There are many approaches to the concept and practice of euthanasia. In one definition, euthanasia is described as a quick death in which pain is almost absent.1 However, there is one common understanding of euthanasia in the modern society.
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Euthanasia is the ending of a person’s life to help the particular individual avoid pain and suffering that would have otherwise been inevitable if he or she had continued living.2 In many countries, euthanasia is illegal.
However, some countries allow euthanasia to be performed on individuals on their own consent or with the approval of a next of kin. This means that when a person’s life becomes so painful that it is not worth living anymore, euthanasia can be performed to alleviate the immense suffering.
Euthanasia has been a subject of arguments among religious authorities. It has also been a subject of controversy and study in the complex field of philosophy.3 While several authorities in philosophy support euthanasia through their theories, most oppose it.
Some of the philosophies revolve around the extent to which life may not be worth living, while other theories revolve around the duty of the parties involved in a case of euthanasia. Deontology has been against euthanasia from many perspectives.
Many ethicists and authors who have used deontology against euthanasia have relied on the concept of duty.4 However, it is important to note that deontology in philosophy revolves around one’s duties and the manner in which they are executed.5
Generally, it is contrary to the duty of the subject of euthanasia and that of those who intend to perform the mercy killing to take one’s life based on their own assessment of the quality of one’s life.
Philosophical deontology revolves around principles of duty. One is obligated to perform duties even when odds are against success. There are various forms of philosophical deontology.
One of the most popular approaches to deontology is the Kantian philosophy of duty. Kant’s postulations regarding perfect duties can be used to build a solid argument against euthanasia.6
Other authors such as Brian Kane have indirectly used deontology to present an argument favoring preservation of life.7 In his analysis of euthanasia, Kane also explores many arguments that people present when advocating for euthanasia.
Thus, when deontology is applied to euthanasia, it revolves around the duty to preserve life.8 However, in other settings, deontology may go against the duty to preserve life. This arises from contradictions such as those presented by Kant’s interpretation of the duty not to lie and the duty not to kill.
According to Kant, one must not lie to a potential murderer to alleviate an almost certain act of murder.9 However, Kant’s deontology argues against actions such as suicide and euthanasia since these practices violate an individual’s duties to oneself.
Deontology provides one of the strongest arguments against euthanasia. This theory and its interpretation depend on one’s view of life. However, in the quest to establish an argument against euthanasia, it is necessary to have a positive attitude towards living.
From that point, it is possible to establish a solid argument against euthanasia using deontology. Brian Kane uses Hippocratic philosophy to argue against euthanasia. This philosophy alludes to one’s duty not to kill. When one performs the contrary action of killing, then this is considered murder.
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There is an exception of those people who are killed for their transgressions against ethical principles of a society. Thus, killing for any other reason, including mercy, is murder.10 According to this author, human beings always had the ability to take life.
On the contrary, the ability to extend life and heal diseases and other afflictions has been acquired by humanity through laborious research and enlightenment. Thus, it is our duty to preserve life rather than kill.11
Kane observes that killing does not change its nature even when technology and modern medicine are used to camouflage the negligence of duty behind euthanasia. He later argues that even Christian doctrines and other religious beliefs consider life it all its different forms, a sanctified gift from God.12
Furthermore, when one perform euthanasia on a patient that has been for while under the individual’s care, this becomes a contradiction of one’s moral principles. In that case, euthanasia is considered a betrayal of the person under care.13
Brian Kane’s deduction based on deontology is a reasonable ground for one to reject euthanasia as an immoral action. The decision to perform a mercy killing on a suffering individual is abandonment of a person with whom the medic performing the euthanasia has shown immeasurable solidarity earlier by providing care and support.
Euthanasia also goes against the universal principles of practice of the medical profession.
On the other hand, Kantian deontology has its own special argument against euthanasia. All aspects of Kantian philosophy revolve around duty, goodwill and categorical imperative, the philosophy of pure reason.14
One should observe duties at all time despite the odds. In one illustration, Kant argues that it is immoral to lie to a murderer in order to alleviate occurrence of the murder. He argues that lying to anyone denies one the freedom to make a rational deduction.15
In the case of euthanasia, Kantian philosophy can be applied to imply that we must preserve life at all costs.16 Throughout history, it has been the practice of people to preserve life at all odds. This has led to development of modern medicine, which is a universal practice.
