Read the article, “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia” Do you believe that any of the staff members…

Read the article, “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia” Do
you believe that any of the staff members at Memorial engaged in
the practice of euthanasia. If so, why? If not, why not? Your
answer should be based on your personal beliefs and should cite
pertinent facts and circumstances in support of your
The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia
J. Goy-Williams
J. Goy-Williams defines euthanasia
as intentionally taking the life of a person who is believed to be
suffering from some illness or injury from which recovery cannot
reasonably be expected. Gay-Williams rejects passive euthanasia as
a name for actions that are usually designated by the phrase but
seems to approve of the actions
themselves. He argues that
euthanasia as intentional killing goes against natural law because
it violates the natural inclination to pre serve life.
Furthermore, both self-interest and possible practical consequences
of euthanasia provide reasons for rejecting it.
My impression is that euthanasia – the idea, if not the
practice-is slowly gaining acceptance within our society. Cynics
might attribute this to an increasing tendency to devalue human
life, but I do not believe this is the major factor. The acceptance
is much more likely to be the result of unthinking sympathy and
benevolence. Well-publicized, tragic stories like that of Karen
Quinlan elicit from us deep feelings of compassion. We think to
ourselves, “She and her family would be better off if she were
dead. “It is an easy step from this very human response to the view
that if someone (and others) would be better off dead, then it
might be all right to kill that person. Although I respect the
compassion that leads to this conclusion, I believe the conclusion
is wrong. I want to show that euthanasia is wrong. It is inherently
wrong, but it is also wrong judged from the standpoints of
self-interest and of practical
Before presenting my arguments to support this claim, it would
be well to define “euthanasia.” An essential aspect of euthanasia
is that it involves taking a human life, either one’s own or that
of another. Also, the person whose life is taken must be someone
who is believed to be suffering from some disease or injury from
which recovery cannot reasonably be expected. Finally, the action
must be deliberate and intentional.
Thus, euthanasia is intentionally taking the life of a
presumably hopeless person. Whether the life is one’s own or that
of another, the taking of it is still euthanasia.
It is important to be clear about the deliberate and intentional
aspect of the killing. If a hopeless person is given an injection
of the wrong drug by mistake and his euthanasia. The killing cannot
be the result of accident. Furthermore, if the person is given an
injection of a drug that is believed to be necessary to treat his
disease or better his condition and the person dies as a result,
then this is neither wrongful killing nor euthanasia. The intention
was to make the patient well, not kill him. Similarly, when a
patient’s condition is such that it is not reasonable to hope that
any medical procedures or treatments will save his life, a failure
to implement the procedures or treatments is not euthanasia. If the
per son dies, this will be as a result of his injuries or disease
and not because of his failure to receive treatment.
The failure to continue treatment after it has been realized
that the patient has little chance of benefit ing from it has been
characterized by some as “passive euthanasia. “This phrase is
misleading and mistaken. In such cases, the person involved is not
killed (the first essential aspect of euthanasia), nor is the death
of the person intended by the withholding of additional treatment
(the third essential aspect of euthanasia). The aim may be to spare
the person additional and. unjustifiable pain, to save him from the
indignities of hopeless manipulations, and to avoid increasing the
financial and emotional burden on his family. When I buy a pencil
it is so that I can use it to write, not to contribute to an
increase in the gross national product. This may be the unintended
consequence of my action, but it is not the aim of my action. So it
is with failing to continue the treatment of a dying person. I
intend his death no more than I intend to reduce the GNP by not
using medical supplies. His is an unintended dying, and so-called
“passive euthanasia” is not euthanasia at all.
1. The Argument from Nature
Every human being has a natural inclination to continue living.
Our reflexes and responses fit us to fight attackers, flee wild
animals, and dodge out of the way of trucks. In our daily lives we
exercise the caution and care necessary to protect ourselves. Our
bodies are similarly structured for survival right down to the
molecular level. When we are cut, our capillaries seal shut, our
blood clots, and fibrogen is produced to start the process of
healing the wound. !Then we are invaded by bacteria, antibodies
are produced to fight against the alien organisms, and their
remains are swept out of the body by special cells designed for
clean-up work.
Euthanasia does violence to this natural goal of survival: It is
literally acting against nature because all the processes of nature
are bent towards the end of bodily survival. Euthanasia defeats
these subtle mechanisms in a way that, in a particular case,
disease and injury might not.
It is possible, but not necessary, to make an appeal to revealed
religion in this connection.3 Man as trustee of his body acts
against God, its rightful possessor, when he takes his own life. He
also violates the commandment to hold life sacred and never to take
it without just and compelling cause. But since this appeal will
persuade only those who are prepared to accept that religion has
access to revealed truths, I shall not employ this line of
It is enough, I believe, to recognize that the organization of
the human body and our patterns of behavioral responses make the
continuation of life a natural goal. By reason alone, then, we can
recognize that euthanasia sets us against our own nature.
