“An acceptance of the practice ofvoluntary euthanasia is incompatible with Christian belief in the sanctity of life but not with the attitudes of some ethical philosophers or medical practitioners” Discuss.

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“An acceptance of the practice of voluntary euthanasia is incompatible with Christian belief in the sanctity of life but not with the attitudes of some ethical philosophers or medical practitioners” Discuss

“To haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights,

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood”

                        John Keats- The Living Hand (1795-1821)

Euthanasia means good or merciful death. It is different to suicide in the case that it is not carried out by the individual wanting to die, but by a third party, this being in most cases, a doctor or nurse. And different to murder because it is carried out at the will of the person concerned, it is planned and a time to die is often chosen by the patient.

        No only is euthanasia an issue that raises a number of moral religious concerns, the debate is complicated in the number if terms used in it. The first distinction is that between voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is when a mentally competent person requests their own death, this is sometimes shown in the form of a living will, when the person asks to be allowed to die if they ever encounter a situation where their life is not what it used to be. Involuntary euthanasia is carried out on the assumption that had the person been able to express their will, should they ever be in the situation where euthanasia would be appropriate, then the person would have chosen to die. Lastly, non-voluntary euthanasia is when the decision to end someone’s life is made on behalf of the patient if they are unable to express their opinion about it, this is like the case of Anthony Bland who was involved in the Hillsborough disaster in 1993. Active euthanasia refers to the direct willed death of a person; it is the intentional act of mercy killing. Passive euthanasia is not in the sense killing but allowing to die e.g.: turning off a life support machine or not administering drugs to keep someone alive, it allows the person to die by withholding or stopping the treatment that sustains life. Direct euthanasia involves the use of something specific to cause death. Indirect euthanasia is where death occurs as a side effect of treatment, e.g.: injecting a lethal dose of morphine to reduce pain, knowingly that this will eventually end the patient’s life (4).

        There are also many technical terms associated with euthanasia. Double effect or DDE is when a treatment is administered with the intention of prolonging life, but as a side effect of the treatment the patient dies (indirectly). PAS or Physician assisted suicide is when a doctor will administer a drug to end the patient’s life, but the patient will take the drug themselves. There are also the ideas of ordinary and extraordinary means. Ordinary means is giving just enough of something to survive, but extraordinary means ‘disproportionate’ means, or means of attempting to save the life are out of proportion with, in terms of the pain suffered, to the possibility of saving life (1).


As Peter Vardy (3) said, there are many issues central to the debate of euthanasia, and which are often factors that can sway people’s views to either for or against euthanasia. The first issue is that of the existence of God. If God exists then it may be seen as non-permissible to take life, as God does not wish us to do so, but if there is no God, then the individual should be able to make the decision to live or die by themselves, but they should take into consideration the impact this will have on others, not just themselves. The next issue is what is known as ‘The slippery slope’ argument. If euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope, where will the killing end? Will murder be acceptable? And will we be able to end the lives of the disabled and handicapped without even thinking about their lives? Many people believe that if euthanasia is legalised it will lead to a greater number of deaths as suicide could be claimed as euthanasia. Also, there is the question of which approach you adopt, will you choose the Natural Law approach, and say that euthanasia is a waste of life, the Situation ethics approach and take into account the most love filled result of your action, or will you favour proportionalism, and weigh up all the values to see if they are ordinary or extraordinary means? And also if the act is intrinsically good in itself, or do the consequences of the act make it right or wrong.


The Sanctity of Life argument (1) is based on the Christian belief that life is a God given gift, which should only be taken away by God too. The argument says that life is intrinsically worthwhile and humans should preserve it. In recent years, however, medical technology has blurred the boundaries between life and death, and people have become more critical of traditional religious views. The main factor of the sanctity of life argument is the definition between a being and a person. As a being is a member of a species and a person as a named, loved object. People are often dehumanised to make the act of killing less severe. The question of euthanasia is whether we see someone as a being or a person? Philosophers believe that we need basic goods to be a person. John Finnis lists seven equal basic goods: the desire for a life free from mental and physical pain, knowledge (the desire to find out for its own sake), play. Aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness (application of intelligence), ‘religion’ (by which he means that which binds us together in collaboration and community). Finnis makes clear that these are not moral goods, but goods, which constitute to a valuable life. Joseph Fletcher lists his indicators of human hood as self-awareness, self control, sense of the future, sense of the past, capacity to relate to others, concern for others, communication and curiosity. However, the Quality of Life arguments (1) have argued that the Sanctity of Life arguments do not account adequately for the strongly intuitive feelings about the preservation and value of life, and the equally important sense that humans have the freedom to dispose of their own lives as they wish. The QOL arguments suggest that the value of life is to do with external (extrinsic) factors, such as desire to live and the right to die (1). The main feature of the QOL is that it removes the absoluteness of life and argues that people should have the right to die as and when they wish. In ‘The Sanctity of Life’ by M. Wilcockson, he states that there are five main qualities that determine whether a life may be taken or preserved; Desires, Preferences, Autonomy, Rights and Contract, and Life as a conscious being. The desire to live is to determine if a person’s life is worthwhile. Desires can often be unreliable and someone’s present state of mind may not be what he/she feels later on. Autonomy is to be able to determine your future. Autonomy is divided into three main sections, Liberalism, Existentialism and Moral Law. Liberty is the main means by which a person determines his morality and values, existential philosophy is the one factor which makes humans different from all other things and Moral Law ensures that individuals are respected for their own sake and protects them from exploitation. Social contract theories have many starting points, which offer different accounts of taking and preserving life. One of these is Egoism. Thomas Hobbes said, “Survival is prior to pain/pleasure or concern for others. Survival is the right to preserve one’s own life at all costs” killing, stealing and adultery are all legitimate means. Jonathan Glover said that life is not defined simply as a body, which is alive in biological terms, but one where consciousness is exercised (1).

An acceptance of the practice of voluntary euthanasia is incompatible with the views of many people and there are many arguments against it. The first is the slippery slope argument of ‘where will it stop?’ in terms of allowing one person, it may then allow everyone to choose euthanasia if it is legalised. There is also the other option for those terminally ill and that is hospices, they are there to look after the terminally ill and have specially trained people to deal with all cases. Dame Cicely Saunders (7) writes that hospices relieve pain in nearly all of their patients. They use the same science and skill to help people die peacefully that surgeons use to preserve life in the operating theatre and intensive care units.

The religious argument against euthanasia has many component parts. The Bible prohibits voluntary euthanasia at any cost (4), with quotes such as ‘Thou shall not kill’ Exodus 20:13. But the Bible (10) believes that people should not suffer, so if you did not give them pain relief, then this would not be euthanasia. There are four main characteristics of the Christian Sanctity of Life argument, voiced in the Bible. The first is the image of God. Christian anthropology regards every human being as created in the image and likeness of God. To be created in God’s image implies that humans are set apart from all other creatures and possess a spark of divinity within them, which enables them to act, create and cultivate the earth as God’s stewards.

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“The incarnation of the word of God as man in the person of Jesus reaffirms the sanctity and holiness of human life in its relationship with God” – John 1:14.

The second part of the position is Destiny. If God is the author of life then it follows that He is the one who determines when it should end. Thus in all ordinary circumstances it is not up to the individual whether he or she might add or subtract from his or her life.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return; the ...

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