This is a case of David Scott Mathers who suffocated his life partner after realising that her attempted suicide had failed. This is a case of euthanasia where help is given in dying so as to make the death more tolerable. It is also a case of assisted suicide because the deceased Eva Griffith has tried to end her own life in the previous night but had been unsuccessful.
Since Scott Mathers gave her the pills then he had offered her a means for ending her life which is by definition assisted suicide. The case will therefore be analysed through two moral perspectives: the first will be through a utilitarian (consequentialist) dimension and the second will be through a deontological perspective as argued by Immanuel Kant.
Definition of the two frameworks and why they are important in the case
In deontology, one must consider the means/ methods that are used in order to execute one’s actions. Since issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide are matters that are driven by particular ideas, therefore the deontological framework will be essential in analysing the ethical dimensions involved.
Kantian ethics is founded on the categorical imperative which requires individuals to ask whether their actions would be universalised by others who were in the same circumstances (Popkin & Stroll, 1993). This theory will be crucial in analysing the theory because it will offer a rule based application of ethics on the issue.
Utilitarianism on the other hand is a form of consequentialism which postulates that ethical actions are those ones which will cause better consequences than others available to the moral agent. Utilitarianism specifically refers to those actions which will increase the overall utility of the greatest number of people possible.
Utility here is determined by the amount of happiness that a person experiences. If something causes increased pleasure and minimises pain then that thing should continue to be perpetuated since it is ethical (Popkin & Stroll, 1993). This perspective is important in understanding a rationally based application of ethics in the case study.
Kant’s theory of morality is deontological because it largely represents obligations. In other words, the rules that govern certain situations are critical and the actions which follow these decisions can then be regarded as obligations. In the categorical imperative, Kant asserts that people should always question their actions can be applied as others as a universal law.
Kant also believed that acts have moral worth when they are done on the basis of duty. Therefore, this philosopher made a thorough distinction of duty and preference. In fact, if a duty was more difficult to carry out then it had greater moral value upon those involved.
People who choose this path always attain greater moral development than those who disregard their moral duties. In this context, Kant would view the retention of life in a chronically ill patient as more important and of greater value than terminating it. In other words, if someone is filled with sadness or hardship and no longer enjoys life to the point of desiring death yet still chooses to preserve his life even without relishing it then the moral worth is much greater in this scenario.
It should be noted that in order to qualify as a highly valuable moral decision, the choice to live should be based on one’s moral duty rather than preference or simply fear of the repercussions. Kant asserted that moral actions should only be labelled as such when they are motivated by the need to respect moral laws rather than the positive results that emanate out of them such as happiness and health. One must apply that law out of one’s own will rather than eternally imposed sanctions or benefits.
According to Kant, the accused in the case study – Mr. Scott Mathers – should have behaved in a manner that promotes moral duty even if the consequences were unpleasant. Scott was a moral agent and the motive of either maintaining his partner’s life or terminating it was going to bring out his sense of moral duty.
He should have gone beyond his preferences (whatever they were) to safeguard the needs of the ailing patient. In this case, Scott was moved by the pain and anguish that his family member was going through so his inclination or preference would be to assist her in ending that pain and suffering. On the other hand, he would be facilitating personal satisfaction on the part of his partner.
Her desire to take away her own life would mean using herself as a means of satisfying those tendencies. A person is an end in oneself so suicide is not ethical in this deontological context. Mr. Mathers was acting unethically by assisting his partner in committing this unethical act. He needed to move beyond his preference to see the end of her suffering and should have stuck to his moral duty.
According to Kantian ethics, he should not have thought about the consequences of his actions i.e. whether they were good or bad. Instead, he should have focused on the moral wrong or right of assisting his wife to commit suicide and finally suffocating her (Adams, 1992).
The utilitarian view on the other hand offers a different take on this case study. Many people might be tempted to judge David Scott Mathers on the premise that killing a blameless individual is wrong. These assumptions are founded on religious doctrines but utilitarians might look at it from a different dimension because their concerns are not based on the rules but on the effects of the actions committed.
In this particular instance, one should find out what makes killing another person wrong. The consequentialist would explain that life does possess some good and taking someone’s life would immediately put an end to that good. When a person is dead, they are no longer able to experience this happiness thus making the act of killing wrong. However, in certain scenarios, killing another person would result in more positives or greater happiness than if a person were alive.
In this regard, one must then decide who will make those decisions to end another person’s life and must also look at the overall impact of that person’s death upon other people’s life (not just the deceased). The issue of deciding who has the right to take away another’s life is quite relevant to this case study because someone else made the decision for Eva Griffith, that is Mathers.
Utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill assert that one must make one’s own decision because only that person fully comprehends the importance of living life or ending life (Singer, 1995). Indeed if someone witnessed certain people crossing a certain bridge and knew the dangers associated with crossing it then all one could do was to inform them about the wrong involved in doing so and then let them cross the bridge.
