fact that someone is physically doing the kill in each case is the same, the intention behind is still different. As you mentioned in the thought experiment, your friend/ brother/ partner lost both legs and a bullet in his neck. No matter you do, he will die anyway and he begs you to give him a instant death. The intention behind this situation is to reduce his suffering and I don't think it is morally impermissible. Also, I think if passive euthanasia is permissible, then active euthanasia is permissible as well, because the consequence will be the same, the difference is only the timing of the deceased.

Julie said...

Hi Wadea,

I also thought about this scenario when contemplating the idea of euthanasia. I don't know if I think it would be unethical to not kill your fellow soldier but I do think it would be the more compassionate thing to relieve your friend of his/her pain. So if we are using a utilitarian point of view to determine morality, I think ending the soldier's life is not only morally permissible but also the best option. It would feel very strange to end the life of someone you care about, but in the end you are providing them a peaceful exit and I think that in this extreme circumstance it should be done.