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Euthanasia June 2009

This is the actual essay written by my student in the June 2009 exam.  To access the mark scheme for this paper click here (and go to page 8). ‘A member of the Roman Catholic church would be against the concept of Euthanasia' Discuss.


‘A member of the Roman Catholic church would be against the concept of Euthanasia’ Discuss. 


a) Euthanasia is the act of either ending your own life because you are suffering from a terminal illness, or getting someone else, to assist you in doing so because you are unable. Although euthanasia is opposed by many, for example members of the Catholics church and is illegal in many countries. However the voluntary euthanasia society (VES) is campaigning to have this act of ‘mercy killing' made legal in the UK as it is in countries such as Holland and Switzerland. It is a known fact that last year over a thousand people were helped to die in Holland alone. However, as strict followers of the Natural Law within each person, Roman Catholics are strongly against the act of euthanasia, and see it as being nothing less than murder or suicide. Both these things are strongly prohibited by the church. Roman Catholics. instructed on the ways of morality by the Pope and his cardinals in the form of Papal encyclicals, use Biblical evidence to support their views on euthanasia. The idea of the sanctity of life; the prohibition of killing as a moral absolute; and the role of suffering in a life lived in faith, are key to the Catholic teaching on this particular issue.

The sanctity of life is of fundamental importance to the Catholic church. This is the concept that all human life, in whatever form, is sacred and a gift from God. Catholics maintain we are made in the image of God (images dei) and so are made with a ‘spark' of divinity. We are not, according to Catholics, ever allowed to end our lives or the life of another under any circumstances, because of the sanctity of life principle. Those who use the sanctity of life are often described as ‘prolife'. Just as God made each of us, only he has the right to take it away. Catholics use Biblical verses such as ‘Let us create man in our image' (genesis) to portray just how sacred human life is. Furthermore the fact that ‘you knit me together in my mother's womb' is proof of the sanctity of life for Catholics. This is an indication that we are all made uniquely by God, and so only He may decide when our life should end, ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of Lord.' Catholics would, therefore, maintain that it is not for us to ‘play God' either with our life or anyone else's.

In fact, Catholics maintain that if we do choose euthanasia as a way to die, we are breaking the special unquiet bond between us and God. This may very well had to us not attaining our ultimate purpose, which is fellowship with God. Catholics maintain that we are instructed to fulfil this purpose by the ‘natural law within us' and ‘The natural law is universal and extends to all men.' Therefore, anything that goes against this moral law would be considered wrong by a Catholic. Euthanasia would, leading a Catholic to object to it.

Furthermore, Catholics maintain that euthanasia is murder, which is strictly prohibited by the church. It says in Exodus 20, in the 10 commandments, ‘thou shalt not kill'. Catholics hold the 10 commandments as central to their faith. Anything that goes against them is wrong and a betrayal of God and his goodness. Catholics are also aware that God punishes those who disobey him and misuse his great gift of life. In Jeremiah it says ‘I will lay hands on you and destroy you. Can you no longer show compassion?' Catholics are fearful of God's wrath and seek to always obey his commandments. Euthanasia would therefore be considered fundamentally wrong by the followers of the Catholic faith.

Furthermore, Catholics believe that suffering has a special part in God's plan, and connects us with the suffering Jesus Christ felt on the cross. It would, therefore, be true to say that suffering Jesus Christ felt on the cross. It would therefore, be true to say that suffering at the end of life, for a Catholic, plays a central part in a life lived in faith. Although Catholics acknowledge that sometimes it is hard to understand why God causes us to suffer, they state God has a plan for all of us. It is not for us to question his motives. A Catholic believes they will receive their reward in heaven. This, for them, justifies any suffering, reinforcing the fact that euthanasia is wrong.

Key to the Catholic faith is the fact that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son? Jesus then went on to suffer great things for us. The suffering we feel in death, Catholics state, is nothing compared to what Jesus endured. We should therefore, according to Catholics, embrace and accept suffering, and not try to end it before God believes it is time.

Therefore, a Catholic would use the principle of the sanctity of life, the suffering of Jesus Christ and the idea of God's eternal plan for each of us, as reasons why euthanasia is fundamentally and categorically wrong in all situations. Furthermore, it would call on the teachings on natural law, which is at the heart of Catholicism to state that euthanasia is ‘ a gravely and intrinsically disordered act'.

b) Although Catholics appear to be quite clinical in their approaches to euthanasia, believing it to be fundamentally wrong , more liberal Christians do feel that human dignity is of crucial importance. It would be fair to say there are differing approaches to the importance of dignity within the Christian church. These differences depend on the branch of Christianity a person belongs to.

Catholics believe that human life is of intrinsic worth and should be respected and treated with reverence, whatever the cost. This means that only God may end life as he created it. Killing is strictly prohibited, whatever the situation. For a Catholic, human dignity is not of central importance. Living according to the Natural Law and the 10 commandments appears to be much more important. However, many Catholics would argue that human dignity can be maintained by the expert care given in hospitals. They would state that euthanasia is not the only way to maintain human dignity. There are other ways that attempt to do this, though in the end following the faith is of utmost importance. If this involves losing dignity, then so be it. However, a Catholic would argue that loss of dignity is a small price to pay for eternal rest in heaven with God.

