Under the theory of Utilitarianism, Doctors are obliged to do the thing that will generate the most good for the all people involved; Doctors also have to respect a patient’s autonomy, for example, by giving them the right to refuse treatment even if, in their opinion, this is not the best option. Therefore, if a patient wanted Euthanasia, and it seemed that it was best not only for the suffering patient, but also the family and friends, the Doctor would have no reason to prevent Euthanasia.
However, there is no way of accurately anticipating the outcome of an action and there is always a risk that what was thought to be the best action has unforeseen consequences. In preference Utilitarianism, a person should do what they think is best for the patient regardless of their wishes. So if a patient wants Euthanasia but still has a good chance of survival, then a Doctor could refuse despite their wishes. Are we asking too much of a doctor to decide what’s best for all concerned? Many people argue that matters of life and death are best left to God as a human cannot be a truly impartial judge.
Some Christians argue in favour of Euthanasia as they believe it demonstrates the compassion and Christian Agape that Jesus told us to practice when he commands us to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mathew Ch 5). If you were experiencing intolerable pain and suffering then you would want someone to help you end that suffering with dignity through Euthanasia. Jesus said that people could have “life in all its fullness” (John 10, 10), if we have a right to a good quality of life then surely we have the right to end it when life is no longer enjoyable. Death is preferable to living a miserable life.
The idea of Christian agape is linked to situation ethics as they both promote always doing the most loving thing, which, in the case of a suffering patient, would be to allow euthanasia. However, this can be difficult to apply as it is subjective, dependant on the merits of each individual situation. For example, a baby born severely brain damaged that will only have a short, painful life, who will have to have constant care form parents and doctors is completely different to a cancer patient who simply wants to speed up the process of dyeing, though both of these could be seen as mercy killing. The definition of love is also central in the application of situation ethics, as people may have different ideas about what love is, for example some would say that in the case of the cancer patient, it would be more loving to allow them to die naturally, as the process of death may be of spiritual importance to the patient, and so that the family and Doctors know they did everything they could to save them.
Christians argue that because of the commandment, “you shall not kill” and the idea that all life is sacred to God, it would be wrong to withdraw treatment or actively give them something with the intention of ending their life. However, with Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of double effect, a lethal injection could be given with the intention of relieving suffering, with the secondary effect being the patient’s death. This would justify the use of euthanasia, not to end a life, but to demonstrate Christian agape in relieving suffering.
Asses the view that, from a religious perspective, humans have the right to life.
Christians believe in sanctity of life, that all life is a gift from God and that to prematurely end a life would be to disrespect the gift of life. Some Christians take this a step further, believing that your life is not you own but is “on loan” from God, so we do not have the power to do what we want with our lives or decide when and how they end. Christians also argue that God has pre-planned our lives, so to end a life prematurely would be to interfere with this plan, “before I formed you, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. However, this conflicts with ideas of God’s omniscience, as he would have known whether or not a foetus is destined to be aborted.
Catholic’s believe that life begins at conception, and from that time onwards, to end a life would be murder, acting against God’s commandment, “you shall not kill”. From this perspective, euthanasia is completely unacceptable, yet this absolutist view does not take into account complications associated with euthanasia, such as in the case of a terminally ill patient in severe pain, with no quality of life and a wish to die in peace. Jesus taught that people not only had the right to life, but a right to “life in all its fullness” (John 10, 10). Surely is would be more Christian to allow a patient an “easy death” rather than prolonging the pain of living. Catholics believe however, that suffering serves the purpose of bringing people closer to God, and allows them every chance to repent their sins. Miracles may happen, and there is no way of knowing if the patient is truly adamant about their wish to die, or is merely speaking irrationally, confused by the pain and drugs.
Jesus was a healer; he cured the blind and taught that everyone had the right to life. Medical advances mean that life can be sustained further, even if the patient has no quality of life and wishes to die. In the traditional Christian view, anything that prolongs life is a good thing, and doctors must do everything they can to save a patient before giving up. But is this view outdated? In modern society many people accept that sometimes it is best to let nature take its course, and that medical intervention can, in some cases, cause psychological harm, both to the patient and to family and friends. Turning off life support is now legal in the UK and a patient will always have a right to refuse treatment and the Church of England supports this view.
There is no doubt that all humans have the right to life, but do they also have a right to death? Opinions on this matter are varied but I think that if better care was provided for the terminally ill, there should be no reason for them to want Euthanasia. If, after all the best pain relief and psychological care, they still find life unbearable, they should be allowed euthanasia and to die in peace.