There is major debate in society today about whether euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, should be legalized. It is a controversial topic for it is strictly based on the morality of a person and their own individual beliefs, which every person differs on. According to Christian Nordqvist, Euthanasia refers “to deliberate action taken with the intention of ending a life, in order to relieve persistent suffering” (Nordqvist, 2017). The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, it that euthanasia is when a doctor is legally allowed to help a patient put an end to their life. There are many classifications of euthanasia as well, including, voluntary, involuntary, passive and active. Euthanasia is only allowed to be performed on patients that are diagnosed with a terminal illness and are suffering from intense pain. There are many different arguments and moral positions on the legalization of euthanasia. Two different individual standpoints are between deontologists and utilitarianism. While Kantian deontologists focus on the morality of the situation based on reason and thought, utilitarian’s focus on the pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Deontology allows for some ethical reasoning behind legalizing euthanasia but has many holes in its argument allowing utilitarianism to offer the better solution to legalizing euthanasia.
Kantian ethics is a way of thinking and acting that is deemed as intrinsically moral. In determining the morality of actions, he divides them into two categories based on volition and reason, hypothetical and categorical imperatives. A hypothetical imperative is when one’s “action is good only as a means to something else,” and a categorical imperative is when an action “is conceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily the principle of a will which of itself conforms to reason” (Kant 89). In applying this way of thinking to Euthanasia, there are many supporting viewpoints that arise, but there is also some opposing. Kant believes in following a universal maxim which everyone can abide and live by. One should act by categorical imperatives rather than hypothetical, and “act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant 89). Differing viewpoints on euthanasia can arise from people who follow different maxims, and there are some maxims that can contradict each other. For instance, one maxim people can use is to state that if a person is suffering from a terminal illness, they should be allowed to put an end to their life, for they will die anyway. In using this universally, it supports that euthanasia should be legalized. The person uses their own will and reasoning to end their suffering early rather than prolonging it. One maxim that can contradict this and oppose euthanasia, is a universal law that one person should not kill another. Since euthanasia is a physician-assisted suicide, it would be considered morally wrong for the physician to end the life of the patient, even though they will die from their illness anyway. Therefore, if a person used this maxim, euthanasia should not be legalized in any way. Kantian deontology allows for many differing viewpoints on the legalization of euthanasia, and it depends on the universal maxim a person chooses decides whether they are opposed or in favor of euthanasia.
Utilitarian’s focus on the overall happiness of individuals, more importantly, that the right actions are the ones that produce the most happiness. A main principle of theirs “is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually, collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection” (Mill 131). Therefore, if someone’s actions make them happy and have no effect on the happiness of others, then people have no right to dictate whether that action is allowed or not. If a person’s action placed harm on another person’s health or mentality than they have a right to interfere. In the case of euthanasia, it does not harm anyone besides the patient, and the patient has already agreed to the physician-assisted suicide in order to end their suffering. Therefore, by ending one’s suffering, it is allowing them happiness. Not only is it allowing the patients suffering to end, it allows the patient’s loved ones to end their suffering as well. A patient’s family suffers in seeing their loved one in intense pain, and when the patient’s suffering ends, so does the family’s. Giving a patient their control back in their life gives them pleasure, and has no negative effects on any other person. Utilitarianism deems actions right or wrong according to their production of happiness, and it deems euthanasia as a morally right action in that it produces greater happiness than pain or harm.