For this reason, it is a universal duty for everybody to work towards extending life in its various forms regardless of the situation. Thus, it would be immoral for one to end another person’s life for any reason. Doing so would go against the duty to preserve life.
I agree with Kant’s philosophy of duty to oneself and duty to not to kill. Consider medics personnel who spend most of their time making decisions aimed at prolonging other people’s lives. These people have been charged with the duty to preserve life through application of technology and modern medicine.
This universally accepted practice is applied in all societies in the world. A medic should thus, not perform euthanasia under any circumstances. If it is the patient’s will that euthanasia be performed, the medic is morally obliged to decline to perform euthanasia.
In addition, the medic must go to the furthest extent in his or her quest to observe the duty to preserve life.
Kantian philosophy can also be applied from another perspective to the same effect. When it is a patient’s wish to die to avoid immense suffering, he or she must not be aided to take his or her life. Kantian deontology directly addresses the issue of duty to oneself.
According to Kant, every person has a duty to preserve one’s life.17 This is a universal law accepted and applied in every society. This makes it a perfect duty not to take an innocent person’s life for any reason. The same kind of reasoning is applied to suicide.
It is immoral to take one’s life since such an action does not apply universally. In fact, suicide is not acceptable in many societies. Similarly, it is universally unacceptable to take any life since it goes against ones duty as it is universally defined.
If it were universally acceptable that people can take their own lives, then there would be a significant possibility that the human race would not exist. This is a deduction by Immanuel Kant in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.
Kant lays a strong foundation for deontology, particularly regarding professional conduct in all disciplines. Fields such as medicine, which require a substantial moral foundation for productive practice, are affected by Kant’s philosophical reasoning.
According to Kant, deontology opposes any action that goes against universally accepted norms.18 Incidentally, euthanasia falls in this category of actions that are accepted in some instances but are not universally acceptable. Kant’s philosophy is a reasonable ground for the medical society to decline to practice euthanasia.
Deontology explicitly outlines the universal purpose of medicine, technology and medical personnel, which is to preserve life. For this reason, it is immoral for anyone to assist any individual to die for whatever reason.
Another author, Robert Young, considers euthanasia as a rational act by qualified personnel to end suffering of a patient. He says that it is prudent for a qualified medic to induce death or allow a patient to die to alleviate pain and suffering.19
For such an action to be morally acceptable, the euthanasia should not have a beneficial effect to any other person other than the patient.
Thus, euthanasia is performed for the sake of the suffering individual.20 While expressing his view, Young seeks to exclude instances where people kill themselves to alleviate suffering without any assistance. He maintains that the decision to perform euthanasia should be a result of an assessment by a qualified person.
Young also excludes cases of people who are such an invalid state that they are not in a position to decide whether to have euthanasia performed or not21.
For a case of euthanasia to be of moral value, the patient must request for the procedure, and the medic involved must be in a position to assess the condition of the patient and ascertain that the patient indeed suffering. Young further cites David Hume, who sought to append moral justification to suicide.22
He says that personal autonomy is paramount and should be respected. For him, it is immoral to keep a suffering person alive against one’s will. Thus, euthanasia should be morally acceptable when it is done within certain defined moral guidelines that involve the authority of the subject to euthanasia.
David Hume dismissed religious authorities as unfair to those people who committed suicide by denying them the freedom to choose not to live when life becomes unbearable. Thus, under certain circumstances, euthanasia is acceptable according to Young.
Robert Young’s position seems to approve some forms of euthanasia. It is impossible for any medic, however competent, to accurately determine the validity and extent of suffering of any individual. Moreover, it is impossible to ascertain the motive of the patient’s will despite the perceived suffering.
For this reason, I disagree with his proposition that some experts are able to determine when life becomes unbearable.
Furthermore, it is the duty of the medic to prolong life regardless of the utterances and expressions of the patient. This is justified by the fact that no one can accurately assess the mental situation of another person.
There are several strengths and weaknesses in the theories pertaining euthanasia as presented by Kant, Kane and Young. Kane’s theory seeks to maintain a disciplined practice in the medical profession. In that case, a medic observes duty without allowing emotional consequences to alter the course of his or her actions.
This way, the medical practitioner is able to give service to the suffering people objectively. However, Kane has postulated that the sole duty and obligation of the medical profession is to prolong life when it s possible to do so. He has not adequately tried to exclude euthanasia as one of the duties the medics have to perform.
