Full notes A* summary notes This page: C/B summary notes
The sanctity of life
- The traditional Christian view. Sometimes now called the ‘strong’ sanctity of life.
- God created human life, it is a gift from God, only God has a right to end it.
- Biblical evidence:
- We are created in God’s image. Genesis says that is why it is wrong to kill people.
- The 10 commandments say thou shalt not murder.
- 1 Corinthians says that our body is a ‘temple of the holy spirit’ and ‘you do not belong to yourself.
- The weak sanctity of life view.
- There are many themes found in the Bible, the sanctity of life is only one.
- Other themes include compassion and love, both emphasised by Jesus.
- All these factors must be taken into account and in some extreme cases the sanctity of life may be outweighed by the others.
Optional further evaluation:
- Compassion being recommended in the bible does not justify overruling the sanctity of life view.
The Quality of life
- This claims that what makes life valuable is the quality that it has in terms of the balance of happiness over suffering.
- Peter Singer says that the sanctity of life is based on outdated Christian views and thus should be re-evaluated.
- Singer argues that the reason killing is wrong is that it violates the preferences or interests of a being.
- If someone has a low quality of life and a preference to die, then voluntary euthanasia is justified.
- Non-voluntary euthanasia is also justified for those in a vegetative state and for babies born with terrible medical conditions like spine abifida. They cannot have or express a preference, but they do have an interest in not suffering unnecessarily.
- The reasons killing is normally wrong do not apply in cases like this where quality of life is low or non-existent.
- Fisher: slippery slope & effect on the vulnerable
Optional further evaluation:
- Singer’s response
- Nozick took a deontological/absolutist view of autonomy.
- He argued for the principle of ‘self-ownership’, that each person owns their body and can do what they want with it.
- If someone wants euthanasia then that is up to them, no matter the reason.
- If someone else wants to help them, there is nothing ethically wrong with that.
- Voluntary euthanasia is therefore always morally acceptable.
- There are ethical downsides to allowing anyone to die who wants to.
- Singer points to the example of a love-sick teenager who wants to die for short-sighted reasons.
- Singer claims we can ‘safely predict’ they will get over their issues.
- Allowing autonomy in euthanasia for absolutely any reason would lead to many people dying when they themselves would have ended up regretting it. That doesn’t seem like it enables autonomy.
- Mill and Singer take a consequentialist view of autonomy to solve this issue.
- Mill argued that society will be the happiest it can be if we follow the harm principle.
- People should be free to do what they want, so long as they aren’t harming others.
- This will maximise happiness because people are generally in the best position to know what will be good for them.
- The slippery slope
- Allowing consequentialist autonomy will result in a slippery slope towards absolutist autonomy.
- Fisher argues that once you accept that people have the right to die, you have no way to prevent slipping down the slope to allowing it in all cases where people want it.
- In that case, autonomy cannot avoid the issues faced by Nozick’s version.
Situation ethics application to Euthanasia
- Situation ethics would judge that euthanasia can be morally good, in situation where it maximises agape.
- In situations where it would maximise agape to avoid euthanasia, it would be wrong, however.
- For example, if someone has a very low quality of life and an autonomous wish to die, it seems that Fletcher would accept euthanasia.
- However if someone is pressured into euthanasia by their family who are greedy for inheritance or by society making them feel like a failure or a burden, or if they have a short-term issue like Singer’s example of a lovesick teenager, Fletcher would think it wrong to allow euthanasia in such cases.
- W. Barclay’s critique.
- People are not perfectly loving so if given the power to judge what is good or bad, people will do selfish or even cruel things.
- People’s loving nature can be corrupted by power.
- Someone might find it loving to manipulate/pressure someone into or out of euthanasia, perhaps if they will get inheritance to pay for their children’s food or something. Some might find it loving to end their life because they feel like a burden.
- Defence of Fletcher: Fletcher and Robinson argue (influenced by Bonhoeffer) that humanity has progressed since medieval times and ‘come of age’.
- People are more mature and can be trusted with more freedom to break ethical rules if it is the loving thing.
Natural law application to euthanasia
- Natural law ethics claims that we should follow the Bible teachings, which Aquinas calls the ‘divine law’. It claims there is also another law, the ‘natural law’ which also comes from God.
- God has given reason to human nature and designed it to be able to intuitively know the primary precepts of natural law.
- Application to Euthanasia. Euthanasia violates the primary precept to protect and preserve human life.
- The Catholic Church follows Natural law and applies the double effect, arguing that passive euthanasia is justified so long as the intention is not to kill.
- Whether Natural law ethics and the sanctity of life is outdated
- Aquinas’ Natural law ethics and the sanctity of life principle are increasingly seen as outdated.
- In medieval times it was useful to simply have strict rules banning all killing, because violence and killing was much more common and therefore needed to be strongly restricted.
- People were less self-controlling and less educated, so they needed clear simple rules to follow.
- The issue clearly is that society has progressed.
- So, the primary precepts are no longer useful. They were designed for a different time and are now increasingly outdated. Society can now afford to gradually relax the inflexibility of its rules and think about how they might be reinterpreted to better fit modern society.