Human beings, individually and collectively, deal with pain and suffering. The tough nature of distress aligns with the practice of euthanasia, which plays a role to relieve persistent suffering. In contemporary healthcare, euthanasia continues to be associated with strong moral beliefs, through which the practice is met with subjectivism. It is relative to one’s rights, practical approach, philosophy, and religious beliefs; pushing the notion that everyone has their own set of ethical principles. The virtue of the subject is evaluated through different cultures and demographics, forming a consensus on active voluntary euthanasia. The various positions that it produces are often seen as morally permissible and impermissible.
Frances Kamm, an American philosopher, refers to Euthanasia as the act of ‘killing or bringing about someone’s death due to a final act by some other person with the intention that the person’s death is in the best interest of the person who will die.” Active voluntary euthanasia attributes to this practice, being conducted with consent from patients. The practice forms questions of morality and sparks a debate across complex dynamic aspects of society – concerning some of the most profound feelings in humans. Those in favour of euthanasia hold a moral belief that civilized society should allow people to die with dignity and that it should be their personal decision. On the other end of the spectrum, disputants believe that life has been given to us, and choosing to end it would be immoral; pushing the perception of abusing power if it is in hand. Mutually, these diverging perspectives introduce the concept of moral relativism. The book Malaises of Modernity by Charles Taylor introduces moral relativism as the notion that morality depends on context, in which one’s contextual beliefs may be different from another’s. The subject of Euthanasia offers valid cases to an understanding of morality, thus widening the ethical divide.
In modern society, a populous of ethical moralists believe that active voluntary euthanasia should be legal. This involves the conceding of a patient that wishes to follow the practice – by giving them the freedom of choice and right to die. The moral basis for this argument is self-determination. This means that the decision concerning life should be determined by the individual who is concerned and that it be in everyone’s best interests. Emmanuel Kant, an 18th-century German philosopher, understands the notion of these rules being universalizable if they can consistently be willed for everyone to obey. In context to euthanasia, those in favour would argue that giving people the right to a good death shall be acceptable as a universal principle. A relativist would also agree with this through the lens of situationism. This take would depict that there is no universal standard to people and that in every situation the moral standard would vary to reflect principles. The moral dilemma decreases when the individual chooses to follow a path that they deem to be beneficial for them.
Euthanasia is frequently recognised as beneficial in terms of autonomy. Grasping that autonomy is imperative for life, facing a loss of autonomy would be rooted in prolonged suffering. To exercise this through the lens of euthanasia, it would be integral for individuals to take responsibility for their lives. When one is grieving and requests medical assistance, their choice to support their well being holds greater value and is a provision to the moral foundation for requests of voluntary euthanasia. This is further defined by Charles Taylor, through the expression that practical reason is essential to life. It is engrained in utilitarianism, which percieves euthanasia to be morally acceptable as it decreases the misery of everyone that is involved. Thus, the notion that alleviating the suffering is utilitarian in the moral permissibility of the subject.
Opposing the support for euthanasia, the request for premature ending of life has built an argument against the role of the practice – through the perception that it is immoral. This thought lies in medical ethics, evident in the undermining of a doctor-patient relationship. If euthanasia were to be legal, it would violate the trust between a patient and doctor, and corrupt the role of a healer. The Hippocratic oath, which is taken by all doctors emphasizes this saying, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.’ Going against this testimony would be morally impermissible for physicians, and against the basis of the profession. Essentially, the principle that doctors hold against intentional killing does not line with the practice of euthanasia.
The objections with active voluntary euthanasia lie in religion, through the prevalence of life to have intrinsic value. The sanctity of life ethic argues that the killing of humans is against the morality of life and its value and that human life is a basic good in opposition to instrumental good. Thus, to deliberately kill a life is thought to be dismissed. Religious people would argue that this goes against their morals and the will of God. This is evident in various religions, including Christianity. Pope John Paul II manifested that, ‘It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.’
The nature that encompasses demise should be subdued through the basis of morality in religion. This proposes the underlying ethos that human life is valuable, and should be preserved.
Through a philosophical lens, these arguments can be discredited. According to Aristotle, ethics must be formed through a dialogical lens. Thus, it cannot be assumed by those that are not participating in the same experience. Ethical knowledge requires participation in these practices, making it clear that it is through this perspective that practitioners often deal with moral issues such as active voluntary euthanasia. An absolutist too would use various rules to determine whether it is morally wrong or right, including the judgement of moral issues to be reliant on a fixed truth.
As a whole, Euthanasia is a contentious issue, in which the heart of the controversy lies at the morality of the practice; and involves a variety of factors to interact in each case. The evaluation of moral permissibility of euthanasia is relative to each individual and reliant on judgements based on the act rather than the outcomes. Thus, the acceptability of active euthanasia is subjective to one’s intrinsic values, beliefs and cultural demographics.