Those people are the only ones who can safeguard their interests. In this example, Mill assumed that the people crossing the bridge were rational actors who fully took in the information, digested it and made the decision to continue with their journey. These persons are in a position of making choices about their lives. The utilitarian must stand aside and let others decide what is best. In the case study, Eva Griffith was therefore the best judge of her own actions.
Her judgement was not impaired in any way so she knew how difficult her life was with the osteoarthritis. Her future seemed quite bleak and she therefore came to the conclusion that it would be better to die than live in such torture. In this theory, it was permissible for Eva to terminate her life because there would be greater happiness after the end of life than during her life. Since she was already unsuccessful in ending her life, Scott was simply helping her in carrying out her own wishes by suffocating her.
The second aspect concerns the impact of the euthanasia upon other people’s life. In certain circumstances, the termination of another person’s life can be so devastating to others but in other situations it may not even have any effect. Scott was the only significant person to Eva Griffith’s life as per the facts in the case.
It would therefore have been devastating for him if someone else took away his partner’s life. However, since he was the one who executed the killing then one can rule out emotional and psychological pain to close family as a likely negative consequence of Eva Griffith’s death.
Also, if her life was prolonged then her family would have to bear with the additional financial, emotional and psychological constraints of taking care of her (Paterson, 2008). The other likely problem that euthanasia would cause is greater insecurity amongst people who may worry about getting killed. But, this cannot be a possible risk because other members of Eva Griffith’s society would only be killed upon request just like she was.
Strengths and limitations of the theoretical frameworks
The great thing about Kantian ethics is that it is overcomes the limitations of human reasoning. Kant believed that reasoning could never be depended upon because it is flawed and often led to bad choices. He therefore advocated for a focus on something more concrete than reasoning; moral law and moral duty. This makes the theory less ambiguous because it offers tangible solutions to problems faced by people like Mathers who are acting as moral agents.
The major limitation in Kantian ethics lies in the fact that some of the premises found in his categorical imperative still depend on the very concepts that he frowns upon. For instance in order to act morally, one must act as though one is creating a new universal law. This denotes ability to reason yet that very concept is what has caused a lot of wrong choices as described by Kant himself. This apparent contradiction therefore leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
The major strength of the utilitarian perspective is that it empowers the moral agent to act autonomously. It causes individuals to think of the practical implications of their actions and hence act in accordance with them (Quill, 1991). This theoretical framework is not judgemental on the patient or the person who assists the patient in carrying out the suicidal wish because it does not use external standards to assess the morality of an issue.
On the other hand, utilitarianism places a lot of the decision making on the hands the ill patient who must be rational enough to make that crucial end of life choice. The problem with this presumption is that there are different states of mental capability. It has been shown through continual research that most terminally ill patients are susceptible to depression.
In fact, clinical depression is treatable and once it has been eliminated then most patients no longer feel the need to commit suicide. Eva Griffith was clinically depressed for a very long time so her desire to die may have been linked to this condition. The utilitarian theory which supports this view therefore propagates a scenario in which irrational beings can choose to end their lives.
It has been stated that Eva Griffith suffered from continual depression but it was not affirmed whether the doctors had ruled out all possibilities of helping her deal with this depression. In this regard, utilitarianism creates a major loophole because not many doctors can diagnose clinical depression.
Furthermore, since utilitarianism is based on the rational decisions of a person, one cannot be truly certain that the decisions of a certain patient will change. In these scenarios, it can be argued that Eva Griffith may have held the opinion that ending her life would be better than maintaining it at a certain point but may change her mind at a later point in her life (Wesley, 2007).
Through the two types of analyses, it can be argued that there are positive implications for almost all those concerned in the case. The utilitarian perspective would be favourable for David Scott because he respected his partner’s right to make choices so he simply assisted her in executing those wishes. This theory would be favourable for the government as well because taking care of terminally ill patients does utilise hospital resources and also puts a strain on social support systems for such people.
Kantian ethics on the other hand would judge Scott’s actions harshly because he was rewarding a person who was acting as though she was a means and not an end in herself. This theoretical framework would focus on the values that are placed on life and the prevailing image of the medical profession would be tarnished.
The moral dilemma would arise out of a need to determine which theoretical stance would be most appropriate. In such instances, it would be best to seek a middle ground that would look at the goals of the main issue in the case study. Much like the ethical pluralists, one should not judge David Scott with a degree of self righteousness because of what he did.
However, the values, rights, benefits and drawbacks of his actions should be considered and if it can be found that these items are more prevalent in a certain school of thought then more of that perspective should be considered. Since this is a matter that has large scale implications for a vast number of people then utmost precedence should be given to the long term effects of the theoretical framework chosen.
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