Euthanasia means "a good death", hence "mercy killing", or "assisted suicide".
In the last ten years 217 UK citizens have chosen to end their lives by going to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal. That represents 22 a year out of a total 550,000 UK deaths. Three times in recent years Parliament has debated and rejected a change in the 1960 law against assisted suicide. However, an important change in emphasis has occurred: the so-called Starmer guidelines on assisted suicide (named after the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer) has made it much less likely that anyone assisting suicide will be prosecuted, as Lord Falconer said recently ""compassionate assistance to commit suicide is no longer liable for prosecution" (Today programme 25.10.12).
The issues seem to be these:
1. If the law was changed, what model of assisted suicide would we choose? The House of Lords review claimed that if we adopted the Oregon rules in America, 1200 people a year would choose to end their lives, but if we adopted the Netherlands rules, 30,000 people would so choose. Would different forms of euthanasia law really make such a difference?
2. Ethically the debate lines up between sanctity of life arguments and quality of life. Sanctity of life arguments take different forms: biblical Christian arguments, Natural law arguments and Kantian arguments. The arguments are rather different - but in what ways? Under quality of lfie, the utiltarians led by Peter Singer have consistently argued for euthanasia. Should quality of life trump sancity of life?
Click here for the view of the Catholic Church, or contrast it with this view, from the husband of a sufferer of locked-in syndrome: "Monica’s eventual decision to end her life by starvation was taken in a controlled, and to her, rational way, balancing the ordeal she knew she would suffer, the pain she knew it would cause her family against her future prospects of minimal independence and negligible dignity".
‘Only when the balance tipped to favour the greater pain over a short period against prolonged misery did she exercise her right to take her life.’
3. Slippery slope arguments are used by opponents of assisted suicide like Lord Alton, or Peter Saunders on Radio 4 (25.10.2012), who said "if we changed the law vulnerable people would be abused". Slippery slope is listed as a fallacy or mistake in the form of an argument because it implies that one change will inevitably lead down a sliding slope to disaster. But is this necessarily true? What checks would we need to stop the slope sliding to a widespread disrespect for human life? And is this a probable outcome anyway?
4. Arguments for choice suggest that people should have the right to choose how to die just as they have the right to choose how to live. Proponents reject the view of the hospice movement that no-one has to have a bad death: Tony Nicklinson, for example, went to court in 2012 to argue that his life with "locked-in syndrome" was a living hell. Click here for a video of his response, or read Dr Kailash Chand's support of Nicklinson here. When Monica Cooke heard that the court rejected the argument again, she starved herself to death. The right to choose was Diane Pretty's argument to the European Court in 2001. She claimed Article 1, the right to life, included the right to take your own life. The judges rejected this argument. Click here to re-enact a simulation of that famous court case.
Because this is a complex issue, I have posted a number of powerpoints.
Julie Arliss gives us a thorough overview of the issues.
There is a powerpoint by me on the Starmer guidelines.
And Lawrence Hinman gives his views in a detailed consideration.Add a comment
WEBLINKS - Euthanasia
Religious tolerance website has an excellent and comprehensive survey of the ethical issues and practices in different countries:
For six games to revise or recap euthanasia, including a brilliant beat the clock shooting game which could be played in the computer lab, go to:
For a case study on the Nazi euthanasia programme from the Christian medical Fellowship, well-researched with plenty of detail, go to:
A library of relevant articles from the same website, go to:
Also twelve arguments against euthanasia
The 1974 Methodist statement on euthanasia (against) can be found here (good discussion of Christian basis):
The Church of England view is succinctly expressed here (with useful additonal weblinks)
For a neo-Kantian and situational ethics viewpoint for euthanasia go to:
Reading level 2 euthanasia (Bristol University undergraduate course):Euthanasia involves the intentional termination of a person's life for the sake of that person (e.g., to relieve intolerable suffering in the face of an incurable disease). The two main questions concern whether euthanasia is ever morally permissible and if so in what instances it is permissible. Two important distinctions are frequently brought to bear on the debate. First is that between voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary euthanasia (respectively whether the person has chosen, is incapable of choosing, or has not chosen euthanasia). Most proponents of euthanasia restrict themselves to a defence of voluntary and sometimes non-voluntary euthanasia. The other distinction concerns that between active and passive euthanasia. This latter distinction connects up with the status of acts versus omissions and the doctrine of the double effect (see above). Those who argue in favour of euthanasia do so on the grounds that it respects the wishes of the agent and/or prevents human suffering. Those who argue against it do so on the grounds that human life is sacred and/or that to allow euthanasia would devalue human life and possibly create a slippery slope leading to unjustifiable abuses.
T. Beauchamp (ed.), Intending Death: The Ethics of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia
McGraw Hill have produced a list of online articles they recommend - a great selection:
Add a comment
Interactive introduction - Euthanasia 1 hour 30 minutes
1. Terry Pratchett euthanasia documentary on Channel 5 or alternatively watch Terry Pratchett and Tony Robinson on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qQgWCQESgo
Introduction: 20 mins
Give class in groups of 4-6 a piece of A3 paper. Explain that in this lesson we will evaluate the main issues concerning euthanasia. In groups, draw a mind map of the main issues. 10 mins
Each group comes forward and shares one "branch" of the map on the board. 10 mins
The Ethics Toolkit: 10 mins
Ask each group to write down on a piece of paper (one sixth of A3 works well) one idea from the Ethics Toolkit which we might use for this issue. Explain our theories operate like a toolkit, giving us ideas we can use in order to get an answer to a moral problem. Colour them according to whether they are deontological/teleological ideas.
Use eg red pens for teleological and blue for deontological. Give out blue tac.
Ask a member of each group to stick their pieces of paper on each side of the board (left for deontological and right for teleological).
Possible ideas include sanctity of life, quality of life, happiness, most loving outcome, intrinisic wrong, universalisability, categorical imperative, right to self-determination, treating yourself as a means to an end etc.
The documentary: 40 minutes (stop before we see the man Terry Pratchett is following actually die as this may be too shocking for some).
Explain we're going to watch forty minutes of the documentary. Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's disease, and wants to explore the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide. He will interview people and their families who have decided to go to Dignitas clinic in Switzerland - the only place a British person can go (other countries like Belgium who allow assisted suicide don't allow foreign nationals).
As we watch the documentary be prepared to evaluate it.
Either as individuals or as a group write your evaluation of the documentary.
Add a comment