07 February 2019

Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Euthanasia is the down fall to rational philosophy. Pain and death are the ultimate experiences in empirical philosophy and yet rational philosophy cannot handle let alone guide us through this morally fraught problem in philosophy.

The ethical issue is quite straight forward: our biological instinct repulses us against the killing of kin and kith and yet euthanasia is a rational justification to do what we, by nature, would find difficult to accept. And our justification to bridge this philosophical ravine is that other empirical phenomenon, pain. Pain distresses us and we are equally distressed by the experience of pain and suffering of other people. Pain in a huge motivator.

Historically, we dealt with death and killing as only justifiable in self defence, although some cultures do not necessarily put a high value on life. Inevitably this mind set has led to human sacrifice and capital punishment at one extreme and political abuse, if not outright institutionalised criminality, on the other.

It is now accepted that the austerity policies of the Conservative government in the UK has directly caused the death of 30,000 (2015: Royal Society of Medicine) although in 2017 The Independent wrote about “economic murder” to have reached some 120,000 deaths (1). But compare this with the following quote from the NHS website: The law: Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law (2). (Although, this applies to the whole UK).

So what is different about euthanasia that makes it criminal yet the state, it seems, can murder people at will? In the realm of political philosophy we are as individuals subjects or citizens of the sate meaning that we are not free to decide on the fate of peers in the state. Politically, individuals do not have the authority or the competence to take the life others without the defence of self defence. So it is not just biological repulsion that stops us from euthanasia but also lack of political competence to do so.

We now find ourselves in a three horned problem: (1) our revulsion at killing our friends and relatives, (2) our natural distress of pain and (3) our political incompetence to decide when to take away the life of someone else. On the biological level we are moved by the quality and quantity of life of those close to us. On the political level we are rule takers and not rule makers. So why should euthanasia be an ethical issue for us: when our free will intentions are managed by biology and our freedom to act is curtailed by political coercion?

We can escape this impasse not necessarily by questioning the morality and ethics of euthanasia but rather by questioning the practicality of euthanasia. In particular instead of asking why or why not euthanasia we can ask: when is it possible to perform euthanasia?

What we cannot accept is the frivolous attitude of the state towards life, and in particular the exercise of power without accounting for its exercise. In other words, euthanasia is not a matter of ethics but a matter of empirical value judgement. And empirical value judgements can only be justifiably carried out with empirical evidence and facts available and understood.

Today we know that medical research, especially in neurology, can establish whether patients in a coma can be aware of their surroundings and might even be conscious anyway; behaviourism is not the best idea philosophers have ever had. Thus coma patients today should immediately be excluded from being possible candidates of euthanasia. Anything else would be criminal mischief making at the very least.

This leaves us with managing pain. We tend to accept that the management of pain is a medical issue and we even impose our moral dilemmas on the shoulders of doctors and health care workers. But this is really a tunnel vision form of conducting moral philosophy. Basically, if the killing of people is the sole domain of the state then it beholds the state to manage the causes where the death is a real option in the event when pain cannot be managed. And just in case people ask, I see no difference between an intentional act to kill and an intentional inaction to let die.

This means that the state has the moral duty to provide health carers with tools and medicines to manage patients to the point when pain ceases to be a cause for euthanasia. But even before we arrive at the point of unmanageable pain the state has to make sure that all possible means to cure or manage diseases are available to all before pain becomes an issue.
This can only mean universal health care for all on the basis that diseases and pain are universal to all human beings, meaning these are what every human being can experience and be affected with. But there is a political duty to provide universal health care, basically since the state reserves the right and competence to kill citizens the state ought to prevent unnecessary killing or possible causes that lead to unnecessary killing.

Hence, the moral dilemma is not whether euthanasia is morally correct, but rather: when is it morally correct for the state to kill citizens? Hence, when is it morally correct for the state to empower people to perform euthanasia? The state might have the political authority to kill citizens, but it does not have the ethical authority to determine what is ethically correct. What is ethically correct is dependent on the universal positive benefits for everyone; no utilitarianism here either. After all ethical principles can only have universal authority if they apply universally. And by universally we can only mean all human beings alive at any given time when a moral decision has to be made.

Justifiably some might object and say that this approach does not help patients today who are suffering untold pain now. This is true, but then again we are neither health carers nor politicians, and as philosophers we have no more authority than anyone else to kill others. But there are solutions. This first is for independent courts of law to guide and help affected people come to an equitable solution. This means people should have unfettered and immediate access to courts of law.

There should also be a real supervision of the government independent of those in charge of running the government. But there is nothing new here; at the very least ethics is also about accountability. Hence the issue is not really whether euthanasia is ethically correct but rather can humanity arrive at the correct ethics to guide us with euthanasia?

 Best Lawrence

(1)  These figures might even be way out of date.
Landmark study links Tory austerity to 120,000 deaths

(2)  Euthanasia and assisted suicide

#euthanasia #ethics #pain #death #dying #state #healthcare

© Lawrence JC Baron 2019

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