J. Gay Williams, “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia”

In his article, The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia, J. Gay Williams rejects the view that “that if someone (and others) would be better off dead, then it must be all right to kill that person.” For Gay-Williams euthanasia (E) is intentional or deliberate killing, not accidental killing or letting one die. Given his subsequent rejection of the notion of passive E, it is clear he is using the narrow definition of E. E is intentional killing only, in other words, it is active E. Passive E is not E because one does not intend the person’s death—it is a foreseeable, but unintended consequence. (I foresee my driving will wear out my tires, but I don’t intend to wear them out by driving.)

The argument from nature – We have a natural desire to survive and E violates this desire. (Do we have this desire if we are suffering terribly? Isn’t it natural to want to relieve our suffering? And even if we do, have a natural desire to survive, does the fact that we have natural desires make them things we should follow? It may be natural for me to be violent, envious, lustful, scheming, etc. Does that mean these are good? It may be natural to die of bacterial infections, but that doesn’t mean its good, does it?) His argument in this section may be reconstructed as follows:

  1. Acts of euthanasia are contrary to our human nature.
    2. If (1), then acts of euthanasia are a denial of human dignity.
    3. If acts of euthanasia are a denial of human dignity, then euthanasia is morally wrong.
    4. Therefore, euthanasia is morally wrong.

The argument from self-interest – may be summarized as follows:

1. Acts of euthanasia contain the possibility that we will work against our own interests.
2. If (1), then acts of euthanasia are morally wrong.
3. Therefore, acts of euthanasia are morally wrong.

Support for (1): (a) Possibility of misdiagnosis/misprognosis; (b) possibility of new medical procedures; (c) thinking euthanasia permissible may encourage one to give up too easily; (d) choose E because of our concern for others.

The argument from practical effects – may be summarized as follows:

1. Cases of euthanasia could have a corrupting influence on doctors and nurses.
2. If (1), then acts of euthanasia are morally wrong.
3. Therefore, acts of euthanasia are morally wrong.

Support for 1: a) doctors and nurses might not try hard enough to save someone; and b) this may lead to involuntary E. (A “slippery slope” argument.)

Reflections – I find this argument ridiculously weak. Over the next two days I will outline some counter-arguments.

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