Naturally, societies condemn murderers and advocate therapy in case an individual contemplates suicide. Both actions preserve a life that is not only precious but also considered a gift from God. By extension, even atheists conform to the cultural norms that render lives susceptible to God’s will alone and never to that of a human being. With that in mind, individuals avoid the question of euthanasia or mercy killing where people opt for suicide or voluntary murder when their lives become unworthy. It is plausible that most individuals who seek euthanasia have incurable diseases that cause them immense pain and suffering, but there are some rare cases with other reasons. For instance, after a fashion model is subject to an acid attack, she might decide to seek a doctor’s help to die after reconstructive surgery does not return her beauty. In that case, the model does not suffer from a terminal illness but the lost beauty directly influences her life. With that in mind, every situation is unique to its context and insisting that everyone has the right to die will cause more mayhem than it would any good for any populace.
The utilitarian approach to mercy killing revolves around the foundations of rule and act utilitarianism. As rule-based ethics goes, the utilitarian has a defined course of actions that he or she has to follow to ensure that a given solution is useful (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.37). Hence, it is acceptable for people to take an action if it brings the “greatest amount of good over bad for everyone affected by the act” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.37). Naturally, the solution to every problem affects people in different degrees; consequently, act utilitarianism has considerable flaws in offering concrete resolutions. In answer, there is rule utilitarianism that advocates people to “follow that rule or those rules that will bring about the greatest good for all concerned” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.38). Consequently, instead of the act utilitarianism that will outrightly condemn a murderer just because society supports the idea, rule utilitarianism gives an avenue for more inspection. In other words, rather than stemming from the views of the majority after a person takes action, the rule utilitarian will consider the proceedings of the deed before rendering due justice. In turn, murder can be immoral if the victim was innocent; however, in case it was a situation of kill or die, killing will bring the greatest good because the killer can have other victims. In concurrence, John Mill (2013) reckons “the end of human action is necessarily also the standard of morality” making the deeds more significant than the outcomes (p.417). In that sense, utilitarianism insists on the need for a person to ensure his or her actions are necessary to offer a reasonable solution to a problem. If a person chooses to consider the desirable outcomes that suit the majority, he or she can cause an injustice that will make him or her unethical.
Naturally, a utilitarian approach to the right to die conundrum will only allow mercy killing on the grounds of whether the situation meets the conditions the ethical theory specifies. From its analysis, utilitarianism does not adhere to divine commands and will disregard religious scriptures and anything pertaining to the stand a person takes because of his or her beliefs. In that sense, a utilitarian will support a person’s right to die because it not only ends suffering for the patient but also protects the family and society from unnecessary pain and expenses. In David Hume’s views, one can choose to end his or her life when “the horror of pain prevails over the love of life” (2005, p.7). However, utilitarianism calls for the consideration of all involved parties and not just the patient. In “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia”, John Deigh (1998) argues that for the correct application of utilitarianism in deciding the morality of euthanasia, society does not matter. In other words, rather than considering the effects of legalizing euthanasia on the families and communities, it is more significant to consider the effects of the law on the future. According to the author, the “potential victims” of the accepted right to die law make up the majority of a utilitarian approach to the dilemma (Deigh, 1998, p.1157). The person advocating for his or her right to die on a present day situation can significantly affect the life of another person in the future, especially if the State decides to legalize mercy killing. Apparently, the only people who euthanasia stands to change are “the society's weakest adult members, the sick, the old, and the chronically ill” (Deigh, 1998, p.1157). Therefore, since the pro-euthanasia forces draw their argument from the case of chronic illnesses, they need to gain the consent of every future terminally ill individual to be ethic. Utilitarianism does not support the right to die.
Virtue ethics derives its ideologies from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics that according to Thiroux and Krasemann (2012), “are teleological in character” (p.62). That means, “every art and every inquiry, every action, and choice” should aim at some good (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.62). Concurrently, everything is good as long as it is what the action seeks to achieve; thus, a paper knife will be good if it opens envelopes and medicine is bad if it does not cure. Consequently, virtue ethics allows all persons to make choices based on the setting of their dilemma and to “reason well for a whole or complete life” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.62). In “Normative Virtue Ethics”, Hursthouse (2013) coincides as she states “an action is right if it is what a virtuous agent would characteristically do in the circumstances” (p.646). Thus, virtue ethics understands that the context of each problem can be different in comparison to another. After all, no rule is universally applicable to people and situations change according to particular circumstances. An excellent illustration of the given explanation stems from the belief that any form of dishonesty is harmful. Religion forbids deceit, and there are instances in the legislation system that warrants an arrest for a lie because that leads to an injustice. Consequently, from childhood, people grow up knowing that lying is a sin, and the society does not condone any form of dishonesty. With that knowledge, how should a person react when a gunman is shooting everybody whose name starts with an “M”, and he or she happens to be Michael or Mary? Virtue ethics will consider it moral if the person lies because that is what their circumstances dictate for the greater good. Saying their real names will not adhere to Aristotle’s “reason well for a whole or complete life” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.62).
Of the two theories, the virtue ethics are a more reliable method of solving the life threatening issues than utilitarianism. Virtue ethics encourages the use of common sense whenever dealing with a question of euthanasia. For example, according to the theory, it will be moral to show compassion to a terminally ill person who is in pain and seeking to end his or her life. However, if the person assisting the other to die has ulterior motives, then the action ceases to be ethical. Either way, the theory only supports euthanasia if the person chooses death as an option for his or her disease. Critics of that stand would automatically pounce on the fact that some patients might suffer from dementia or other forms of mental illnesses when demanding assisted suicide. In such instances, they become victims because their willingness might not exist without the mental disease. Virtue ethics calls for compassion and mercy; therefore, if such rules are in place then the mental stabilities of the patients will be a consideration in demands for the right to die.
Hence, it is vital to consider the situation that encouraged a person to consider euthanasia before allowing him or her right to die. Therefore, virtue-based ethics triumphs rule-based ethics simply because the former is collective while the latter fails to address possible hitches in the set rules. In other words, the virtue ethics theory provides a more concrete answer that the utilitarianism that appears to avoid the question altogether. Rule-based ethics boast of universal applications for the advocated courses of action but fail to deliver substantial answers to life-threatening conditions that require prompt solutions. For instance, when it comes to euthanasia, the utilitarian answer revolves an unknown infinity number of patients that may or may not support the action. In the meantime, virtue-based ethics provides two possible solutions, allowing the patients to decide or simply determining whether the life of a patient is flourishing. Hence, the virtue ethics do not confine all persons under one rule; instead, it gives room for the flexibility of decision-making processes. In fact, virtue-ethics appear to solve the euthanasia problem infinitely since its application now can form a basis for its use in the future. For that reason, it seems that context should always have priority when a person is deciding on a course of action to solve a dilemma.
Deigh, J. (1998). Physician-Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia: Some Relevant Differences. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88(3), 1155-1165.
Hume, D. (1993). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. New York: P.F. Collier & Son. Retrieved February 2, 2015, from http://18th.eserver.org/hume-enquiry.html
Hursthouse, R. (2013). Normative Virtue Ethics. In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical Theory An Anthology (2nd ed., pp. 645-652). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Mill, J. S. (2013). Utilitarianism. In R. Shafer-Landau (Ed.), Ethical Theory An Anthology (2nd ed., pp. 417-422). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Thiroux, J.P., and Krasemann, K.W. (2012). Ethics Theory and Practice (11th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
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