Euthanasia and Biomedical Ethics

Question 1 To first do no harm is the Hippocratic Oath often taken by healthcare professionals around the globe; however, the subject of active versus passive euthanasia to allow chronically ill patients the right to die with dignity has sparked moral controversy among world-renowned philosophers for decades. James Rachels, Winston Nesbitt, and Roy W. Perrett are just three philosophers who wrote and spoke openly about the topic of euthanasia and biomedical ethics. Rachels and Perrett were adamant in their belief that the moral distinction between killing (active euthanasia) and allowing to die (passive euthanasia) was nonexistent.

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Rachels felt strongly that one was no worse than the other and that statements by the American Medical Association to support one method over the other should be eliminated. Perrett agreed and added that death by either commission or omission opposes the preservation of human life. In the example of the bathtub case, Smith and Jones are both two greedy men who stand to gain a large sum of money once their nephew passes away. In Scenario A, Smith decides to drown the child and make it seem like an accident.

In Scenario B, Jones sees the child drowning after hitting his head and accidentally falling into the tub but does nothing but stand by and watch. According to the philosophy of Rachels and Perrett, both were irresponsible and morally reprehensible acts, and the end result was the same…death. Finally, in numerous published articles Rachels even went on to say that while they can be assessed the same, the act of killing was in fact often more humane than allowing someone to suffer a slow demise due to lack of treatment or failure to render aid.

In direct contrast to the aforementioned beliefs, philosopher Winston Nesbitt disagreed with the two men. He argued that killing is indeed worse than allowing one to die. According to Nesbitt, the moral distinction lies within the issues of motive and intent. In the example of the two bathtub scenarios, Nesbitt would agree that both men are liable, but it is Smith (not Jones) who deliberately went into the room with the intent to kill for financial gain.

While I have mixed feelings about the legalization of euthanasia, I must agree with Nesbitt; if I were a wealthy woman on my way home with a large sum of money, I would much rather be alone on the elevator with Jones versus Smith who is tantamount to an armed robber who walks into a bank prepared to commit capital murder out of sheer greed. Question 2 Another controversial quote that has been repeated throughout the ages is that all is fair in love and war, but is it really?

Many philosophers, both traditional and contemporary, oppose the use of military operations that take the lives of innocent civilians who pose no threat to soldiers or society; two of the most noted are Robert Fullinwider and Lawrence A. Alexander. Fullinwider first spoke on the issue in 1975 when he wrote that there is no justification for killing innocent civilians even in times of war. Fullinwider believed whole-heartedly that some traditional methods of military combat, such as bombing an entire community to kill an intended target, is no different than terrorism that many claim to oppose.

His argument is that killing noncombatants who are unarmed and pose no threat should not be looked upon as self-defense. In the gambling scenario of Smith and Jones, Smith finds himself deeply indebted to the mob due to a gambling addiction; the mob knows he owes more than he can pay. The mob then offers Smith a deal. His debt will be cleared, and he and his family will be safe if he kills Jones, an innocent district attorney. Smith may not agree with the killing, but to keep both he and his family safe, he opens fire. The fact, according to Fullinwider, is that this is still not self-defense.

Smith has no right to kill Jones, and the mob has no right to kill Smith even though he owes them money. However, when Jones returns fire and kills Smith, he is covered by self-defense because Smith was armed and an immediate threat to his personal safety. Lawrence Alexander’s reformation of self-defense argues that not only is Smith a threat to Jones, but the mob is a more ever-present threat because they ordered the killing. According to his philosophy, if given the opportunity, Jones is morally justified to kill the members of the mob in lieu of Smith since they are promoting a murder under duress.

In doing so, not only would Jones save his own life, but Smith and his family would be safe as well. This case is quite controversial. I do not agree that if Smith had killed Jones to save his family it would have been self defense. Smith foolishly agreed to place himself and his family in direct harm in order to feed a gambling addiction; this has nothing to do with killing an innocent man to save himself or his family. Question 3 Perhaps no pro-life subject is more controversial than the issue of abortion. There are as many sides to this issue as there are people.

Two philosophers who have published articles defending their stance on abortion are Judith Thompson and Francis J. Beckwith. In her article “Defense of Abortion” Judith Jarvis Thompson supports a woman’s right to choose and raises the question that even if the fetus is a living human being, how much of a sacrifice is one human required to make in order to save another. Her scenario is that if someone were attached to a famous violinist who would surely die without use of the other person’s body parts for survival, yes it would be kind of them to agree to stay connected for nine months, but it is not his or her moral obligation.

She concedes that the pro-life argument is more comprehendible if a woman willing engages in unprotected sex and conceives a baby; she in essence bears some responsibility for the fetus needing her body to stay alive. Thompson believes that the pro-life argument becomes weak in the face of rape cases where the female herself is an innocent victim and had no intention of being violated and becoming a parent. In these cases the female victim should most certainly be given the choice to abort.

Francis J. Beckwith countered Thompson with at least four arguments. One, not all moral obligations are voluntary. If two people engage in a voluntary act that they know could very well produce a child, then they should be held accountable for their actions. Two, Beckwith feels that Thompson’s argument is fatal to family morals and that there are some obligations that parents have to offspring that they do not have to a complete stranger or a ‘famous violinist. Third, the case of the violinist was artificial and had nothing to do with the natural attachment or realistic human development. Finally, Francis J. Beckwith believes that abortion is indeed the removal and killing of a living fetus and not just merely withholding of medical treatment. She goes on to state that just as it is illegal to starve a child after birth, so should it be to cut the child off from its source of life beforehand. While both authors have valid points, my personal belief is that _.

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