An acceptance of the practice of Voluntary Euthanasia is incompatible with the Christian belief in the Sanctity of Life but not with the attitudes of some ethical philosophers. Discuss.
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Essay plan * Example of a recent case of voluntary euthanasia * Definition * Churches * Sanctity of life * Euthanasia in the Bible * BMA association report * Hippocratic oath * Weaknesses and strengths after each section * Aquinas * Situation ethics * Kant * Utilitarianism - Stuart Mill, Bentham * Hume * Nietzsche * Conclusion An acceptance of the practice of Voluntary Euthanasia is incompatible with the Christian belief in the Sanctity of Life but not with the attitudes of some ethical philosophers. Discuss. 'No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'.1 Imagine at the age of 40, you are diagnosed with Motor neurone disease, a fatal disease that causes degeneration of the motor neurones, which leads the wasting of muscles. You are intellectually sound but totally dependant on your spouse for physical support. You are aware of the fact that your death is imminent and will probably be painful, suffering from severe breathing problems and pneumonia before slipping into a coma. By the age of 42 you want to end your life, leaving your two children and spouse with more pleasant memories of you, however, the courts will not allow you to end your life2. This was exactly the situation of Diane Pretty, the most recent of euthanasia case in the media. However, she died on 12th May 2002 after losing her case. Euthanasia continues to be one of the most controversial subjects of the modern world. The word euthanasia literally means 'dying well' and it originates from two Greek words, 'eu' and 'thanatos'. Euthanasia is defined as '...an action or omission which of itself or by intention causes death.'3 A case where a patient specifically asks to die repeatedly and receives euthanasia, which is not a decision made by a doctor or the patient's family or friends, is one of voluntary euthanasia.
Within the Christian religion there are different interpretations of the Sanctity of life argument, as medical advances have made it increasingly difficult to determine when 'life' is still a life. Another weakness it that the sanctity of life argument is essentially deontological as it reflects the assumption that a person believes their life is valuable to God. Therefore it cannot be relevant to a non-believer. It also has strengths however, because a Christian would very much believe that God does have control over every life and this would be a very valid point. Some may argue that for the non-Christians, it would play on their conscious and it is their compassion, or agape, which makes them feel this guilt. For the non-believer it stops the risk of a slippery slope, and people being killed for convenience. As a Florida physician said: 'We shall start by putting patients away because they are in intolerable pain and haven't long to live anyway and we shall end by putting them away because it's Friday night and we want to get away for the weekend'.17 The sanctity of life argument can sometimes have adverse affects; it could be regarded that ending a person's life can have more positive effects than negative. For example if the person is deeply suffering and has a sincere wish to end their life and the family are happy with their choice in the situation, it maybe more pleasant and beneficial to allow euthanasia because it leaves everyone with happier memories. It also means that socially it is less expensive and it means there are more hospital beds that younger patients with a chance of regaining a normal life can use. There are many ethical philosophers who have produced ethical theories about the acceptance of the practice of voluntary euthanasia. Saint Thomas Aquinas who lived from 1225-74, developed the deontological argument of natural law, and that situations in our lives should conform to these absolute principles.
He also believed that 'whatever purpose there is in life, it is given that meaning by humankind. There is no God.'27 Nietzsche's ethical theory presents a clear challenge both to religious ideas of morality, utilitarianism and Natural Law. He believed that human kind shies away from the idea of meaningless; they would rather rely on theories such as the one that the church presents, and feel guilty about their sin, than accept nothingness. In his theories, Nietzsche totally disregards Christianity and so would not feel an obligation to comply with the sanctity of life. There is therefore no reason that he would disagree with voluntary euthanasia, because it is the decision of the person; they should not be made to feel guilty about issues that they do not have to consider. Voluntary euthanasia, is not compatible with the Christian belief in the sanctity of life because it disputes the belief that God has total control over a person's life and suffering, and that He is not loving enough to support them through their pain. Also to say the practice of voluntary euthanasia is incompatible with the beliefs of some ethical philosophers is a fair assessment to make. There are many philosophers who condone euthanasia, however a significant number of these are Christians anyway. The vast majority of non-believers or atheist philosophers have developed theories that can accept euthanasia in certain circumstances, for example Hume, John Stuart Mill, and Bentham. I believe that the sanctity of life argument is a strong argument and could relieve society of serious mis-interpretations regarding a person's wish to the direction of their life. However, it is up to the individual to make the judgement for themselves, and in carefully considered instances, euthanasia may be permitted. As the first man to commit assisted suicide under the voluntary euthanasia in Darwin Australia said 'the church and the law should be separate. If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia don't use it, but please don't deny the right to me to use it if I want to'.
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