“Voluntary Active Euthanasia”

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Dan Brock says his essay, “Voluntary Active Euthanasia,” discusses voluntary active euthanasia in cases “where the motive of those who perform it is to respect the wishes of the patient and to provide the patient with a “good death…”

The Central Ethical Argument for Voluntary Active Euthanasia –

The values supporting voluntary active euthanasia “are individual self-determination or autonomy and individual well-being.” Self-determination refers to persons being free to make decisions about their own lives. [Rather than governments, religious organizations, political groups, strangers, etc.] And this autonomy ought to extend to the end of life when persons worry about suffering and the loss of dignity. Individual well-being refers to situations in which individuals decide that “life is no longer considered a benefit by the patient, but has now become a burden.” In other words, their well-being is best served by dying. This does not imply that physicians must perform this act against their will.

Potential Good Consequences of Permitting Euthanasia – 1) respect individual autonomy (of about 50,000 persons a year in the US in this situation; 2) give reassurance to those who may want euthanasia in the future; and 3) it will relieve vast amounts of suffering.

Potential Bad Consequences of Permitting Euthanasia – Brock list 3 arguments: 1) performing is incompatible with the “moral center” of being a physician and thus patients would fear their physicians. B replies that patients should not fear that their physicians will kill them since E would be voluntary and the moral center of medicine should be self-determination and individual well-being not preserving life when persons have deemed they no longer want that. 2) E would weaken respect for life. (Do we respect life in our country?) Brock responds that he is skeptical here because: a) passive euthanasia has had no such consequences; and b) euthanasia would only be relevant in a small minority of deaths. 3) Legalizing voluntary euthanasia would lead down a slippery slope to involuntary euthanasia. Brock responds that this is the “last refuge of conservative defenders of the status quo.” When all your arguments against something have been defeated you simply say that this something will lead to something else.

My Commentary – While it is possible that doing x will lead to bad consequences, that is not enough of a reason not to do x. When in vitro fertilization was introduced in the 1970s, Leon Kass, later the head of President George W. Bush’s bioethics commission, wrote feverishly for years that this would undermine the value we place on human life. In the meantime, millions of persons have been born this way and nothing like that has happened. We don’t want to know if some terrible consequence is possible, rather we want to know if this consequence is plausible. And no one had done this.

Brock suggests a number of safeguards to minimize the chance of abuse. However the idea that one must be terminally ill—like the law demands in Oregon and Washington in the US—does not, according to Brock, respect self-determination. As Brock suggests, OR and WA can serve as test cases for such laws. Let’s see if society collapses because of euthanasia laws. Of course, this will not happen. In fact, the Netherlands has had the most liberal euthanasia laws on the books for years and it is one of the best, most civilized countries in the world.

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5 thoughts on ““Voluntary Active Euthanasia”

  1. I’ve given the deaths of Socrates and Christ a good deal of attention over the years. Both could have escaped their death through exile or denial, but chose their deaths voluntarily based on the laws existing at their time. Both believed death would liberate their spirit/soul from their base physical bodies, servants of desires. This made more sense to me when I discovered the last words of Socrates: “Ceito, we owe a cock to Asklepios–Pay it and do not neglect it.” Socrates believed Asklepios was the son of Apollo and could raise the dead. The chicken being a sign then of death and rebirth was his way of thanking this physician for his death and the freeing of his spirit. Makes me wonder if Socrates had been born later if he would not also be a member of a new religion that promised resurrection after death? We’re all held (sometimes) to having Free Will except when we’re dying or deciding to birth another unwanted child it seems…

  2. An afterthought:
    Is this a new movement? Consider: political correctness and the impact it has made on the thinking, attitudes and actions of ordinary people. Voluntary Active Euthanasia sounds far more acceptable than suicide. Sort of a kind of sociological correctness?
    Well. Platitudes change with attitudes. Socrates does not care.

  3. Paul, it’s called diplomacy:
    ‘pro-life’ has a better sound to it than anti-abortion. And even though religionists might want to kill in the name of the diety, they do so with love in their hearts. Tough love.

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