“Utilitarianism is the best approach to euthanasia.” Discuss. (10)
Utilitarianism is traditionally the principle “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Euthanasia deals with issues to do with whether or not the soul exists and whether or not this decides whether we view someone as a person. As well as this, during a decision about euthanasia, we must find out what importance we place on the autonomy of the person that is planned to die, as well as to what extent we should allow them to decide how or when to end their life. Religious theories such as natural moral law deal with what is integral to human nature and God’s plan for humankind, and Kantian ethics deal with the universalisation of maxims, whereas utilitarianism may look at the issue more quantitatively and secularly.
Justifying euthanasia in utilitarianism is a question of showing that allowing people to have a good death, at a time of their own choosing, will make them happier than the pain from their illness, the loss of dignity and the distress of anticipating a slow, painful death. One could argue that the divine command and natural moral law theories are currently unproven, as there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God, but utilitarianism focuses on human happiness, an abstract that obviously exists, due to the fact of human emotion. Therefore, this would show that utilitarianism is a better approach to euthanasia than theories that place emphasis on the God concept, as euthanasia is a real and provable occurrence just as human happiness is.
However, utilitarianism deals with total human happiness, not just that of a single person – in this case, the medical patient wishing to be allowed to commit assisted suicide. Therefore, even euthanasia opponents who agree with utilitarianism in general could argue that the negative effects on those around the patient (family, friends and medical staff) would outweigh the benefits of euthanasia. This argument claims that utilitarianism would not necessarily be the best approach to euthanasia, but that perhaps another relativistic theory would, as it might take into consequence the effects of euthanasia on all persons involved without having to put absolutist permission on euthanasia.
Contradicting this, utilitarianism’s focus on human happiness could make all types of euthanasia, including involuntary, acceptable in societies where resources are scarce. Under these circumstances, it may be a good act for someone to undergo euthanasia when very ill. Even in our own society, where people are living longer and people with illnesses are surviving when they wouldn’t have before, there may be huge financial and therefore emotional benefits to society if those who are unproductive were euthanised.
Natural moral law theory, for example, emphasises adherence to God-given rules that are evident in common human nature, known as the primary precepts. In relation to euthanasia, one of these precepts is preserve the life of yourself...