Furthermore, in doing so, euthanasia does violence to our
dignity. Our dignity comes from seeking our ends. When one of our
goals is survival, and actions are taken that eliminate that goal,
then our natural dignity suffers. Unlike animals, we are conscious
through reason of our nature and our ends. Euthanasia involves
acting as if this dual nature-inclination towards survival and
awareness of this as an end – did not exist. Thus, euthanasia
denies our basic human character and requires that we regard
ourselves or others as something Jess than fully human.
2. The Argument from Self-Interest
The above arguments are, I believe, sufficient to show that
euthanasia is inherently wrong. But there are reasons for
considering it wrong when judged by standards other than reason.
Because death is final and irreversible, euthanasia contains within
it the possibility that we will work against our own interest if we
practice it or allow it to be practiced on us.
Contemporary medicine has high standards of excellence and a
proven record of accomplishment, but it does not possess perfect
and complete knowledge.
A mistaken diagnosis is possible, and so is a mistaken
prognosis. Consequently, we may believe that we are dying of a
disease when, as a matter of fact, we may not be. We may think that
we have no hope of recovery when, as a matter of fact, our chances
are quite good. In such circumstances, if euthanasia were
permitted, we would die needlessly. Death is final and the chance
of error too great to approve the practice of euthanasia.
Also, there is always the possibility that an experimental
procedure or a hitherto untried technique will pull us through. We
should at least keep this option open, but euthanasia closes it
off. Furthermore, spontaneous remission does occur in many cases.
For no apparent reason, a patient simply recovers when those all
around him, including his physicians, expected him to die.
Euthanasia would just guarantee their expectations and leave no
room for the “miraculous” recoveries that frequently occur.
Finally, knowing that we can take our life at any time (or ask
another to take it) might well incline us to give up too easily.
The will to live is strong in all of us, but it can be weakened by
pain and suffering and feelings of hopelessness. If during a bad
time we allow ourselves to be killed, we never have a chance to
reconsider. Recovery from a serious illness requires that we fight
for it, and anything that weakens our determination by suggesting
that there is an easy way out is ultimately against our own
interest. Also, we may be inclined towards euthanasia because of
our concern for others. If we see our sickness and suffering as an
emotional and financial burden on our family, we may feel that to
leave our life is to make their lives easier5 The very presence of
the possibility of euthanasia may keep us from surviving when we
3.The Argument from Practical Effects
Doctors and nurses are, for the most part, totally committed to
saving lives. A life lost is, for them, almost a personal failure,
an insult to their skills and knowledge. Euthanasia as a practice
might well alter this. It could have a corrupting influence so that
in any case that is severe doctors and nurses might not try hard
enough to save the patient. They might decide that the patient
would simply be “better off dead” and take the steps necessary to
make that come about. This attitude could then carry over to their
dealings with patients less seriously ill. The result would be an
overall decline in the quality of medical care.
Finally, euthanasia as a policy is a slippery slope. A person
apparently hopelessly ill may be allowed to take his own life. Then
he may be permitted to deputize others to do it for him should he
no longer be able to act. The judgment of others then becomes the
ruling factor. Already at this point euthanasia is not personal and
voluntary, for others are acting “on behalf of” the patient as they
see fit. This may well incline them to act on behalf of other
patients who have not authorized them to exercise their judgment.
It is only a short step, then, from voluntary euthanasia
(self-inflicted or authorized), to directed euthanasia administered
to a patient who has given no authorization, to involuntary
euthanasia conducted as part of a social policy. Recently many
psychiatrists and sociologists have argued that we define as
“mental illness” those forms of behavior that we disapprove of?
This gives us license then to lock up those who display the
behavior. The category of the “hopelessly ill” provides the
possibility of even worse abuse. Embedded in a social policy, it
would give society or its representatives the authority to
eliminate all those who might be considered too “ill” to function
normally any longer. The dangers of euthanasia are too great to all
to run the risk of approving it in any form. The first slippery
step may well lead to a serious and harmful fall.
I hope that I have succeeded in showing why the benevolence that
inclines us to give approval of eu thanasia is misplaced.
Euthanasia is inherently wrong because it violates the nature and
dignity of human beings. But even those who are not convinced by
this must be persuaded that the potential personal and social
dangers inherent in euthanasia are sufficient to forbid our
approving it either as a personal practice or as a public
Suffering is surely a terrible thing, and we have a clear duty
to comfort those in need and to ease their suffering when we can.
But suffering is also a natural part of life with values for the
individual and for others that we should not overlook. We may
legitimately seek for others and for ourselves an easeful death, as
Arthur Dyck has pointed out. Euthanasia, however, is not just an
easeful death. It is a wrongful death. Euthanasia is not just
dying. It is killing.

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