Euthanasia: Christian Deontological And Utilitarian Physician Ethics
The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast the various viewpoints of Christian deontology and utilitarian physician with regards to euthanasia. Euthanasia involves termination of the life of an individual to relieve them from their suffering due to terminal illness. The act of euthanasia as sparked a lot of debate among philosophers who have deontological and utilitarian perceptions. Deontological ethics justifies whether an action is right or wrong with regards to the moral code of the action. On the other hand, utilitarian ethics focuses on the consequence of an action and perceives the action itself as a secondary aspect when determining whether it is right or wrong. The two concepts hold that Euthanasia is performed with a good intention of relieving the patient from their agonies.
Ethics is a vital aspect of good professional practices across disciplines. It encompasses moral dilemmas which arise from conflicts in obligations or duties and consequences which are associated with them. Overall, the aspects of ethics are based on autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence as well as justice. Ethical practice by definition is a systematic approach to the institution of the above maxims to deal with appropriate decision making. Whereas the definitions are clearly expressible, exceptions are witnessed in the principles in cases of clinical practice. Two arms of thoughts are existing in practical ethics with regards to decision making: Christian Deontologist and Utilitarian Physician. In the former, obligations and duties are of prime importance while in the latter, outcomes tend to justify the ways or means of achieving it. Ideally, ethical values and teachings of utilitarianism and Christian ethics have various similarities in some aspects while at the same time exhibiting a number of diverse issues in other aspects. This essay is therefore designed to demonstrate the similarities and differences between Christian Deontologist and Utilitarian Physician.
Ethics of deontology involve theories which put special emphasis on the relationship between morality and duty of human activities. The ethics holds that actions are considered to be morally acceptable and good because of the characteristic of the actual action, rather than the product of the action. It shows that some acts have moral obligations regardless of the consequences that they have on human welfare. In contemporary moral philosophy, it is among the normative theories that deal with the choices which are morally forbidden, required or permitted in the society. As such, it is categorized within the domain of moral theories which assess and guide the choices that humans have to make as opposed to focusing on the kind of a person an individual is. Summarily, it can be denoted that deontological ethics tend to avoid the overly alienated and demanding aspects of consequentialism as well as according more with the conventional perceptions of human’s moral responsibilities.
Utilitarian ethics could be described as a normative ethical system which is fundamentally focused on consequences of ethical decisions. It is built on the notion that the consequence of a particular act is the most significant determinant of morality. This ethics is mainly guided by the principles of teleological and consequential reasoning. According to teleological reasoning, ethical decisions depend on the consequences of an action. Therefore, people are expected to do the right thing if the consequences of the action are desirable. Moreover, if an individual act’s without good intentions, but the consequence turns out to be desirable, then the act could be deemed to be ethical. Similarly, consequentialists reasoning hold that the means of getting an ethical decision is secondary. As such, the end results have to be considered before the determination of morality of the decision is done.
Euthanasia can be described as the termination of the life of a very sick person in order to relieve them from suffering. Particularly, those who undergo euthanasia have incurable diseases or conditions. Other cases include situations where individuals request the physicians that their lives should be ended. Mostly, the decision to perform euthanasia is guided by the request of the sick individual. However, in cases where the subject is extremely ill, such decisions can be made by the medics, relatives or the court. In some countries such as United Kingdom, euthanasia is considered illegal as it amounts to killing. As such, it has sparked a lot of debate for several years with regards to ethical reasoning that surrounds it.
There are various agonizing dilemmas that are raised by euthanasia. First, one wonders whether it is right to terminate the life of an individual because they are undergoing severe pain or suffering. Second, the circumstance under which euthanasia is justifiable is still questionable. Finally, the question of whether a moral difference between letting someone to die and killing them exists. Both Christian deontologist and utilitarian physician ethics tends to explain the dilemmas that are posed by euthanasia.
Christian deontologist reaffirms that at the very least the practice of medicine is constrained by moral absolutes. As such, it does not believe that a right or wrong action is judged by the consequence that it elicits. Christian deontologists hold that there are things which need not to be done to patients by physicians. Regarding the issue of euthanasia, Edmund Pellegrino, a physician-philosopher, stated that physicians must not kill since nothing is more uncompromising or fundamental. The moral obligation of physicians is to save lives rather than taking them away. Furthermore, the right to live attaches an obligation for optimum protection of the same life. It is thus morally improper to end the life of an individual based on the fact that they are suffering. However, deontological ethics perceive that when the intention to relieve the individual of their pain, then the action is morally justified. Therefore, the specific characteristic of helping the subject to avoid incurring prolonged suffering is a good deed. The utilitarian physician holds that it is ethically appropriate for physician-assisted death to be termed morally right because the action is performed in the best interest of the patient. Since utilitarian ethics are focused on consequences rather than means of achieving the consequence, the action of killing the patient is secondary. The most significant issue to be considered is the relief that a terminally ill patient gets at the end of the day. In addition to, the ethics holds that families of the patients should not be involved unless they are providing voice to the wishes of the patient. Arguably, it is viewable as a greater good since the physicians are prescribing or administering medication which eliminates the pain of a patient in the long run. Moreover, utilitarian physicians count personal autonomy as a significant value above and over the feeling of satisfaction that it provides, together with the frustration that it prevents. Arguably, euthanasia has to raise personal autonomy by giving people some level of control on when their lives should end. Finally, euthanasia is believed to be morally justified by utilitarian physicians because of the consequence that it provides on resource allocation. It holds that resources that are used to keep people who have incurable diseases alive are costly. Therefore, it is moral to use such resources to treat those who have curable conditions after terminating the lives of those with prolonged and incurable conditions.