In addition, he has not presented facts that adequately support the theory that the duty of medical practitioners is to prolong life. One can still claim that it is the ultimate aim of medical profession to alleviate pain and suffering, consequently including euthanasia as one of the profession’s duties.
On the other hand, Kant defines actions of moral value as those that are universally acceptable. His theory succeeds in excluding actions such as euthanasia among those that are universally acceptable. This is important since it prevents humans from engaging in morally questionable practices.
He simply seeks to avoid approving actions that have moral doubt for universal practice. The only weakness in Kant’s deontology is the concept of universal acceptance. Even vices such as murder are not universally condemned since there are societies where they are accepted.
Primitive societies, even in developed nations, have occasionally accepted murder as an action with moral value. It cannot be preservation of life is not a universal practice acceptable to all societies. Some societies allow people to perform euthanasia based on age or ailment.
Thus, one can argue that preservation of life is not universally acceptable.
Robert young’s theory has little strength. It may be beneficial to those who are living by sparing them the ordeal of seeing a person to whom they are emotionally connected suffer. However, there is a major weakness in the definition of qualified personnel competent enough to perform euthanasia.
It is impossible to assess the effects of death since no one knows what follows once one is pronounced clinically dead. It is only assumed that one’s sensory functionalities cease to exist, alleviating pain. No single experiment has succeeded in establishing the experience after death.23
Whether the experience is painful or not euthanasia relies on an assumption. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, it is impossible for any person to determine the degree of suffering experienced by another with accuracy.24
Similarly, it impossible to establish the motive of the subject to euthanasia in requesting for a mercy killing. Thus, while the medic performing the procedure might have goodwill, he or she might be an accessory to achieve other motives other than alleviation of pain.
For these reasons, young’s theory is weaker than Kant’s philosophy and Kane’s deontology.
Brian Kane’s approach to deontology is analogous to Kant’s philosophy. Both authors refer to universal practices. Kant’s validates all universally accepted practices as morally upright. On the other hand, Kane observes that it is the universal duty of medical practitioners to prolong life whenever it is possible.
These two theories come to a consensus that universal pratices have a moral value. Thus if the universal duty of medical practitioners is aimed at prolonging life, it is only morally right to work towards achievement of this objective rather than act otherwise.
Kane’s deontology and Kant’s philosophy do not support euthanasia. It is morally unacceptable to assist anyone to die according to the direct analysis of the issue by Brian Kane. Similarly, Application of Kantian deontology automatically makes euthanasia immoral.
Robert Young postulates that it is the duty of the medics to alleviate pain and suffering through euthanasia, a contradiction of Kant’s theory. However, young’s theory agrees with Kane and Kant’s perspective on suicide and euthanasia without the consent of the subject.
He does not append any moral value to euthanasia without the consent of the subject. Robert young’s theory may need to be refined to be accepted as a universal clinical practice.
This refinement involves creation of standard to assess the level of qualification of a medical practitioner to determine the degree of suffering of a potential subject of euthanasia.
Although such a standard is difficult to establish, it is a necessity for euthanasia of people with the consent of the subject to be universally accepted as a duty of medical practitioners.
Currently, euthanasia is largely an unacceptable practice in many societies. It is bound to remain unacceptable until sufficient grounds for its practice are established. However, such grounds are also not possible in the near future.
Darwall, Stephen L.. Deontology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003.
Kane, Brian. The Blessing of Life: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011.
Kant, Immanuel, Allen W. Wood, and J. B. Schneewind. Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Lammers, Stephen E., and Allen Verhey.On moral medicine: theological perspectives in medical ethics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987.
Snyder, Carrie L.. Euthanasia. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006.
Young, Robert. Medically assisted death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
1 Snyder, Euthanasia, 33.
2 Ibid., 44.
3 Ibid., 65.
4 Darwall, Deontology, 81.
5 Ibid., 83.
6 Kant et al., Groundwork, 31.
7 Kane, Brian. The Blessing of Life,128.
8 Ibid., 132.
9 Kant et al., Groundwork, 34.
10 Kane, Brian. The Blessing of Life,135.
11 Ibid., 137.
12 Ibid., 138.
13 Ibid., 142.
14 Kant et al., Groundwork, 6.
15 Ibid., 7.
16 Ibid., 9.
18 Ibid., 13.
19 Young, Medically assisted death, 5.
20 Ibid., 6.
21 Ibid., 7.
22 Ibid., 9.
23 Lammers & Verhey, On moral medicine, 52.
24 Ibid., 55