Is there a difference between living and just being alive. And is it ever morally okay for a life to be ended. Physician Assisted Death can be broken down into two categories; Active Euthanasia and Passive Euthanasia. Active Euthanasia is defined as the active acceleration of a “good” death by use of drugs etc, whether by oneself or with the aid of a doctor. (Medterms) Passive Euthanasia is defined as a form of euthanasia in which medical treatment that will keep a dying patient alive for a time is withdrawn. (Medterms) Euthanasia is an ethical issue that has been in question for a long time. It is currently legal in some parts of the United Kingdom and in the United States it is only legal in Oregon. Moral philosopher James Rachels did many writings on his view of Active and Passive Euthanasia as well as writings on Moral Philosophy. This paper will view Rachels’ opinions and my response to what he thinks.
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In James Rachels writing, The End of a Life, he begins by telling the story of Hans Florian and his wife. Mrs. Florian has Alzheimer’s disease and slowly but surely her brain began to deteriorate and she began to lose control of her motor skills and other body functions. She got to the point where Mr. Florian needed to put her into a nursing home for her own safety. Mr. Florian shot her dead instead, to keep her from suffering any longer. James Rachels then goes on to play the devil’s advocate. “Was it wrong for Mr. Florian to have killed his wife?” (Rachels, The End of a Life) He was found not guilty legally, but still, was it immoral? He purposely killed an innocent human being and according to our moral traditions, that is always wrong. This traditions comes mostly from the Christian teachings. They believe that every human life is sacred because each one is in the image of god. So killing somebody, no matter how sick etc, is bad in the eye of God (Rachels, The End of a Life). Other traditional views believe that sometime killing a human is justified, depending on whether or not the human is “innocent.” Capital punishment, for example, are sanctioned because the person who is being killed is not “innocent (Rachels, The End of a Life).” The most interesting of the traditions, according to Rachels, is the distinction between killing people or letting them die. On this view, even though killing innocent people is forbidden, sometimes, letting them die is allowed. James Rachels then offers an “alternative view.” There is a big difference between “having a life” and simply “being alive (Rachels, The End of a Life).” “Being alive in the biological sense, is relatively unimportant. One’s ‘life’, by contrast is immensely important; it is the sum of one’s aspirations, decisions, activities, projects, and human relationships.” (Rachels, The End of a Life) From his moral point of view, it is the protection of the lives that is important and because most humans do have lives, killing them is wrong. Yet, some humans who are unfortunate, such as Mrs. Florian, are alive, but they don’t have lives. This makes killing them a different matter, morally. If the “life”, in the biographical sense, is not being destroyed or adversely affected, the rule against killing offers no objection (Rachels, The End of a Life). In the case of Mrs. Florian, although she was still alive, her life was already over when her husband decided to shoot her. He didn’t destroy her life, Alzheimer’s disease already did that. In which case, Hans Florian did not behave immorally. This alternative approach of Rachels sees being moral as a matter of doing what is best for somebody who will be affected by our actions rather than being a matter of faithfulness to rules or laws. If we should not kill, it should be because in killing somebody is it harming them.
In another of rachels writings called Active and Passive Euthanasia, Rachel challenges the conventional doctrine that says Passive is sometimes permissible, but active is always forbidden. He puts up many arguments but the one he focuses most on is when he said that in many cases, active euthanasia is more human than passive euthanasia in many cases (Rachels). Rachel then focuses in deeply on his first point. What if there is a patient dying of a incurable disease and is in terrible pain. He is definitely going to die within a few days even if treatments continue, but he doesn’t want to go on living because the pain is so unbearable. Suppose the doctor agrees to withhold the treatment like the conventional doctrine says he can. Yet, if he simply withholds treatment, it may take longer for this patient to die which would actually make him suffer more than if more direct actions were taken and he was given a lethal injection. His point being, that the process of being allowed to die can be very slow and painful compared to being given a lethal injection that is relatively quick and painless.
I absolutely agree with James Rachels in every aspect. To start, when Rachel says that there is a difference between living and being a life, I believe that is absolutely right. One can be alive without actually living. If a teenager gets into a car accident and becomes brain dead from head trauma, no doubt he is alive, but never again will he get to experience the things normal kids should get to. He’ll never get to go to prom, graduate high school, get married, have kids, he will be stuck in this vegetable like state, he’ll never actually live. Likewise, I also fully agree on his stance on whether or not it is ever morally okay to end a life. I believe that in certain cases, when you have a person that is terminally ill and has absolutely no chance of getting better even if care is continued, that person should have the right to end their lives. Or like in the case of Mrs. Florian or the brain-dead teenager, family should be able to make that decision as long as no harm will be done to the victim. Lastly, I believe in many cases, active euthanasia is much better than passive. If passive euthanasia is going to cause extreme pain, it would make much more sense to give them a lethal injection that will quickly and painlessly end their suffering. I believe no person in that state should have to suffer if there is a way to end it.
In conclusion, there is a difference between being a live and just living, in certain cases it is morally okay to end a life and in many cases active euthanasia is more humane than passive euthanasia. James Rachels makes many good arguments to all aspects of these topics.
Rachels, James. “Active and Passive Euthanasia.” QCC. N.P. 9 January 1975. Web. 17 April 2013.
Rachels, James. “The End of Life.” James Rachels. N.P. 1986. Web. 17 April 2013.
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