A more liberal protestant may argue that human dignity is of greater importance. They may say tat you should be allowed to die in the way you choose. They may possibly call on religious verses such as ‘love you neighbour', considering perhaps as with euthanasia the most loving thing in some extreme circumstances. However, life is always believed to be a gift from God. All denominations of Christians feel that life as great worth and value, perhaps outweighing a need for dignity.

Christians ma argue that they do not disagree with the doctrine of double affect. life is not prolonged further and, for example, the life support machine is switched off or life, prolonging drugs are not linger given. Thus, Christians may argue gives dignity to the dying.

However, in my opinion, human dignity is not given a high enough status in Catholicism. I believe that a person has a right to the same dignity in death as they did in life. People should, I believe, be allowed to die with dignity in the way they see fit. They should be granted autonomy and have their wishes respected. As Mill wrote, ‘Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.' Human dignity is of the utmost importance, in my opinion.




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Relativism June 2009

This is the actual essay written by my student in the June 2009 exam.  To access the mark scheme for this paper click here (and go to page 8).  I particularly like her use of link words to develop an argument, so I've highlighted them in blue.  She scored 100% on this question.  There is a small error that she attributes Ruth Benedict's quote to William Sumner.  PB

How would a moral relativist define good? G572 Q1  June 2009

a) Explain the concept of relativist morality.

A moral relativist would question "what do we mean by good?" when deliberating the best, most moral action to take when faced with an ethical decision. An example of a relativist moral statement is, "I ought not to steal because I will cause suffering to those I still from." This is a reasonable statement, considering the consequences of a potential action. It is teleological, in that it is concerned with ends (Greek word "telos" meaning end or purpose). Relativism is in direct contrast with absolute morality which is deontological and concerned with the actions themselves. A moral relativist would not believe that there is a fixed set of moral rules that apply to all people all times, in all places. Rather, they would leave the morality is changeable and differs culture to culture time to time, and place to place. This idea is known as cultural relativism.

The theory of relativist morality was first established by Protagoras who asked the question "what is good for You?" He did not believe that knowledge was fixed or that it extended beyond our experience in some higher form, as Plato (a moral absolutist) did. He stated that "man is the measure of all things". He maintained the morality depends on how we perceive things. Right and wrong as moral absolutes, do not exist. Rather, they depend on an individual's perception. Morality, Protagoras stated, is changeable and subject to our perceptions of the world around us. Aristotle is another example of a philosopher with a relativistic outlook. He disagreed with Plato's concept of perfect forms that exist beyond our experience; for Aristotle, forms do exist, but in our natural world which we perceive through our senses.

William Sumner went on to describe morality as nothing but socially approved habits. As a relativist he did not believe in the concept of fixed morality. Mackie also went on to develop this idea of cultural relativism in his book: Ethics: Inventing right and wrong? He maintained that "there are no objective values"; rather, morality is subjective and differs according to place, time and culture.

An example of changing morality between cultures is infanticide which was practised by the Greeks and Romans. Everyone in our modern society considers this completely wrong and immoral. However, for them, there was no problem with it. It was socially accepted. Similarly, in Islamic cultures, many of the women choose to wear head scarves as a mark of their faith. Many people in all other cultures see this to be unfair and restricting, a way of taking away the woman's rights to be individual. However the woman make the choice to do it because in their culture and their mind, it is considered morally acceptable and common practice. Advocates of moral relativism see the diverse nature of our world and the existence of many different ethical viewpoints as proof that no moral absolutes exist. For moral relativist thinkers such as Protagoras, Aristotle and more recently Summer and Mackie, morality is relative to place, time and culture. They find examples within our world and differing societies to support the moral viewpoints.

B): "Relativist ethics is unfair". Discuss
Although there are clearly flaws of moral relativism, making them perhaps seem unfair, there are also a number of strengths to this moral theory. These strengths include a fair, inclusive outlook on morality and different cultures. Moral relativism allows and accounts for the diverse nature of our society and our world, in which many differing moral views exist. It is current and versatile, making it a fair reflection of the differing values that exist in our world. Similarly, moral relativism is accepting of the variety of cultures we see around us, and does not allow for one culture, society or belief to dominate over the others. This makes the theory appear both fair and just. Furthermore one belief is not given a higher status than another. All outlooks are treated equally and fairly and are deemed worthy of respect and acceptance. This seems like a just outlook that would lead to harmony between cultures. This indicates there are many aspects of moral relativism the make it a fair ethical system.

However, there are a number of factors of moral relativism make it unfair and could possibly lead to unjust, unfair outcomes. The fact that you are not allowed to condemn the practices of any culture, purely because they are accepted by some could cause problems. This could lead to people being treated extremely unfairly, for example, very few would argue that what the Nazis did was just or fair. However, a moral relativist could not criticise their actions, because they are right for them. This could seem to be very unfair.

Furthermore, minority groups or individuals could also be subjected to unfair treatment. They could not revolt or rebel against injustice, because it would be accepted by their society. Equally, goodness is important, in my opinion, in any ethical system. It, I believe, is crucial in maintaining a fair society. However, it could be said that moral relativism produces good to "that which is socially acceptable." This is perhaps unfair, making the moral theory appear not so trustworthy, fair and reliable.

Therefore, I believe although in principle moral relativism appears to provide fairness, in context it could easily and quickly lead to unjust unfair outcomes when abused or mistreated.


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