Overall, utilitarian physicians back their arguments by the maxim that the result of euthanasia has greatest good to larger group of people. Particularly, the patient involved gets to be relieved of prolonged suffering, the families of the patient saves on cost of medical care and other patients with curable diseases get to survive resources that would otherwise be used on the former. Both Christian deontologist and utilitarian physician have various similarities and differences with regards to euthanasia as discussed in the following section.
Both Christian deontologist and utilitarian physician are in support of the need to relieve patients of their sufferings. Christian deontologist hold that the physicians have the moral obligation of ensuring that patients are relieved of their pain and treated of their illnesses. The action of prescribing medicine that eventually kills the patients with terminal illnesses is therefore justified by the intention to relieve them of their pain. Similarly administering such medicine to take their lives away is by all means aimed at helping them overcome the unending suffering and agony that they face. Utilitarian physician believes that the consequence, which is relief of pain and suffering, is the ultimate significance of a physician’s action. Therefore, it is immaterial to consider the route followed by the physician to achieve the target. It can thus be denoted that both accounts of ethics are focused on the welfare of the patient. Secondly, both accounts of ethics acknowledge that the responsibility of seeking for termination of life primarily rests with the patient in question. Accordingly, they assume that the action of ending the life is only actualized upon the request of the ailing individual. As such, it can be differentiated from murder cases.
First, the two accounts of ethics differ in terms of involvement of agents in the decision making process. Deontological morality provides space for agents to demonstrate their special concern to their families and friends. Particularly, the relatives and religious affiliations of the patient can intervene to share their concern over the subject before euthanasia is performed. On the other hand, utilitarian physician believes that utmost autonomy is vital during euthanasia. For this reason, individuals are solely responsible for their decisions as long as the final consequence is bound to benefit the greatest number. Secondly, Christian deontologist, unlike utilitarian physician has room for supererogatory. Ideally, deontologist ethics encourage Christians to do things which are morally praiseworthy at the expense of meeting morality demands. Thus, a Christian deontologist would not encourage any form of euthanasia unless it is certain that the patient cannot accommodate the pain anymore and termination of their life would be utmost help to their situation. Therefore, a lot of weight is given to the individual subject rather than the society. On the other hand, utilitarian physician would quickly recommend euthanasia so long as the decision stands a chance of benefiting a larger population. As such, it does not consider the situation of the individual but rather that of the community.
Lastly, Christian deontologist is guided by ethics of duty in which morality of every action is determined by the nature of the action. Ergo, harm is not accepted irrespective of the nature of consequences expected. Fundamentally, the decisions made by Christian deontologist could be appropriate for a particular subject but does not need to necessarily provide a desirable outcome to the society. Arguably, the relationship between a doctor and the patient is natural deontological because the medical teaching actions inculcate such tradition. When such deontological tenets are breached, issues of medical negligence tend to arise. Consequently, euthanasia would only mean that a Christian deontologist is doing good to the patient in question. Conversely, utilitarian physician’s decisions are guided by the greatest benefit gained for the greatest number of people. Since the morality of an action is determined by its consequence, the action can lead to harm to a specific individual or a few individuals. The main focus is put on the net outcome, which is often poised to hold maximum benefit. Unlike Christian deontologist, utilitarian physician holds that the healthcare system, time, money and energy are finite and should be properly designed to achieve the best health care for the entire society. As such, spending such resources on those with terminal illness harms the greatest number. To that effect, termination of lives of people with incurable diseases facilitates use of such resources on the greater number of people with curable diseases.
Medical ethics involves moral philosophy and deals with the conflict between duties, obligations and possible consequences. The two main strands of thought which exist in ethics in relation to euthanasia are Christian deontological and utilitarian physician ethics. In the former, the nature of action has more weight compared to the consequence, whereas the latter gives more weight to the consequence. The two accounts share the same notion that the practice of euthanasia intends to relieve the patients of their unending agony and suffering caused by incurable diseases.
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